The Genres Of Science Fiction & Fantasy - Part 7
The second sub-genre within Fantasy is that of Fairy Stories, Myth Stories, and Arthurian-based Fiction. As mentioned before, Arthurian Fiction (those that are contemporary) take an original text that was for the most part fiction itself, and rewrites it to focus on an aspect previously over-shadowed by either the original or other authors. As two examples of this sub-genre, one can take the two classics, The Neverending Story, by the German author Michael Ende, and T.H. White's, The Once and Future King.
Both of these works seek to tell a legendary story in a very unique way; both of them succeeded quite well. Ende's story is a retelling of myth in a way that is subtle and easily overlooked: with dragons, sentient statues, embodied evil, and fantastic creatures, as well as the admirable hero, Atreyu. White's story is a legend of our own world, complete with magic, fairies, and a young and very fallible hero. In the end, though, the stories share the same basic qualities with many High Fantasy stories, such as Terry Brook's Shannara series.
Fantasy, too, can reside within the confines of our own world. But when the story's entire plot encompasses our world and its contemporary people, then it becomes the Fantasy version of Alternate Reality. Rowling's Harry Potter as mentioned above is one of the most recent and successful examples of this. Other authors like Terry Brooks have written within this very open sub-genre. Quite understandably, this type of Fantasy appeals to a broader audience, as the close association with the world around us makes it easier to "suspend the disbelief."
Two sub-genres that might, to the outside observer, seem out of place within the context of this essay, are Gothic Fantasy and Magic Realism. These are two strange names for two slightly strange sub-genres of Fantasy. Taking Gothic Fantasy first, one must define the term "gothic." Unlike the modern misrepresentation of the label, the description actually applies to the late Victorian style of literature, made famous by such authors as Dickens and Conrad.
With this definition, one can then apply it more broadly as a style of dramatic Romanticism and subtle pessimism. Stories traditionally deemed "vampire" stories would fall under this category, having taken something once grotesque in Eastern European myth and folklore, and giving it a Romantic view that makes it appealing to the reader. Bram Stoker is the most famous example of this particular sub-genre.
What, then, is Magic Realism? The one sub-genre of Fantasy that could be mistaken, in its contemporary forms, as simply being experimental, Magic Realism is the type of Fantasy that makes the reader wonder whether they're dreaming, rather than reading a story. The two best examples, one more contemporary than the other, are Alice's Adventure's Through the Looking-Glass and The Phantom Tollbooth. Both of these stories begin in our world, but instead of going to a world with rules and order, as would happen in a traditional Alternate Reality story, the main character(s) ends up in a land much akin to a Dali painting: bizarre and unquestionably not our own.
As new worlds are imagined and new adventures devised, the genre of Fantasy will forever expand to accommodate these new arrivals. What is certain about the genre that might not be so much for its counterpart, is that as the world around us progresses, Fantasy will still allow the reader a glimpse into another world long gone from our own.