Stereotypical Creatures in Fantasy

My apologies for missing Monday’s update and for the fact this is late.  I blame jury duty.  And hockey.  But can you really blame me for the hockey?  It is the landsquid’s favorite sport.

Anyway, onward to content.

It’s come to my attention that you can usually tell whether something will be urban or traditional fantasy just be looking at the fantastical creatures involved.  Let’s test.  Vampires.  Elves.  Fae.  Unicorns.  Kraken.

(Okay, that last one doesn’t count.  I just wish there were more kraken in things.)

Admittedly urban fantasy seems to incorporate anything that looks vaguely human, but for the most part, fantastical creatures in this day and age seem to be pretty well-divided.  You rarely find things like dragons in urban fantasy.  Vampires tend to not to lurk in your more traditional Sword and Sorcery fantasy.  This is not to say that these creatures can’t be found in all types of fantasy, just IN GENERAL they tend to stick to one or the other.

It’s not terribly surprising.  Let’s look at urban fantasy as a genre.  Urban fantasy tends to take place in a modern setting, in a city or a town or someplace where lots of people tend to hang out.  Unless you go the alternative reality route, we are all familiar with these settings, and magic and fantastical creatures do not figure in.  So it makes sense to use magic/creatures that can more easily blend in with what is considered “normal.”

High fantasy, on the other hand, often takes place in a pseudo-historical context, in a world that is quite obviously not our own.  While each world needs to have its own rules that it conforms to, it does not need to take reality into account, so there is more freedom for larger and more blatantly unreal creatures.

You could argue that elves/dwarves/orcs/etc are essentially human-like and therefore would fall more into the urban fantasy category based on my (admittedly very general) guidelines, but there are also subgenre covenants that tend to be followed by the majority of examples of that subgenre.  People tend to read the same subgenre because there are things about that subgenre that they like.  (Some people will, of course, argue that such things are overused and/or cliché and/or are a rip-off of Tolkien, etc, but we will leave that alone for the moment.)

But hey, perhaps I’m full of it.  What do you think?  Do some fantastical creatures seem stereotyped into specific fantasy subgenres?  Do you disagree with my break?

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Kate on 2011/02/24 at 1:00 PM

    I think you’re right about the divide, for the most part, and possibly also the reasons. I’d argue that elves and fae can show up in either, though their portrayal varies by genre.

    Would you sort Harry Potter into high or urban/contemporary fantasy, out of curiosity? The majority of the content takes place in a techless world where dragons and giant squid and the like are commonplace, but it is contemporary and there are also vampires and werewolves and the kitchen sink. (And then there’s Discworld, but Sir Pterry is a law unto himself.)


    • I’m not sure I would call Harry Potter urban fantasy. It is to some extent, but it’s more of a mix. Most of it takes place at Hogwarts, which is out in the middle of nowhere and is where you get the more high fantasy creatures – centaurs and giants and unicorns and giant squid. The parts that take place in London tend to involve only witches/wizards or things that are invisible to non-magic people (like dementors) and tends to more closely follow urban fantasy guidelines.

      (As to Discworld, well, it is Discworld. Also not what I would consider urban fantasy, especially since it’s off-world.)


  2. Funny you should mention this; my novel is broaching this idea of fantastical creatures in various ways… so we’ll see what happens.


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