In its broadest sense, "Fantasy Fiction" covers an immense number of works by many authors, from ancient myths and legends, to some recent works embraced by mainstream literary audiences (such as Neil Gaiman's best-selling novel American Gods) and much in-between.
Perhaps the most common sub-genres of fantasy--or at least most commonly associated with the term "Fantasy"--are sword and sorcery and high fantasy, two closely related forms that typically describe tales featuring magic, brave knights, damsels in distress, and/or quests, set in a world or worlds quite different from modern-day Earth and usually inhabited by mythical creatures such as dragons and unicorns. Works by J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber and others are sometimes classified as either Sword and Sorcery or High Fantasy.
There is no universally accepted definition of "Fantasy Fiction," and furthermore, the characteristics of the form and its many overlapping sub-genres are the subject of debate among some fans and writers.
A critical characteristic is that the world feature some difference from Earth that is not a result of science or technology, but rather the result of magic or other anomalous phenomena. But, again, definitions and opinions on the proper classification differ.
As a genre, fantasy is both associated and contrasted with science fiction and horror fiction. All three genres feature elements of the fantastic, of making radical departures from reality or radical speculations about what reality might be like, or might have been like. Some writers and critics prefer the term Speculative fiction due to the frequent crossover from one genre to another.
Further blurring the definition, some suggest there is a distinction between "Fantasy" proper as a genre, and "the fantastic," the latter being a fantasy-like element in other fiction.
The genre has a long and distinguished history, with beginnings in Greek mythology and Roman mythology (famous examples are Homer's Odyssey) and other epics such as Beowulf, and a very strong influence from medieval romance. The legend of King Arthur, with its magic, swordplay, and romance is another clear precursor of contemporary fantasy.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, much fantasy was published in the same magazines as science fiction (and often written by the same authors). After the great popularity, in the mid-20th century, of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, as well as of C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series, fantasy writing saw renewed popularity, often influenced by these seminal works and, like them, borrowing from myth, epic, and medieval romance.
Comic fantasy -- especially the works of Terry Pratchett -- should also be mentioned here, which parodies the above ideas as well as ideas outside the genre, in a postmodern manner. This category might also include the so-called 'worst science fiction story ever published' The Eye of Argon.
This fiction and its older predecessors in turn gave birth to fantasy role-playing games, probably in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Dungeons & Dragons is arguably the most successful and influential role playing game.
Role playing games in turn spawned more fiction in the genre. Game companies have published fantasy novels set in their own fictional game universes; the Forgotten Realms and Battletech series are some of the more popular.
Similarly, series of novels based on fantasy films and TV series have found their own niche.
See list of fantasy authors for information about individual authors who write in this genre.
Fans of fantasy get together yearly at the World Fantasy Convention. The first was held in 1975 and it has occurred every year since. The convention is held at a different city each year.
Since the rise of popular fantasy fiction in the twentieth century, the fantasy genre has subdivided into a number of branches:
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website: http://www.sfwa.org/
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