Since May is all about fantasy, it has gotten me thinking. What is Fantasy?
I have always thought that fantasy had to contain magic, or magical creatures, but lately I’ve noticed that Sky in the Deep and The Selection are considered fantasy, and neither one has magic. I have also seen reviewers classify books as “non-magical fantasy.”
If non-magical fantasy books exist, then obviously books don’t have to contain magic to be considered fantasy.
If fantasy doesn’t require magic, then what is fantasy? (Yes, these are the types of questions I ask myself!)
I figured the best place to start was with the definition:
- a pleasant but unlikely situation that you enjoy thinking but is unlikely to happen (Cambridge Dictionary)
- a story or type of literature that describes situations that are very different from real life, usually involving magic (Cambridge Dictionary)
- the forming of mental images, especially wondrous or strange fancies; imaginative conceptualizing (Dictionary.com)
- The faculty or activity of imagining impossible or improbable things (Oxford Living Dictionary)
- A genre of imaginative fiction involving magic and adventure, especially in a setting other than the real world (Oxford Living Dictionary)
- fiction with a large amount of imagination in it (Vocabulary.com)
- a story or situation that someone creates from their imagination and that is not based on reality (Collins Dictionary)
The first thing I noticed that, when thinking about the fantasy genre, I completely forgot about the act of fantasizing. I have fantasized about famous actors falling madly in love with me. I have fantasized about making crazy sports plays. I have fantasized about being super rich. All of these situations are fantasies that don’t include magic. They probably aren’t going to happen, but its fun to think about.
Since my fantasies rarely contain magic, why did I think the fantasy genre had to have magic? Well, it could have something to do with MOST fantasy books containing magic? Also, the Oxford Living Dictionary definition straight up says fantasy involves magic, however the Cambridge Dictionary definition contradicts that saying fantasy usually involves magic. So which one is it?
Next I googled the Fantasy Genre and here is what I found:
- Fantasy is a form of literary genre in which a plot cannot occur in the real world. Its plot usually involves witchcraft or magic, taking place on an undiscovered planet of an unknown world. (Literary Devices)
- Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction set in a fictional universe, often inspired by real world myth and folklore. (Wikipedia)
- An identifying trait of fantasy is the author’s use of narrative elements that do not have to rely on history or nature to be coherent. (Wikipedia)
- Fantasy is often characterized by a departure from the accepted rules by which individuals perceive the world around them; it represents that which is impossible (unexplained) and outside the parameters of our known, reality. (Find Me An Author)
It appears that Cambridge Dictionary’s definition is the right one. Fantasy usually involves magic, but it doesn’t have to. These definitions have convinced me that Sky in the Deep is more fantasy than historical fiction. Yes, it is loosely based on Vikings, but pretty much everything is made up, including the location. I feel like if you were to have a historical fiction book on Vikings you would have to pick a location that actually existed and was inhabited by Vikings.
These definitions have also convinced me that The Selection is more dystopia than fantasy, but it could technically be considered fantasy. Goodreads has “dystopia” listed above “fantasy” as the genre, so this makes sense!
I know that there isn’t a definitive answer to “what is fantasy?” but, for me personally, I am going to define fantasy as:
A genre of speculative fiction that does not rely on history or nature to be coherent, and it often departs from the accepted rules by which we perceive the world around us. Fantasy is usually set in a fictional universe and usually contains magical aspects, but neither is required.
What do you think of my definition? (yes I know I stole verbatim parts from the definitions above, but I cited my sources!) What do you define fantasy as? Let me know in the comments!