I had a query about what genre of fantasy does Narnia belong to- high or low. Wikipedia says that

High fantasy is defined as fantasy set in an alternative, fictional ("secondary") world, rather than "the real", or "primary" world

while low fantasy is

defined as fiction where magical events intrude on an otherwise normal world

What type of fantasy would Narnia be? Surely most of the narrative takes place in Narnia which is a secondary world but since the main characters basically live in the primary world it can be considered an 'intrusion'.

So what is its official genre?

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    There’s no such thing as an “official” genre. Genres are marketing categories, not government classifications, and a work’s genre is whatever the publisher thinks will sell the most copies. – Mike Scott Jan 12 '18 at 8:23
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    Both, stirred, not shaken, with a dash of something sugary. – Radhil Jan 12 '18 at 11:16
  • I just asked a related question, which attempts to clarify the difference between high and low fantasy in a general (rather than Narnia-specific sense). – R.M. Jan 12 '18 at 14:39
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    The genre where a person from the real world visits an alternative world is often called "crossover fantasy" -- this may be what you're looking for? – Jules Jan 12 '18 at 16:50
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    @Jules also known as "portal fantasy". – Tin Man Jan 12 '18 at 18:47

As pointed out in the comments to this question, there can't be a definitive answer because genres are a fluid thing. I wasn't aware that some commentators regard the idea of a link between the real world and the magical one as archetypal of high fantasy, and I'm not sure why,as for me at least, the distinction between high and low is about the dichotomy between a focus on heroism or realism, either of which can be present regardless of a real world link.

I would say that the difference between high and low fantasy is tonal. High Fantasy takes its inspirations from the historical epics, by way of Tolkien, which of course drew on classical literature heavily for many of its tropes. Low fantasy is more gritty, and in some sense a response to the limitations of the kind of stories that can be told in the high fantasy mould. It involves elements of the lives of ordinary people, moral compromise/shades of grey, and a low key and/or low magical setting. The two genres are not entirely distinct and some works may have elements of both.

Lewis was writing at the time of Tolkien, and was in fact friends with him, so it would not be surprising if there were some stylistic similarities. I would argue that Narnia is in fact high fantasy because

  • the narrative focuses on mighty world changing deeds in the epic style and the central characters are frequently heroic or villainous in an uncomplicated way
  • Magic is commonplace - White Witch, Aslan, talking animals
  • The key characters frequently are or become rulers

There are, however, some factors that might support the idea of low fantasy

  • some parts of e.g. "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" focus on the plight of the common people under a tyrannical witch vastly superior in power to them
  • arguably there aren't that many actual magic users in Narnia - although the talking animals are in some sense magically imbued by Aslan, there is a sense in which that's more a part of the background to the world than active magic within the context of the story.
  • Much of "The Magician's Nephew" in particular focuses on characters without magic or power caught up in a struggle with a force beyond their comprehension (although this does lead into the epic events of the creation of Narnia).

On balance, I'd say that the epic/mythical nature of the Narnia stories places them more naturally withing the realm of High Fantasy, and perhaps this in unsurprising given the historical context in which it was written.


Using your definition, the Chronicles of Narnia does technically straddle the line. However, the vast majority of each story takes place in the secondary world.

With the exception of The Horse and His Boy, each novel does have some sort of magical intrusion into the real world. In most cases this is minor: in some it's more significant (Jadis' actions while on Earth in The Magician's Nephew; the scaring off of the bullies at the end of The Silver Chair), but never to an extent that it alters the history we know. In fact, outside of the apple Digory brings back that heals his mother, the only magic that seems to work here on Earth are the forms that allow people to travel to Narnia (and/or the Wood between the Worlds).

Again, by your definition, the works of Edward Eager (Half Magic, Seven-Day Magic, et al.) seem better examples of low fantasy: some magic item becomes available to a group of children in our world, and the story revolves around the effects that has. P. L. Travers' Mary Poppins books are another excellent example, where we follow the impact of a magical person on our world. (And, as long as I'm talking about old children's books, I have to point out again that Dodie Smith's sequel to 101 Dalmatians, The Starlight Barking, which may also be low fantasy (in effect), but might also be categorized as science fiction, of all things).

Given this, I'd say Narnia qualified as high fantasy.

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