Low Fantasy has nothing to do with height or literary merit and everything to do with the low emphasis placed on traditional Fantasy elements. Low Fantasy is a descriptive sub-genre and its stories are also examples of other sub-genres.
Low Fantasy can be defined in two ways: (1) an opposition to High Fantasy, does not focus on heroism or sweeping vistas, it is a gritter anti-hero story (examples being Martin's A Game of Thrones, Prince of Thorns, etc);(2) has less magic and a less fantastical, more ordinary setting. In some cases, magic might not even exist (examples being The Lion of Senet by Fallon, KJ Parker's Engineer Trilogy).
Because there are two competing, arguably parallel definitions for Low Fantasy, it can be a bit confusing for the reader to categorize exactly what Low Fantasy really is.
Common thematic elements include struggles for power, moral ambiguity, and cynicism about society and the flawed nature of the human condition. Moral Ambiguity and a flawed humanity are perhaps the biggest contrasts to High Fantasy and are key to creating a grittier, more realistic world. Magic is also a point of divergence: magic envelopes the worlds of High Fantasy, but in Low Fantasy, magic is not the focus or in some more extreme cases, might not even be present in a Low Fantasy world (example, Jennifer Fallon's Second Son's trilogy).
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Low. In the first definition of Low Fantasy, magic has little wonder. In the second definition, magic is often an unexplained phenomenon in the real world. In both definitions, magic is often used as a plot device and depicted as corrupting. Sometimes, magic is essentially non-existent.
Moderate-High. Low Fantasy is generally set in the real world and provides some commentary on the social order. Specifically, Low Fantasy is known for depicting a world of ambiguous morality.
High. Low Fantasy is highly character driven. Expect characters with realistic personalities, flaws and all, and complex psychologies.
High. The plot of Low Fantasy stories are the opposite of the sweeping whole world stories of High Fantasy—these plots are the stories of an individual or a few people.
High. Low Fantasy conflict is gritty, vicious reprisals are not uncommon. Battles tend to be won with physical combat rather than magic. Overall, Low Fantasy has a very dark tone and violence is a strong contributor.
High and Epic talHigh Fantasy. Low Fantasy and High Fantasy are often described as two sides of the same coin, meaning that they are very much related but are also in opposition to each other.
Sword and Sorcery. Like Low Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery tends to focus on a single character and is set in a gritty, though familiar world—though usually medieval.
Magical Realism. In this sub-genre, magical elements exist in an ordinary world.es of the Fantasy genre almost always include quest. Many use High and Epic fantasy interchangeably, though there are some differences between the two. One can include the other.
By Mark Lawrence. The first in The Broken Empire series, this gritty and violent novel focuses on a single character, who is an anti-hero, with a very dark past.
By Matthew Woodring Stover. A novel about two worlds that blends Science Fiction and Fantasy. An action packed adventure filled with real danger, sorcery, and a complex social system.
By Douglas Hulick. A gritty novel, the first in the Tales of Kin series, that centers on a relic smuggler who happens upon a very powerful ancient book.
By George R.R. Martin. An example of Low Fantasy blending with the Epic sub-genre. An epic series of political intrigue, power, sense of realism, and limited magic.
By Joe Abercrombie. Another Low Fantasy/Epic example with heroes who have a bit of moral ambiguity. Flawed villains and heroes, gritty realism, violent skirmishes—this trilogy does not offer a happily ever after.
By Robert E. Howard. This series has been widely popular across multiple platforms, but it got its start in the pulps in the Sword and Sorcery sub-genre. These are fun, adventurous stories that feature a hero who is outside of the story's social structure.
By Gregory Maguire. In this revisionist tale of the classic Wizard of Oz, social issues are at the core. The perspective of these stories is from the outsiders, those who are not heroes and have very real flaws.
By Lynne Reid Banks. The first novel of a five book children's series is an example of magic presented in the real world.
By Stephen King. Another take on magic in the real world, inside a penitentiary’s death row, where one wrongfully accused inmate is capable of empathy and healing.
By Barbara Hambly. This novel deconstructs typical Fantasy cliches like knighthood and dragon fighting. Dragon slaying is messy, and the 'honorable' way is not going to work. The nobility is not all that noble, really.