If you’re curious about the difference between high fantasy vs medieval fantasy, you’ve come to the right post!
The fantasy genre is very broad and encompasses many different subgenres.
Knowing the difference between these subgenres can help readers identify their likes and dislikes within the genre.
Breaking down the genre into smaller categories is something that has been happening since the creation of the fantasy genre. It seems that there are more and more subgenres to be aware of all the time. If you have ever had trouble picking out your next read, a better understanding of some of the fantasy subgenres should help.
Each subgenre of fantasy has its own set of qualities that make it distinct from other subgenres. Some genres only have a small element of magic. Others have dark elements like vampires that make it fall into a particular fantasy category. Whatever subgenre the fantasy book you are reading falls into, you know that magic is going to play a key element in moving the story along.
Some of the most popular subgenres of fantasy are medieval fantasy and high fantasy. And these categories have some similarities. However, they also have a few distinct differences. High fantasy does not have to be Medieval fantasy, but Medieval fantasy is often high fantasy. If that is a little confusing, don’t worry. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about the differences between high fantasy vs medieval fantasy.
What is High Fantasy?
High fantasy takes place in the “secondary world.” In other words, the setting is completely fictional. The secondary world may have similarities to our world, the “primary world,” but it does not actually exist. The author of a high fantasy novel has created a world that is entirely their own.
Taking place in the secondary world means that the characters in the novel do not have to follow the rules of our world. Gravity may not exist, for example. Or perhaps animals can talk to humans. The rules of the primary world do not necessarily exist in the secondary world. In contrast, the primary world generally follows the rules that we know in our everyday lives.
Another key aspect of high fantasy is a sense of adventure. High fantasy is sometimes also called epic fantasy. And in epic fantasy, characters often go on an epic quest or journey to find something or defeat evil. Sometimes they are also coming-of-age stories. These types of stories are likely very familiar to you since they are some of the most popular types of fantasy.
High fantasy relies largely on magic and supernatural elements to progress the story. Magic is an incredibly important element to a high fantasy novel. In fact, if magic exists in a story, but it is not a key part of the story, it is likely not high fantasy. High fantasy also almost always includes non-human characters. Elves, dragons, and Hobbits are great examples of non-human, fictional characters who are key parts of high fantasy.
Examples of High Fantasy
High fantasy is an incredibly popular genre. There are countless examples of high fantasy novels that exist in the world. Some of the most popular fantasy novels are high fantasy, and they are definitely ones you have heard of and read.
Of course, one of the most popular high fantasy novels of all time is The Lord of the Rings series. Fans of fantasy are familiar with this series of novels and their classic high fantasy storylines. This series is a perfect example of high fantasy because the main premise is an epic journey or quest. The characters are mostly non-human, and many of them are mythical creatures. Elves, Hobbits, and Orcs are at the forefront of these stories. The journey takes place in a fictional world with tons of lore weaving the fabric of the universe. It checks all the boxes of classic high fantasy.
However, The Lord of the Rings is also often considered a Medieval fantasy, which makes it a little tricky to define. As stated above, it has all the elements of high fantasy. As you will read below, it also maintains many of the key elements of being a Medieval fantasy.
A few other popular examples of high fantasy are a Song of Ice and Fire (you may know this as A Game of Thrones) and The Stormlight Archives.
What is Medieval Fantasy?
Medieval fantasy can be low fantasy, but it is much more common for it to be high fantasy. Medieval fantasy takes place in the middle ages, which is approximately the 5th-10th centuries. It encompasses everything that you might think of when you think “Middle Ages.” This includes knights and kings, as well as mythical creatures popular in this time period like dragons.
Medieval fantasy usually includes monarchs, warfare, and a distinct class system. It also often takes place in a Europe-like setting, but not always. Medieval fantasy can take place in a real location or a fictional one, meaning it can be either high or low fantasy. Regardless of whether the setting is real or not, it is almost always in a Medieval Europe-like place.
One of the most important aspects of Medieval fantasy is the lack of technology. Something that makes Medieval fantasy so popular is the fact that it is such a far cry from our world. There are no cell phones, no cars, no firearms, and no technology like we think of today. The lack of these things can make these stories more romantic, magical, and ultimately, appealing.
An underdeveloped justice system is another important aspect of Medieval fantasy. In many Medieval fantasy novels, characters can simply kill their enemy without any repercussions. This not only makes the story more interesting, but it also gives the author a lot of freedom with their characters’ adventures.
Examples of Medieval Fantasy
There are many examples of medieval fantasy that are incredibly popular. Some of these include the Eragon series and Assassin’s Apprentice. Because of their fictional world and heavy reliance on magic, both of these novels are also high fantasy.
What makes these stories Medieval fantasy along with being high fantasy is the fact that they take place in the Middle Ages. Typical Medieval elements are peppered throughout such as knights, kings, and a prominent class system. Either of these books is a great choice if you want to read some medieval fantasy.
Which to Choose
Medieval fantasy is one of the first fantasy genres that we learn about as children. Many of the classic fairy tales we know and love are set in medieval times. We learn about mermaids, elves, and dragons as children, so we tend to gravitate towards those topics as we get older, as well. They are familiar and comfortable.
Medieval times are riddled with dark magic, sorcery, and demons, Religion and magic went hand in hand during these times. Many modern medieval fantasy authors still use religious themes and ideas to tell their stories.
Medieval fantasy and high fantasy have some similarities. However, they also have many differences to be aware of. Medieval fantasy is the genre you will want to pick up if you are looking for a novel that will take you back in time. It is a genre that seems to have some relationship to our own history but still has fantastic elements. Medieval fantasy will have you learning about monarchs and knights, and it will take you on a trip to a different time.
High fantasy is where you will want to look if you are searching for a grand adventure.
If going on an epic quest to defeat evil and trekking across the globe is something you’re interested in reading about, high fantasy is likely the genre for you.
However, as I mentioned, many Medieval fantasy novels are also considered high fantasy due to their fantastic nature. Medieval fantasy often includes an epic journey, something that is a hallmark of high fantasy. Regardless, knowing the difference between these two genres can help you decide what book to pick up next.
High Fantasy Vs Medieval Fantasy: Conclusion
I hope this article has clarified the difference between these two fantasy subgenres!
And if you want to read more about fantasy subgenre differences, check out some of the other posts in this series!
Lastly, feel free to message me below if you have questions about this or another fantasy-related topic!
I think Game of Thrones is low fantasy with elements of high fantasy. Magic is not common, dragons are rare and belong only to one family. Not everyone has access to those supernatural elements.
Thanks for sharing your opinion! The debate about what makes something low or high fantasy is an interesting one!