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Mundane Fantasy Books

Mundane Fantasy is a bit of an oxymoron: how can something mundane also be fantasy? In a very broad definition, Mundane Fantasy is a Fantasy story in which all the fantasy genre elements are missing. But that's not a very descriptive definition, and anyway it's not necessarily an accurate definition. While it is true Mundane Fantasy is almost the opposite of traditional High Fantasy, magic and fantasy still find their way into the mundane world.

Mundane is a unique sub-genre of Fantasy in that suspension of disbelief is not necessarily a requirement. Because the fantastical elements of the world are presented logically there is no reason to let go of plausibility. Indeed, rationality is often a strong component of the story.

World-building is a huge component to any Fantasy tale, but in Mundane Fantasy the world is already recognizable. At some point in the story the writer will, of course, have to describe the magical and supernatural elements lurking in the shadows. But, these two worlds, whether wholly separate or intertwined, create opportunities to explore.

Style also sets Mundane Fantasy apart. Unlike the stories of High Fantasy, Mundane stories have a contemporary style. Ancient mythologies may play a part of Mundane stories, but the style is decidedly more modern. And it is precisely this contemporary style that brings more mainstream readers into the Fantasy genre.

Mundane Fantasy Characteristics

  • Level of Magic

Starts out low and then increases. Mundane Fantasy is set in our world, a real world where magic does not exist. But as the story progresses the protagonist discovers the secret that is magic. While most of the other real world characters won't believe in magic, or even know of its existence, magic is nonetheless an important part of the world.

  • Level of Grand Ideas and Social Implications

High. When fantasy is introduced to our mundane world there are plenty of opportunities for social implications. Indeed, Mundane Fantasy has the unique opportunity to explore contemporary issues (politics, sexuality, etc.). The idea of home is one that Mundane Fantasy returns to often. The idea of home, the desire to belong, and the question of whether a person can ever return home is a natural question for protagonists hailing from the mundane world who are thrown into the secret world of magic. Mundane Fantasy stories frequently explores ideas of dichotomy, especially between value systems..

  • Level of Characterization

Variable. How well characters are developed varies greatly within this sub-genre. It is worth a mention that protagonists of Mundane Fantasy tend to have a similar arc. They tend to be courageous individuals and experience some kind of loss or otherwise painful experience. However, they do not necessarily start off as the brave hero. Protagonists must discover their courage and part of this discovery is seeking out the unknown (the secret, magical or supernatural world within the mundane world). Different authors will find different ways of achieving this arc, and some do so in a more complex and psychologically rich way than others. Characters are also contemporary, which means that readers will have an easier time identifying with them. Sure, ancient and wise wizards with floppy hats are awesome, but how well can readers really get to know a character so outside of their own experiences?

  • Level of Plot Complexity

Moderate. Mundane Fantasy, in a very basic sense, asks a simple “What if?” that drives the story's plot. What if this mundane world were not so mundane, what if there were something else? In Mundane Fantasy there is something hidden and for the most part it must remain hidden. Expect the high point of the plot to be a big reveal.

  • Level of Violence 

Variable. Some of these stories will be about epic battles with mundane and magical realms at stake. Some will have a smaller scope and may not have any physical battles anyway.

Related Fantasy Subgenres

Urban Fantasy. Urban Fantasy embraces the traits of Mundane Fantasy and puts them into an urban setting.

Crossworlds Fantasy. There exists a passage of some sort between our ordinary and non-magical world and a world full of magic.

Low Fantasy. Low Fantasy, like Mundane Fantasy does not focus on traditional fantasy elements and neither have high levels of magic.

Young Adult Fantasy. Revealing a magical or supernatural world within the mundane world is a common enough trope, especially in YA literature.

Popular Mundane Fantasy Books Books

By Neil Gaiman. A nameless protagonist had a magical childhood where he became part of a battle between the supernatural forces of good and evil. This book does not necessarily reveal the wonder within our mundane world. But, it is a kind of fairy tale.

By Cassandra Clare. A YA series where a young girl discovers her supernatural heritage. Normal humans are even called "mundanes.

By Susanna Clarke. Magic has gone from the world, but two men have begun to practice it again. While the protagonist approaches magic with rationalism, he is soon to discover that mystery and wonder are to come with magic whether he wants them or not.

By Charles de Lint. A series about Jacky Rowan, who can slip between our world and the Faerie world. Set in modern Ottawa and written in a contemporary style, this is a story about people like us, but there are also trolls, goblins, and elves seen by only a few.

By Mark Chadburn. One of ten books in its series, may not be a strictly Mundane book. However, the protagonist travels to the modern world and discovers that the world is under the Mundane Spell, which keeps everyone focused on greed, toil, religion, and the system. This spell seems like it could be, just maybe, true.

By Poppy Z. Brite. A collection of short stories that are small in scope and is about magical moments and meaning, rather than good vs. evil.

By Michael Chabon. In this collection of short stories readers encounter the literary side of storytelling. The purpose of this anthology is to take a literary story and infuse genre elements. Many of the included stories are about mixing a bit of magic into everyday life, but none rely on traditional Fantasy tropes.

By James P Blaylock. The first novel in Blaylock's Christian Trilogy is an example of his distinctive and humorous style. A quick-tempered Californian is swept away from his mundane life to become a Caretaker and keep someone from gathering Judas' original 30 pieces of silver and summoning the apocalypse.

By Emma Bull.What happens when a rock star is pulled into a supernatural conflict between good and evil? Well, let's head on over to Minneapolis of all places and find out

By Alan Garner. An award winning novel about a blended family who is drawn into a tragic Welsh legend. This story is about modern tensions, but with mythical and ancient forces