The fantasy genre is something of a mystery to those who aren’t familiar with it. A lot of people dismiss it as nothing but wizards and dragons, but to do so is to oversimplify something that is incredibly complex. While, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit function as a sort of standard-bearer for the genre as a whole, they are flanked by an army of stories that are no less worthy of our attention.
Departing from the traditional forms of fantasy has taken a long time, and has resulted in rich subgenres that stretch the boundaries of what magic in fiction can achieve. From Alice in Wonderland and schools for the magically gifted (a la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson) to urban fantasies such as Sandman Slim and the Anita Blake series, there’s literally no end to the variety. There are even zombie and Steampunk works that would qualify as fantasy, provided that they have an element of the supernatural in them, such as Probability Angels, which features ghosts and zombies.
Urban fantasy is a particularly up and coming sub-genre that has recently garnered a growing following. But what exactly is urban fantasy? The common denominator here is that it usually takes place in an urban or semi-urban setting, often in the present day (though not always), and has fantastical qualities. In other words, if there are ghosts or vampires in New York City in a story, chances are the work would qualify as an urban fantasy. A good example of a popular urban fantasy is the Dresden Files, a noir-inspired series by Jim Butcher, which details Harry Dresden’s investigations into supernatural crimes that take place in modern-day Chicago.
While many of these works of fiction lack the lofty tones and formality of Tolkien and his many enamored imitators — most of whom sound really unnatural spouting his dramatic language — they make up for that with engaging storytelling, interesting characters, and general readability that some of the most “literary” works usually lack.
With a large number of fresh readers exploring the fantasy genre, aspiring authors will rise up to meet the growing demand. Additionally, the emergence of the Internet as a means of reading, distributing, and selling works will only make access to these new voices more convenient. Readers who are looking to see how the genre and its sub-genres will evolve next can keep an eye out online, in bookstores and on movie screens to see the far-reaching influence of this new world of fantasy.