What Is Heroic Fantasy? What You Can Expect From Its Creative Elements

Heroic fantasy is the type of fantasy story that does not make the reader overthink but does include a lot of action. Usually, some spiritual and physical challenges on the hero’s part take place in an imaginary world that may look a bit like ours, but with some upgrades (or downgrades) and employs basic themes.

In heroic fantasy, no problem exists that cannot be fixed by a hero taking charge and embarking on a quest. Usually, this hero is of low or humble origin, and there is a sidekick, a mentor with magic, or both.

If you are looking for a story that can take you away from the real world, has problems simple enough to keep the plot from becoming confusing, with a fight or battle that entails some magic or sorcery, then this may just be the genre for you. Whether the setting is somewhere similar to Earth, or nothing like Earth at all, there is very little complicated about the events in these stories.

What Sets Heroic Fantasy Apart?

Heroic fantasy is just one subgenre of the vast genre of fantasy. These offshoots of fantasy can intersect and qualify as other subgenres as well. For example, heroic fantasy is sometimes epic fantasy, where there is a hero in an imaginary world who does not have the advantage of modern science to help him in his quest. Epic fantasy is often very long, spanning several books to make a series. With his Lord of the Rings series, Tolkien is a master of the high or epic fantasy subgenre.

Unlike dark fiction, which most horror novels are, nearly everyone in heroic fantasy is strong. All of the women are gorgeous and desirable and quick-witted. There is almost always some historical costume romance involved, and the monsters that are faced in heroic fantasy are not so above the skill level of the hero or characters that the plot seems stark and hopeless for the most part.

The Allure of Heroic Fantasy

Heroic fantasy appeals to readers because it acts as escape fiction, providing the reader with almost no real-world problems they face every day. With elements of magic, supernatural beings, and even a ghost story or two, events occur that are not part of our world, and the themes are simple. Readers can truly check out and leave behind the issues that stress us.

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly is a publication dedicated to publishing heroic fantasy, and it is incredibly popular among readers and writers of the genre. Writers who submit work to Heroic Fantasy Quarterly write fan fiction and aim to eventually break into the writing industry with a book of their own.

Heroic fantasy appeals to so many people for a few reasons. With problems simple enough to distract you from your stress, this type of fiction lets you live in the past and go on adventures you do not have to be too concerned about that will not end well. The events in each heroic fantasy story are fun and engaging rather than scary or mysterious. The good guy goes to fight the bad guy. The good guy may meet a beautiful woman. A good guy probably ends up with a beautiful woman. Everyone goes back to regular life after the bad guy has been defeated.

Heroic Fantasy

What You Can Expect From Heroic Fantasy Books

What can you expect to find in a heroic fantasy book that sets it apart from other types of high fantasy? The following will explain heroic fantasy and provide examples of this subgenre.

1. The Setting

High fantasy often takes place in the past. Like what we would call medieval times, many epic fantasy stories occurred when there was no technology. Times were dark, life adventurous, beautiful women were bored, and men were strong and looking for a conquest.

The stories can take place in a world much like our own (as in the Conan stories), or they can take place in the remote future, or even on another planet that we would not recognize at all. There is an extensive scope of possible settings in this subgenre. What you do not see is any place that you can recognize. You will not read a story of this genre that takes place in Boston, Michigan, Brisbane, or Austria.

Setting can vary in this type of fiction, although it never really gets too close to reality. Fans of heroic fantasy often prefer what sort of time and place the story takes place in. What matters, though, is the plot.

2. The Plot

High fantasy concerns itself more with a life adventurous. As long as there is adventure laid out fairly at the beginning of the book, to be carried out in some heroic manner by a protagonist, often with sword and sorcery, it often qualifies as heroic fantasy. This is a genre meant to be enjoyed. It is the purest fun a reader can have because it is so simple in its plot and devices.

3. The Characters

There is almost always at least one magical character in high and low fantasy. This could be the mentor, the love interest, or even the main character. Sword and sorcery go together in these stories, and the use of a magical character compliments the physical challenges that the protagonist has to face.

Heroic Fantasy

Protagonist: The Hero

The hero of heroic fantasy is often of humble origin. Think of Jack the Giant Killer’s characteristics⁠—small, not firm, nothing special. But when pushed by threat and necessity, he could beat the giant. Situations forcing the unlikely hero to act are a favorite trope of these short stories and novels.

The protagonist can also be strong and capable, ready to put sword and sorcery to use at a moment’s notice. As demonstrated by the protagonist of the series The Witcher, sometimes these stories include supernatural thrills to keep things even more entertaining.

Other Characters

The villain or enemy is always a relatively flat character. Adventures based on killing a monster to protect a town or an orphan with royal ancestors who is on her way to take the throne are often without a name, let alone a personality.

The sidekick of often comedic relief and the everyday character who is along for the ride lend a little bit of reality to the story. Beautiful and eager to be saved by the hero, the women are often not overly complicated.

4. The Absent Elements

You will not read about issues with income taxes, the cost of socialized medicine, a college dropout problem, or any other social issues. These are nonexistent to the genre. There is none of that in heroic fantasy. The great responsibilities of these stories are to go on a quest, beat the bad guy, get the girl, restore peace and order to the village, kingdom, or family, and then live happily ever after. It is almost like a grown-up fairy tale.

Magic works. Guns do not. There are no garish overtones, just adventure laid out for the audience to follow and enjoy. Whether the story is set long ago or in the future, we cannot imagine valiant feats and a simple world and story taking the day. The hero escapes clear of danger and moves on to the next conquest.

John Grant and John Clute

Suppose you are looking for a great place to start in the genre of heroic fantasy, where there is no mention of evil corporate figureheads, evil masterminds, or wider problems than taking a sword and killing dragons. In that case, you cannot do better than the novels written by these two veterans of the genre.

As a bonus, John Grant and John Clute worked together to produce a symbolic bible on the genre, helping the average or beginner audience learn the meaning behind every word, the nature of the genre, and more, in their The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. This comprehensive book is a great companion to any genre fan, even if you have just begun your first book.

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