Wizards, goblins, werewolves, fireballs, banquets, swords, and poltergeists. The wild world of fantasy literature is as varied as it is magical. Yet there has been a persistent vision of dividing the genre along two general, somewhat vague classifications: “High fantasy” and “low fantasy.”
Let’s just admit right now that these labels, to which I’m curiously loyal, are problematic. The very names suggest a top-down judgment on quality or sophistication. I know this since I am traditionally a bigger fan of Low Fantasy, while my husband prefers High Fantasy. I notice that he parses the difference between the sub-genres like he’s swirling a snifter full of brandy and puffing on a pipe.
In other words, he tries to claim anything masterful and deep as High, and everything else is the equivalent of literary potato chips. Really, he takes his life in his own hands with some of his comments on the subject.
This issue boiled over recently during a day of shopping followed by an evening trip to the pub. All day long we debated the definition of the binary classification, with the topic even being stripped of all its meat down to the carcass of sinew and bone over things like “what IS magic”, what defines a quest, to what extent an objective is “world-saving”, and how to properly pronounce “Tolkien”.