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This week’s installment of stepping out of the box is all about subgenres and why they are important in fantasy.

The world of literature can be divided into four main types: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, & drama.
Within those types of literature, there are then genres. We already discussed that a genre is basically just how to classify different types of literature. I’m exploring genres within the realm of young adult and middle grade lit which is a classification that falls under fiction. Some call YA/MG a genre, but I prefer age genre [i.e. adult, young adult, kid lit] to differentiate it from actual genre.
Still following? Good! Because sometimes these genres like to get a little crazy and divide themselves. I call that a sub-genre or a lesser/subordinate genre (meaning it’s not worse just a different and smaller classification.) Essentially, we’re dividing the world of fantasy into even smaller classifications so we can be picky. Or, funneling fantasy into specifics.
Here’s what it looks like:


So–subgenres can be tricky which is why I often just label books according to their main genre. Younger readers probably won’t care so much that there are particular differences that set apart types of fantasy stories, but as a reader model in someone’s life, it helps to know subgenres because if a reader wants a story about magic that takes place in our world then you know they actually like magic adventure and not alternate world fantasy. These tiny particulars make a world of difference in stories, especially fantasy.
Wondering why perhaps?
Well, it’s because in the world of fantasy (that which cannot happen in our world) there are LOTS of subgenres (and I’m probably still missing some):

subgenresHere’s a little breakdown…

*most of my definitions are an amalgam of thoughts from my studies and A Handbook to Literature

  • Allegory – a didactic tale to teach one moral purpose; often Biblical; also deemed “an extended metaphor in which objects, persons, and actions in a narrative are equated with meanings that lie outside the narrative itself”
    Example: The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
  • Folk Fairy Tale – exists in many forms and passed down through oral tradition
    Ex: old wives’ tales, folklore, or fables that have no one particular author
  • Literary Fairy Tales – we know the author
    Ex: Charles Perrault’s version of Cinderella or anything by Hans Christian Andersen
  • Animal Fantasy – involves animals that can think or talk
    Ex: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  • Heroic / Secondary World (often called High Fantasy) – author creates a whole world and a hero pattern unfolds within that world; usually involves magic, archetypal characters like wizards and kings, sword fighting, fantastical creatures, setting will be “medieval like,” and probably include lots of death
    Ex: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien or The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
  • Alternate World Fantasy – characters alternate between this world and a secondary world
    Ex: Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling or Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger
  • Magic Adventure – story is set entirely on Earth as we know it but children have magic adventures
    Ex: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  • Supernatural – anything from beyond the grave: ghosts, vampires, werewolves
    Ex: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman or Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Witch Fantasy – always involves a witch
    Ex: The Witches by Roald Dahl
  • Time Travel – characters have ability to travel through time
    Ex: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle or Tempest by Julie Cross
  • Toy Fantasy – toys become alive
    Ex: The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
  • Science Fiction – stories are set in the future and magic is disguised as technology; often has socio-political themes
    Ex: Ender’s Game by Orsen Scott Card 
  • Dystopian – “dystopia” literally means bad place; story is set in imaginary world in the future where there are unpleasant circumstances; often has socio-political themes (also a sub-sub genre of sci-fi but we’ll talk about that later)
    Ex: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Steampunk – features advanced machines and technology based on the steam power of the 19th century but takes place in a fantasy world or recognizable historical time period
    Ex: The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross
  • Alien Fantasy – involves aliens and outerspace
    Ex: I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
  • Superhero Fantasy – involves superheros and special powers
    Ex: Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
  • Nonsense Fantasy – stories often play with language and use things that don’t make sense
    Ex: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

This is why the world of fantasy is wonderful! I mean, I’m not biased or anything, but fantasy has so much to offer a reader. The plethora of subgenres though is also why it could be hard to find a read because each subgenre is so particular in what it features AND stories could actually be more than one subgenre. For instance, one of my favorites The Chronicles of Narnia could be labeled an allegory but also alternate world, animal, witch because the series involves elements of each. Perhaps that’s why it’s easiest just to call it a fantasy novel.

I think my nerdism is definitely showing here in the details, but when it comes to fantasy stories the details are important. Especially if you have picky readers. They may like one element such as dragons (high fantasy) but the minute that dragon starts talking (animal) they stop believing in the story. Verisimilitude or the quality of being verifiable similar to it’s own self [aka the story must be consistently believable within the world it creates] is extremely important to young readers. As Coleridge said fantasy requires “the willing suspension of disbelief.” Fantasy encourages creativity and imagination but if it crosses a line and becomes not not real, then the reader may stop believing anything is possible and block their imagination.

Fantasy exists so that we the model readers can encourage infinite imagination, and knowing the subgenres of fantasy becomes important in recommending stories to young readers. The best way to hook a reader is to connect them with a book they love–and if we give them a book with elements they just don’t believe in, then we may just be discouraging their reading life.

Until next week it’s time to stop judging subgenres of fantasy–did you know there were so many? What subgenres have you read? What do you avoid? What sort of elements do you believe in when lost in a story? What makes you stop believing in the world?