SF/F Genre Glossary

What is Heroic Fantasy?

This is a continuation of the Science Fiction / Fantasy Genre Glossary Project posts. For the complete genre index click here.

Tavern by jjnaas
Tavern by jjnaas

What is Heroic Fantasy?

Heroic fantasy centers around the tales of heroes and their conquests. Like sword and sorcery, heroic fantasy is often driven by action and violence. The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, though heroic fiction has fewer negative connotations.

Literary Examples:

  • Legend by David Gemmell
  • The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson

Further Reading:

I’ve seen every sort of book listed as heroic fantasy. It seems to be a term used more loosely than some of the other subgenres we’ve looked at here. Perhaps the issue is that in modern terminology ‘hero’ is sometimes used to mean ‘protagonist’. If that’s the case, most stories are therefore ‘heroic’? What kinds of books come to your mind when you hear the term heroic fantasy?

7 Comments

  1. In my experience, Heroic Fantasy is often considered synonymous with Epic Fantasy (epics, in the classical sense, are very long poems dedicated to the exploits of a particular Hero, i.e. of Gilgamesh in Gilgamesh, of Achilles in the Illiad, of Odysseus in the Odyssey, etc.), and both of those are often considered synonymous with High Fantasy. I don’t think there are any hard-and-fast rules defining the differences between these genres.

    That’s why I just say I’m a Fantasy writer and let the dice fall where they may.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      When I’m writing I don’t think about genre much, though I fear at times I’ll just end up with with a mish-mash of uncategorizable nonsense.

      Yes, like epic and high fantasy this one’s pretty ill defined. There seems to be no standard for how people use it. That’s not a terrible thing. Maybe it’s still evolving.

      1. Yeah, I don’t see it as too much of a problem that the three genres are ill-defined (if, in fact, they are distinct). Gives me room to do what I want.

        Besides that, and if I had my “druthers”, I’d rather be writing “Mythopoeia”… which is a topic of a post I’ve been meaning to do for some time…

      2. Genres are annoying to write for, but highly useful for promotion. Certain readers prefer the trappings of Heroic Fantasy instead of bleak fantasies. Things get conflated easily, but it’s good for writers to at least be familiar with them for when they have to promote their work.

        Heroic Fantasy can overlap with High and Low Fantasy. Howard’s Conan stories are the seminal Low Fantasy of the 20th century, and they’re as Heroic Fantasy as it gets. It’s neat that these sub-genres really aren’t all concerned with the same criteria, and hence you can have a High Heroic Fantasy.

      3. T.S. Bazelli Author

        I do enjoy how the sub-genres have no problem overlapping, and how often they do! However, when it comes to defining terminology, the lack of clarity drives me a little nuts 🙂

  2. Interesting to read the takes (and follow the links), since I usually don’t think too much about genre. Similar to Stephen, I try to broaden my horizons and not pin myself into a genre and say I write speculative fiction.

    1. It’s interesting to me because I wasn’t at all familiar with the term ‘speculative fiction’ until I started blogging. Personally, I like the term because it is so broad and inclusive.

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