When attempting to classify works in the fantasy genre, you often hear the term "high fantasy" used. Less common, but still present, is the term "low fantasy".

As commonly understood, what's the main distinction between high and low fantasy? (Is there also a "medium" fantasy?)

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    Inspired by this question, where questioner and answerer appear to be using different definitions.
    – R.M.
    Jan 12, 2018 at 14:37
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    It's a very subjective thing, but usually the distinction made is whether the plot is epic (affects the world) or more mundane (national level at best, often just domestic), that and whether grand "Artifacts" or "Powers" influence things for good or ill.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Jan 12, 2018 at 14:38
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    tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HighFantasy has some good pointers (warning, TVTropes!) as well as some other levels of Fantasy apart from those two.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Jan 12, 2018 at 14:39
  • Somewhat related discussion on equating them to college level texts- tor.com/2014/08/04/… - quite a good read, actually.
    – JohnP
    Jan 12, 2018 at 16:32
  • Some blurry/subjective aspects that come to mind. There is the proliferation/overall power of magic (or an in-universe equivalent). More magic = higher fantasy. There is the similarity of the setting to our world More foundational similarity to our world = lower fantasy. And there is the black/white vs. gray/gray vs. black/gray morality. Cleaner moral principles = higher fantasy. I'm a bit torn regarding TVTropes' assertion that larger scale = higher fantasy, that seems like a completely orthogonal issue to me.
    – Ian
    Jan 12, 2018 at 18:11

3 Answers 3


This is highly subjective and I have no sources to quote, however. I prefer to think of "High Fantasy" as taking part in a more thoroughly fleshed out world other than our own i.e. Middle Earth, Westros, or Narnia, and having somewhat magical elements; rather than "low" fantasy being more like King Arthur and the Round Table, Robin Hood, the and the like which take place in our world with our lack of true magic, our beliefs and social foundations.

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    At least part is social class 'high' fantasy is arthurian knights, or the men of numenor, and the great elf lords of Tolkien, where as low fantasy is as you say Robin Hood, and the 'thief adventurer swordsman' Conan, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. The High generally has a good vs evil plot, the low aggrandishment and 'thieves in the house' backstabbing in which heroes are dark and antiheroes abound. Jan 12, 2018 at 18:44
  • So your interpretation is more of a moral dilema, What if the morals of a particular world do not agree with Earths i.e. Tale of Ice and Fire? Where there is no definite "right" or "good" character. Jan 12, 2018 at 18:52
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    I haven't read it, but I'd incline it towards high as involving kings and court intrigue but perhaps it needs a middle category 'parahistorical fantasy' perhaps, as it has - from what I've heard - a wars of the Roses dynastic feel. As to your suggestion about 'middle fantasy' - I'd suggest Discworld. Jan 12, 2018 at 18:54

If Wikipedia is any guide: Low Fantasy

Low fantasy or intrusion fantasy is a type of fantasy fiction. It has been defined as fiction where magical events intrude on an otherwise normal world. It thus contrasts with high fantasy stories, which take place in a fictional world with its own set of rules and physical laws.

High Fantasy

High Fantasy was a term coined by Lloyd Alexander in 1971. It means a fictional story that takes place in an entirely different, alternate or secondary world.

High Fantasy is also known as Epic Fantasy

There isn't a "medium" fantasy but there are other genres:

  • Heroic Fantasy
  • Sword and Sorcery
  • Medieval Fantasy
  • Historical Fantasy
  • Hard Fantasy

You can read about them and more in Wikipedia... List of Genres

  • Do note that definition on Wikipedia changed mid-2017. In early 2017 it was talking about the prominence of fantastical elements and the fantasy being set in a rational world. Often a world different from earth but following clear, rational and logical rules.
    – Drejzer
    Nov 17 at 15:43
  • Well, but Lord of the Rings is generally considered High Fantasy - and yet, according to Tolkien, it takes place in our own world. In fact, even the Wikipedia article linked in this answer mentions LotR as an example of High Fantasy.
    – Misha R
    Nov 17 at 19:07

You can find two definitions/understandings of the distinction:

One, which seems (at least to me) is based on how prominent the fantastical elements are, and the works being set in a rational world. With this definition, Game of Thrones is Low Fantasy. And you probably could consider Conan a such as well. This definition was present on Wikipedia in early 2017 (and presumably before that,I didn't bother to check). There High Fantasy has fantastical races, monsters, wizards and the like.

The other definition is based on "separation of worlds" in which "Low Fantasy" is fantasy interacting with our mundane reality; either by magic being in another world to which characters gain access, a separate "hidden" world, or magic mingling with the mundane on earth. With High Fantasy being a fantasy set in a different world. This puts Harry Potter and Shadowrun as Low Fantasy, while having Conan and Game of Thrones as High Fantasy.

I personally find the latter... Unnecessary, considering there is already "Urban Fantasy", "Magical Realism" and I believe "Portal Fantasy" that should cover those ranges.

  • May I ask why did I get the downvote, and how to fix the issue?
    – Drejzer
    2 days ago

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