English Literature
Contemporary Fantasy

Contemporary Fantasy

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The Intriguing Realm of Contemporary Fantasy Literature

Have you ever been entranced by fantasy stories like City of Bones (2007) or the Harry Potter series (1997-2007), and wondered what genre they fell under? These books, which transport us to enchanted realms, belong to the category of contemporary fantasy. This subgenre of fantasy fiction has a long history, giving rise to various offshoots like urban fantasy, mythic romance, and noir fantasy.

Exploring Contemporary Fantasy

Contemporary fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy fiction that takes place in the present day when it is written. This means that a contemporary fantasy novel written in the 21st century would also be set in the 21st century. However, the most important aspect of this genre is the infusion of magical elements into the modern world. Whether it's through a society of sorcerers or supernatural creatures meddling with the present world, contemporary fantasy adds a spark of the extraordinary, making it more relatable to readers.

Prominent works in this genre include C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia (1956) and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials (1995–2000).

Different Forms of Contemporary Fantasy

Contemporary fantasy encompasses numerous subgenres such as urban fantasy, mythic romance, and noir fantasy. For instance, urban fantasy is set in a modern city and can be seen in Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London (2011). Mythic romance draws inspiration from myths and weaves elements of romance into the story, as seen in S. T. Bende's Elsker (2013). Lastly, noir fantasy blends a noir-style crime plot with magical elements, similar to Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files (2000–Present).

Other Variations of Fantasy Literature

Besides contemporary fantasy, there are also fantasy genres that take place in different eras. Historical fantasy, for instance, is set in the past and incorporates fantastical elements, as seen in works like The Scar-Crow Men by Mark Chadbourn (2011) and Age of Myth by Michael J Sullivan (2016). On the other hand, science fantasy can be set in the past or a distant future and often fuses scientific and magical elements, as shown in the popular series, Star Wars.

The Elements of Contemporary Fantasy

Mythology and Folklore

Mythology and folklore are crucial components of contemporary fantasy, often serving as the building blocks for plotlines and character archetypes. For instance, in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (2005), Rick Riordan incorporates ancient Greek mythology into the fantastical plot.

Paranormal Elements

In contemporary fantasy, paranormality refers to anything that involves supernatural or magical elements. This connects this subgenre to traditional fantasy, as both explore the world of magic and the paranormal.

Imaginary Settings

Most contemporary fantasy novels feature imaginary settings to support the presence of paranormal activities and explore mythical elements. These settings have their own customs, laws, histories, and politics, adding depth to the story's world-building.

Characteristics of Contemporary Fantasy

In her book, Rhetorics of Fantasy, writer and historian Farah Mendlesohn identifies four key characteristics of fantasy: portal-quest, immersive, intrusion, and liminal. These attributes describe how the protagonist navigates the fantasy world they enter. While these elements are common in the broader fantasy genre, they manifest differently in contemporary fantasy.

Portal fantasies involve the character leaving their familiar world, passing through a portal, and entering an unknown destination. This journey often leads to the character's self-discovery as they encounter magical creatures and confront challenges in a new and unfamiliar world. The immersive element of contemporary fantasy draws readers into the story's world, making them believe in the magical elements and their integration into the present time. The concept of intrusion refers to the disruption of the ordinary world by the magical world, resulting in conflict in the story. Lastly, the liminal characteristic deals with the protagonist's state of being on the threshold between the real and fantasy worlds, often causing them to question their identity and beliefs.

Contemporary fantasy is a genre that intricately weaves modernity and fantasy, captivating readers of all ages and making it a prominent subcategory in literature.

Exploring the Different Types of Fantasy: Immersive, Intrusion, and Liminal Fantasy

Fantasy literature has evolved and is now classified into various types based on its themes and characteristics. While some fantasies transport readers to a mysterious new world, others introduce magical elements into the real world. In this article, we will delve into the three main types of fantasy - immersive, intrusion, and liminal - and examine the elements that make them unique.

Immersive Fantasies

In an immersive fantasy, the characters are already familiar with the fantastical world and its rules, making it a normal part of their lives. The author's role is to introduce the reader to this new world and its customs through the protagonist's experiences and beliefs. These contemporary fantasies can be set in a world similar to ours but with added magical elements that are deemed ordinary by the characters.

Examples of immersive fantasies include C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and V. E. Schwab's A Darker Shade of Magic, where the characters embark on a quest in a new world with the help of a guide.

Intrusion Fantasies

In an intrusion fantasy, the opposite occurs - the magical world invades the contemporary world. This type of fantasy often explores the reverse of the portal quest, where the protagonist from the real world is thrown into a world of magic and fantastical creatures. Examples of intrusion fantasy include Mary Rodgers' Freaky Friday and Stephenie Meyer's Twilight.

Liminal Fantasies

Liminal fantasy is a unique genre where it is uncertain if the magical elements are real or products of the protagonist's imagination. These stories often feature unreliable narrators that blur the lines between fantasy and reality. A prime example of this is Günter Grass' The Tin Drum, where the reader is kept in suspense about the true nature of the fantastical elements.


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