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Themes, Topics & Categories > Low Fantasy Books - What Are Your Favorites?

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message 1: by Ivan (last edited Aug 28, 2013 06:03PM) (new)

Ivan Until recently I’d never heard the term “low fantasy.” Investigating the term I’ve come to understand that a low fantasy is a story rooted in the real world where fantastic or magical things transpire [a “high” or “epic” fantasy is a story set in an imagined world]. There are some books that mix the two – examples being “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” “The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland” and “The Chronicles of Narnia.” These are generally considered “high fantasy” utilizing a gateway or bookend device from the real world into the imagined world where the majority of the action takes place.

Perhaps the most famous low fantasy novels are:
“The Barrowers” by Mary Norton, “The Dark is Rising” by Susan Cooper, “Five Children and It” by E. Nesbit, “Mary Poppins” by P. L. Travers, “The Indian in the Cupboard” by Lynne Reid Banks, “The Children of Green Knowe” by L. M. Boston and “Tuck Everlasting” by Natalie Babbit and many by Roald Dahl.

Two of my favorites are:

The twelve and the Genii by Pauline Clarke - Beautifully conceived and written, and the author has done a splendid job of bringing the twelve wooden soldiers to life in a way that never once panders or condescends to its targeted child audience. The English countryside - a small village - toy that come to life - the Bronte's - there is something for everyone. This story is endearing, suspenseful and humorous. I didn't want it to end. I thought the young protagonist "Max" was a perfectly realized boy. The relationships with his family were spot on. This is a fantasy and an adventure and simply can't believe that it isn't held up and universally celebrated as a classic.


Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer - The story is simply told in a clear prose style. It is about a girl in a boarding school in the late 1950s who goes to sleep only to wake up as someone else in 1918 - the girls change places from day to day until the girl from the 50s gets stuck in 1918 when the other girl is removed from the school. The rest of the narrative deals with her adjustment to living in 1918 and her attempts to get back. It's really a lovely tale, well told. I was immediately taken with Charlotte and the other characters. I believed them as characters and felt that the dynamics of their relationships rang true. There is a séance and the armistice and suspense and fantasy.

What are some of your favorites?

message 2: by LauraW (new)

LauraW (lauralynnwalsh) | 127 comments "Low fantasy" is a new term for me. I wonder if Across the Great Barrier would qualify? For some reason, this story really appealed to me.

message 3: by Tricia (new)

Tricia Douglas (teachgiftedkids) | 312 comments Never heard of 'low fantasy' either. Low or high, it's just fantasy to me!!! And I'll read either one.

message 4: by Ivan (new)

Ivan Tricia wrote: "Never heard of 'low fantasy' either. Low or high, it's just fantasy to me!!! And I'll read either one."

I thought I thought the same as you, but when I started looking at the book titles I realized that most of what I like falls into the "low fantasy" sub-genre. Who knew?

I wonder if the same rules apply to science fiction? Is Slaughterhouse-Five low sci-fi?

message 5: by Manybooks (new)

Manybooks | 6910 comments Mod
I have heard of that distinction, but I don't really like the term "low" fantasy because there is such an automatic negative connotation attached to it (or at least there can be).

message 6: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 722 comments I was taught the distinction in children's lit classes in college. I am not sure how important the distinction feels to me...fantasy isn't my go to genre, but there are certainly many fantasy books that I love...both high fantasy and low fantasy. I hadn't really thought of the negative connotation, Gundula, but I can certainly see that now that I think about it.

As for titles, I'll have to think for a bit and reply later.

message 7: by Philip (new)

Philip Martin | 22 comments I'm the author of A Guide to Fantasy Literature (see for more) and am reasonably well-read on fantasy literature . . . and I've never run into the term (although "high" fantasy is used for a certain classic type). I agree with the comment above that "low" unfortunately has a negative connotation and doesn't fit in any real sense except as something different from "high" fantasy. I do warm in my book to beware labels (quoting an admonition from Tolkien) . . . but then I go on to identify some main categories of fantasy (which aren't fully exclusive, though). I use the terms high fantasy, adventure fantasy, fairy-tale fantasy, magical realism, and dark fantasy. To me, the key aspect isn't where they happen but more significant fictional techniques, literary influences, and especially what they are trying to say about the large issues of good and evil, right and wrong, etc. -- the thing that fantasy is mostly about.

message 8: by Ivan (new)

Ivan Gundula wrote: "I have heard of that distinction, but I don't really like the term "low" fantasy because there is such an automatic negative connotation attached to it (or at least there can be)."

Oh, it doesn't bother me. People who are truly interested will use the word in proper context, and those who don't - well, there's not much I can do for them.

message 9: by Claire (new)

Claire Caterer | 24 comments I don't know that I'd ever heard the term "low" fantasy, though it does rather make sense. I've lately heard the term "gateway fantasy," which fits with ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, OZ, and Narnia. I love those, and other "low" fantasy books. One of my favorites that I rarely hear mentioned is Betty Brock's No Flying in the House. The Narnia Chronicles are my favorite, though.

message 10: by Claire (new)

Claire Caterer | 24 comments Chandra wrote: "I also definitely love it when high and low are mixed - another recent favorite of that genre is Gregor the Overlander. So great!"

I have GREGOR on my TBR list, which just keeps getting longer and longer ...

message 11: by Ivan (new)

Ivan Just finished reading Bedknob And Broomstick by Mary Norton - thoroughly enjoyed them - they're perfect examples of low fantasy.

message 12: by Ivan (new)

Ivan Yes. Two short books actually, written several years apart and then offered as one volume. Both published prior to The Borrowers.

message 13: by Anne (new)

Anne Nydam | 124 comments I'm thinking the terms "high" and "low" are a bit too vague or too variable from person to person to be really useful, in addition to the fact that so many speculative fiction books are hard to categorize anyway...
But I'll go with the flow and add Dial-a-Ghost to the list. Eva Ibbotson has a number of books in this category, but we liked DIal-a-Ghost best.

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