Home » Fantasy blog » Traditional Fantasy vs High Fantasy

A few weeks ago in my post The Many Faces of Fantasy: The Top 15 Sub-genre’s, I explained the definition of the fantasy genre in books and film, and how HUGE the genre is as a whole. This week I’d like to talk about the differences between two of the most well known fantasy sub-genre’s.

Traditional Fantasy vs. High Fantasy

I’ve heard a surprising amount of fantasy lovers describe Tolkien and other high fantasy stories as traditional fantasy.


The fantasy genre, as we know it, has really only been around for two centuries. So naturally a lot of people are confused. I’m here to clear the air.

Traditional fantasy is exactly that. Myths, legends, fairytales and epics make up this popular sub-genre. From Snow white and the seven dwarves to The Iliad, traditional fantasy comes from a time where the supernatural weren’t fantastic to people, they were real.

This sub-genre has a lot to do with traditions, and culture. The ancient Celtic people had their Fae and believed in them. The Greeks had Zeus, and Aphrodite and worshiped them. This is traditional fantasy.

On the other hand, high/epic fantasy is technically modern fantasy. Why? What do dragons and kings have to do with modern times? High, or epic fantasy is modern, because it is written with the mindset that the story is fiction. All modern fantasy is written in that mindset. Of course there is an actual modern or contemporary fantasy sub-genre, thats a different story for a different day.

High Fantasy

In the 1950’s J.R.R. Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Tolkien was a british medievalist who studied the epic poem Beowulf. His knowledge of ancient times, and fantastic writing led to a series that is basically legendary. It was Tolkien’s popularity in America that got fantasy to be recognized as its own genre.

High Fantasy stories take place in a completely different world than our own. Wizards, dragons, elves are among the many fantasy beings that grace the pages, and screens, of this type of story. The plot usually involves good versus evil, and world shattering conflicts. This is why high fantasy is also known as epic fantasy.

The high fantasy world is not modern (otherwise it would be low fantasy), instead it takes place in a time period similar to the Mediaeval period. Sometimes high fantasy stories can have a non-European influence, but traditionally these fantasy stories are based off of European history.

George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones HBO television show is a great example of high fantasy. Its also an incredible TV show (Season 3 starts on the 31st!!), and book series. A Song of Ice And Fire is sooo good! If you haven’t seen or read the series, you should. Now!

High fantasy is a wonderful genre, but it also can be horribly clique. The Fantasy Novelists Exam is a hilarious example of all the things that oftentimes happen in even the greatest fantasy stories. From the classic chosen one stereotypes, to women only being used as damsels in distress, this quiz tries to stop the cliques.
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Next Thursday we’ll continue The Many Faces of Fantasy, and talk about my favorite fantasy sub-genre!

What is your favorite fantasy sub-genre? Leave comments and questions below!

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MG Silverstein

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Hello! My name is MG Silverstein, and I am a budding novelist and avid bookworm. I like to consider myself a fantasy genre addiction enabler. I’m currently pursuing my English degree, and writing an urban fantasy series.