Subgenre Study: Historical Fantasy

Hello?  Hello?  Hey, is this thing on?  If you have managed to stumble here on this, the most commercial of days, I hope that if you ventured outside into the consumerism that you met nice, friendly people full of holiday cheer but somehow I doubt that.  And if you stayed home, I hope you drank lots of cocoa and watched silly television specials.

Anyway, this week on Subgenre Study we will be looking at Historical Fantasy.  Now, overall, fantasy tends to break up into subgenres in three ways: 1) Location, 2) Time period, and 3) Theme.  Thus something can be both High Fantasy and Off-world Fantasy.  Historical fantasy falls into number 2, for obvious reasons.

Most fantasy takes place in worlds that tend to be vaguely medieval, but true historical fantasy often tries to stay truer to a specific time period, often incorporating real events or people into the narrative, or at least making sure that social conventions of the time period are accurately portrayed.  Historical fantasy can try to keep with real history (where fantastical elements are known only to the people in the story and not society at large), create an alternative history where the author is free to change key events without worrying about the space/time continuum, or like some high fantasy, much of the story takes place in a secondary world ala Narnia where the real world is unaffected.

Some steampunk would fall under the general umbrella of Historical Fantasy.

Historical fantasy actually has subgenres of the subgenre, the most common of which are:

  • Celtic Fantasy (usually taking place in medieval or ancient Ireland, Wales, or Scotland – and may sometimes cross over with Arthurian fantasy)
  • Medieval Fantasy (taking place in a medieval time period, obviously, and the source of main fantasy tropes)
  • Classic Fantasy (taking place in antiquity, usually involving Greeks or Romans)
  • Wuxia (usually involving Chinese or other Asian mythology that involves martial arts and a code of honor)
  • Prehistoric Fantasy (taking place in prehistory or before the rise of civilization)

How do you feel about historical fantasy, Squiders?  It’s really hit or miss for me, and mostly depends on how strong the fantasy elements are – historical fiction is my least favorite genre, so if historical fantasy reads too close I usually can’t stomach it (though there are always exceptions).  Any recommendations for the class?


3 responses to this post.

  1. Sub genres upon sub genres upon sub genres. The world is such an intricate place.

    As to this one, though, I would have to say extremely hit or miss, for me. While the concept certainly does have potential, there are few, I would say, who manage to pull it off well. It tends to be a line within literature that must be finely walked, and delicately balanced between its multiple concepts – and a lot of folks and up tumbling off to one side of the other. In that regard, I don’t actually have any real recommendations off the top of my head. Though of course, if we’re lumping Steampunk and its like into the category, Cherie Priest certainly isn’t a bad way to go, generally.


  2. Posted by Charles M. on 2011/11/27 at 2:42 PM

    Currently reading a historical fiction about the Johnstown Flood and its effect on the steel industry and whatnot in regards to the author’s family and how his predecessors were a part of it. (As a family living in Johnstown, not as instigators of the flood…at least I hope not, I haven’t gotten far into it yet.)

    Historical fiction in general does feel hit or miss for me. I prefer plot over historical accuracy (Mainly because I’m rubbish at remembering historical facts).


  3. […] Fantasy Comedic Fantasy Dark Fantasy Fairy Tale Fantasy Fantasy Romance High and Low Fantasy Historical Fantasy Mythic Fantasy Off-world Fantasy Quest Fantasy Sword and Sorcery Urban […]


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