The Genres Of Science Fiction & Fantasy - Part 6
Unlike its counterpart, the vast majority of Fantasy stories (with some notable exceptions) take place on a world of the author's creation. Because of this strong tendency, Fantasy tends to utilize everything from history to geography in order to create a world both believable and worthy of a story. Indeed, while a creation might be something of magnificence, there is still the possibility of it falling short when it comes to crafting a story to take place in it.
The qualities of Fantasy, in any of its many forms, seem to be focused more on the world and its people, building for the reader a place long ago and far away (to use the popular rewriting of a fairy story opener). While Science Fiction is driven primarily by the plot (in the aspect that the plot guides the characters), Fantasy tends to rely on the characters to guide their own story to create a legend that is worthy of telling. In this story are a group of characters with heroic qualities. These qualities are what make the Fantasy character seem cliche to the casual or uninformed reader of the genre. Characters of Fantasy, though, tend to compensate with their heroic trait(s) for their flaws. This parallelism is what leads most writers of the genre to place a group of characters, rather than a solitary protagonist, at the center of the quest.
As with the quest stories of ancient myth and legend, the quests in Fantasy tend to be concerned with a hierarchy of "things". The most prominent of the hierarchy is the importance of items, most of the time placing the focus of the quest (though not necessarily the entire plot) on one item. Taking the Lord of the Rings as our example, one can see that the focus of the quest in that story is the "one ring", but the focus of the story - the plot - is on many things, ranging from love to magic to friendship. It is a story about good versus evil, the fading of the old world and the rising of the new, and the heroism of the most unlikely person.
In the course of relating the hero's quest, the author brings to life the cultures, races, and histories of the world she has created. And even throughout the course of the story, history, itself, is being rewritten as the world changes. This sense of watching the change of the old to the new is what seems to still attract new readers to the genre. The most successful example of this pull of new readership is J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.
The first of the truly unique sub-genres is that of High Fantasy: the traditional equivalent to the word "fantasy". High Fantasy is the most quest-bound type of work within the genre; its plotlines are closely tied to it, as are its characters. Because of this, the cliche has arisen concerning Fantasy as a whole. High Fantasy is also the most easily recognizable because of its very stock features. Names such as David Eddings, Robert Jordan, and even Anne McCaffrey are not entirely unfamiliar to the casual or even non-reader of the genre. There is little, then, that one can seek to do to define High Fantasy; indeed, that would be a project all its own.