Contemporary fantasy

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Contemporary fantasy, also known as modern fantasy or indigenous fantasy, is a sub-genre of fantasy, set in the present day. It is perhaps most popular for its sub-genre, urban fantasy.

Definition and overview[edit]

These terms are used to describe stories set in the putative real world (often referred to as consensus reality) in contemporary times, in which magic and magical creatures exist, either living in the interstices of our world or leaking over from alternate worlds. It thus has much in common with, and sometimes overlaps with secret history; a work of fantasy in which the magic could not remain secret or does not have any known relationship to known history would not fit into this subgenre. Occasionally certain contemporary fantasy novels will make reference to pop culture.

Novels in which modern characters travel into alternate worlds, and all the magical action takes place there (except for the portal required to transport them), are not considered contemporary fantasy. Thus, C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where all fantasy events take place in the land of Narnia which is reached via a magic wardrobe, would not count as contemporary fantasy; on the other hand, the part of The Magician's Nephew, where the Empress Jadis gets to London, tries to take over the Earth and clashes with police and a crowd of cockneys, would qualify as such.

Contemporary fantasy is also to be distinguished from horror fiction, which also often has contemporary settings. When encountering magical events and creatures, the protagonist of a horror novel is horrified, while the protagonist of a fantasy novel (contemporary or otherwise) is filled with a sense of joy and wonder. Horrifying events may happen, but the fundamental distinction is vital.

In his preface to That Hideous Strength, one of the earlier works falling within this sub-genre, C.S. Lewis explained why, when writing a tale about "magicians, devils, pantomime animals and planetary angels", he chose to start it with a detailed depiction of narrow-minded academic politics at a provincial English university and the schemes of crooked real estate developers: "I am following the traditional fairy-tale. We do not always notice its method, because the cottages, castles, woodcutters and petty kings with which a fairy tale opens have become for us as remote as the witches and ogres to which it proceeds. But they were not remote at all to the men who first made and enjoyed the tales". The same is true for many of the later works in the genre, which often begin with a seemingly normal scene of modern daily life to then disclose supernatural and magical beings and events hidden behind the scenes.

Subgenres[edit]

Contemporary fantasies often concern places dear to their authors, are full of local color and atmosphere, and attempt to lend a sense of magic to those places, particularly when the subgenre overlaps with mythic fiction.

When the story takes place in a city, the work is often called urban fantasy.

The contemporary fantasy and low fantasy genres can overlap as both are defined as being set in the real world. There are differences, however. Low fantasies are set in the real world but not necessarily in the modern age, in which case they would not be contemporary fantasy. Contemporary fantasies are set in the real world but may also include distinct fantasy settings within it, such as the Harry Potter series, in which case they would be high rather than low fantasy.

Examples[edit]

19th and early 20th century[edit]

Later 20th and early 21st century[edit]

Overlap with other genres[edit]

Contemporary fantasy can also be found marketed as mainstream or literary fiction and frequently marketed as magical realism, itself arguably a fantasy genre. Examples include Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman The Antelope Wife by Louise Erdrich, and Mistress of Spices by Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni.

In other media[edit]

Type-Moon's Fate Stay Night is in Fuyuki City, certain families have magical circuits in their blood, and can cast spells among other abilities, while Takahiro Yamato's Kaze no Stigma is set in modern Japan and center around a young man with powers to control wind.

The Mighty Thor of Marvel Comics can also be considered to belong to this sub-genre, depicting a god of Norse mythology sharing his life between 20th Century New York City and the legendary Asgard. The same can be said of Hellboy.

The Longest Journey is a video game in which the protagonist discovers that an alternate magical reality exists in parallel with her contemporary urban reality.

Once Upon a Time is a television series that are based on fairy tales and the modern, 21st-century real-world acting as one of the settings in the show.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Martin Horstkotte, The postmodern fantastic in contemporary British fiction. WVT, Trier 2004, ISBN 3-88476-679-1
  • Lance Olsen, Ellipse of uncertainty : an introduction to postmodern fantasy. Greenwood Press, Westport 1987, ISBN 0-313-25511-3

External links[edit]