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Arabian Fantasy

What is Arabian Fantasy?

Arabian Fantasy is an often romanticized sub-genre that many mediums, including literature, draw upon. For example, music, visual arts, and film all have works portraying elements of Arabian Fantasy. It is an old and traditional sub-genre that has seen a resurgence in the modern era. It is a sub-genre steeped in history and if not always mythic, then at least fable-like—which makes it an incredibly rich sub-genre. Indeed, Arabian Fantasy stories value and employ the use of spectacle, while drawing on the deeply rooted history and mythology of an ancient setting—the Middle East. The balance of history and myth, of magic and religion, of character and setting make-up the richness of the sub-genre.


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It is impossible to discuss the attributes of Arabian Fantasy and not bring up One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights). The book is a collection of stories and folk tales that was collected of centuries, by many authors during the Islamic Golden Age. The tales themselves are incredibly varied: historical tales, love stories, tragedies, comedies, burlesques, and even verse. There are often stories within stories. Jinns, ghouls, apes, sorcerers, real people and geography mixed with the legendary and fictional. All of this makes for a complex and multi-layered collection. Many authors draw upon the tradition of the Nights, either with homages to individual stories, or appropriating themes and styles.

 

Other Features of Arabian Fantasy

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  • Level of Magic

    Variable. Magic is definitely a part of Arabian Fantasy. It is a sub-genre steeped in mysticism and lore. Some authors create recognizable magic systems, while others create a magical atmosphere or a world with a mythos immersed in magic. Magic is important, and it varies from the very specific, genies granting wishes, to just a magical feeling emanating from the page.

  • Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications

    Variable. There is plenty of variation in this sub-genre. However, many stories ponder larger questions or offer critiques on social structures. Fate and destiny are often invoked and pondered. Even allegory is sometimes used to contemplate ideas.

  • Level of Characterization

    High. Characters are so well done in Arabian Fantasy that they have become cultural icons—Aladdin, Sinbad, Ali Baba, Scheherazade. Authors draw on the rich literary history of these characters, they reinvent them, they use them as a basis for new and heroic characters, and they make readers invested in these characters.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    High. Arabian Fantasy is multi-layered, it is rich, it is varied, it is an adventure, it is romance, and so much more. Arabian Fantasy is remarkable for its use of narrative techniques that subsequent genres and authors have adopted. Techniques like dramatic visualization and frame narratives make the story, and the plot, more complex and engaging.

  • Level of Violence

    Variable. Arabian Fantasy is not an innately violent sub-genre. Fighting and battles often dot the plotlines of an Arabian Fantasy story though, it makes for tense and action-packed stories. Indeed, violence in most of these stories is necessary to the plot.

Related Fantasy Subgenres

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    Epic Fantasy. The quintessential Arabian Fantasy work is One Thousand and One Nights, which is an incredible epic story that seems to never end. The richness and adventure of Nights, is just one example of how Arabian Fantasy draws upon the elements of the Epic. .

  • Mythic Fantasy. The Middle East is rich with history and mythology—a perfect setting for a fantasy book.

  • Historical Fantasy. This sub-genre is often set in the past. Writers of Arabian Fantasy will spend a great deal of time researching and getting to know the region, its history, and its literature before writing a book.

  • Urban Fantasy. The cities of Cairo and Baghdad are often central to Arabian Fantasy stories, and provide the opportunity for crossover into the sub-genre of Urban Fantasy.

  • Sword and Sorcery Fantasy. Take a Sword and Sorcery story and set it in the ancient sands of the Middle East and you're in for a thrilling adventure.

Arabian Fantasy isn't for you if...

If you're looking for something wholly new and unique. Arabian Fantasy draws on ancient cultures, religions, myths, and histories. The sub-genre has a rich history that authors are influenced by, that inform new stories, that build the story's setting/world, that shape new and old characters alike. So even in modern Arabian Fantasy stories, the historical and the traditional are woven into more than just the setting. This doesn't mean authors are simply rehashing old stories, but the sub-genre doesn't escape its history.

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