Historical fantasy

"How Arthur drew his sword Excalibur for the first time." Arthur Rackham's illustration for Alfred W. Pollard's The Romance of King Arthur abridged from Thomas Malory's 15th-century Arthurian medieval fantasy novel Le Morte d'Arthur

Historical fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy that encompasses the Middle Ages as well as sometimes and simply represents fictitious versions of historic events. This sub-genre is common among role-playing games and high fantasy literature. It can include various elements of medieval European culture and society, including a monarchical government, feudal social structure, medieval warfare, and mythical entities common in European folklore. Works of this genre may have plots set in biblical times or classical antiquity. They often have plots based very loosely on mythology or legends of Greek-Roman history, or the surrounding cultures of the same era.

Overview

Historical fantasy usually takes one of four common approaches:[1]

  1. Magic, mythical creatures or other supernatural elements co-exist invisibly with the mundane world, with the majority of people being unaware of it. In this, it has a close similarity to contemporary fantasy. This commonly overlaps with the secret history trope. Alternatively, the author's narrative shows or implies that by the present day, magic will have retreated from the world so as to allow history to revert to the familiar version we know.[2] An example of this can be found in Lord Dunsany's The Charwoman's Shadow, which takes place in Spain, but which ends with the magician in it removing himself, and all creatures of romance, from the world, thereby ending the Golden Age.[3]
  2. It also can include an alternative history where the past or present has been significantly changed when an actual historical event turned out differently.[4]
  3. The story takes place in a secondary world with specific and recognizable parallels to a known place (or places) and a definite historical period, rather than taking the geographic and historical "mix and match" favoured by other works of secondary world fantasy. However, many, if not most, works by fantasy authors derive ideas and inspiration from real events, making the borders of this approach unclear.
  4. Historical Fantasy may also be set in a fictional world which resembles a period from history but is not that actual history.[4]

All four approaches have overlapped in the sub-genre of steampunk commonly associated with science fiction literature. However, not all steampunk fantasy belongs to the historical fantasy sub-genre.