Fantasy without Magic is still Fantasy, right?

by Laurel
(from California)

Question: I've created in my novel an Island with its own culture and people, completely devoid of contact with the outside world. Never does it even try to contact the outside world. There is no fantasy and technically it could fit into any time period in the real world, but it is completely fictional and has its own problems. Even though it doesn't have dragons or magical superpowers, does it still count as Fantasy?

Thanks for your time!

Question: Ooooh great question!

Usually, fantasy is defined as a story with fantasy (non-real) elements, which can take the form of ...

* magic (people or objects that can break the laws of nature)
* non-existent species, often with magical powers (e.g. centaurs, witches, vampires)
* non-existent places (fantasy worlds, other dimensions, hidden places within the real world)

In the latter category fall stories such as jungle romances (stories about lost kingdoms) or planetary romances (set on imaginary planets). Both of these often contain magic and/or magical species as well. We would call them "high fantasies," in the sense that few people from the real world (except in some cases the protagonist and his/her friends) can get to them.

(A great example of a story with a fantasy setting, but no magic or magical species, is "The Library of Babel" by Jorge Luis Borges.)

It sounds to me as though you may be writing a high fantasy, since the story takes place in a non-existent, imaginary world.

However, the real issue is which shelf in the bookstore to put your story, and that is an area where you may need to rely on your publisher, who should have some expertise as to which readers it will appeal to.

For instance, would you want it among all the "sword and sorcery" books labelled high fantasies? Probably not, if it contains no magic or swashbuckling. You don't want to disappoint readers.

Depending on how it is written, the book might be better off in the literary, mainstream, or magical realism section. Or, depending on the plot, it might fit under romance, mystery, suspense, etc.

If you already have a fan base in the fantasy genre, it might be more profitable to market the book as a fantasy. But if it's a first novel, it might be better to not get hung up on a label.

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