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Celtic Fantasy

What is Celtic Fantasy?

Celtic Fantasy encompasses all fantasy stories that drawn on Celtic legends and lore. Usually these stories are from Ireland, but they can also be Welsh and Scottish. Celtic Fantasy stories are filled with mystery and magic. They are imaginative stories inspired by the remnants of an ancient culture and mythology.

The setting of most Celtic Fantasy is a medieval or ancient world. Some common elements: pagan religions, druids, matriarchal societies, romance, tragedy, strong ties to the natural world.


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As a sub-genre, Celtic Fantasy is hugely popular and commercially successful and has a rather large and eager audience. However, Celtic Fantasy has a bit of a bad rap with strong literary and historic types because of its fictionalizing of real legends, cultures, societies, and peoples. Some even describe the sub-genre as escapist.

 

Celtic Fantasy Characteristics

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  • Level of Magic

    High. Magic is a significant part of world building in Celtic Fantasy and influences most other story elements from characterization to plot development.

  • Level of Grand Ideas and Social Implications

    Variable. Celtic Fantasy has a strong history and has often been seen as escapist literature and therefore does not explore many grand ideas or social implications. However, many Celtic Fantasy stories feature well thought out societies with politics, histories, and religions and therefore can offer striking contrasts to our own structures.

  • Level of Characterization

    Moderate-High. Characters are central to the development of Celtic stories and usually have a strong emotional life. Celtic Fantasy is noteworthy for its strong female characters in leading roles.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    Moderate-High. Plots are key to the development of a Celtic Fantasy story, but they are often borrowed from early texts and stories—adaptions and retellings of older tales. When this sub-genre crosses with Historical Fantasy, history drives the plot, but not in an overt way—almost from the background.

  • Level of Violence

    Moderate. Violence is not uncommon in these medieval tales, but it is fantasy violence—magic and knights.

Related Fantasy Subgenres

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    Historical Fantasy. The ancient Celts did exist and there are reminders of their history and culture—Celtic Fantasy draws on what is left, though some stories are more imaginative than others.

  •  Mythic Fantasy. Celtic Fantasy is a part of the Mythic Fantasy sub-genre, but is (of course) specific to Celtic myth.

  •  Arthurian Fantasy. Stories set within the legends of Kind Arthur often draw on the magic and mystery of the Celtic (specifically Welsh) Fantasy sub-genre.

Celtic Fantasy Isn’t For You If...

If you believe the fictionalizing of an historic culture and people to be manipulative.

Popular Celtic Fantasy Books
  • 1 The Dreaming Tree


    By C.J. Cherryh. A story fraught with atmosphere featuring Celtic themes and a convincing read of the Otherworld. Fareys, elves, and Celtic lore.

  • 2 The Little Country


    By Charles De Lint. A folk musician is swept into a magical land featuring ancient stones, fiddles, mist swept hills and the sea. The story is set in a Cornwall that most will never see and draws on Cornish myths.

  • 3 The Mists of Avalon


    By Marion Zimmer Bradley. A novel that retells Arthurian legends from the female characters point of view and features priestess fighting to save the pagan way of life from patriarchal Christianity.

  • 4 Caledon of the Mists


    By Deborah Turner Harris. The first in a trilogy that uses Scottish myth and folklore as a basis.

  • 5 Deverry


    By Katharine Kerr. A high fantasy series that features a well developed magical world complete with its own language, politics, religion, and history. 6. Evangaline Walton, The Isle of the Mighty. This book, the first in a series of four, is a retelliing of the fourth branch of the Welsh Mabinogion, a collection of medieval manuscripts.

  • 6 The Isle of the Mighty


    By Evangaline Walton. This book, the first in a series of four, is a retelliing of the fourth branch of the Welsh Mabinogion, a collection of medieval manuscripts.

  • 7 Seventwaters Trilogy


    By Juliet Marillier. This series follows several generations of a family who have a special relationship with the Otherworld and takes place mostly in ancient Ireland.

  • 8 A Song for Abalion


    By Steven Lawhead. A crossover series where the protagonists (university students) are transported from ordinary London to ancient times. This alternate world is filled with Celtic mythology as well as Christian themes.

  • 9 The Chronicles of Prydain


    By Lloyd Alexander. A bildungsroman series about the growth of a young protagonist. This is a children's series and has won Newbery awards. The stories draw on Welsh mythology and the Mabinogion, but does not retell these ancient stories.

  • 10 The Perilous Gard


    By Elizabeth Pope. An award winning young adult novel that weaves together history, myth, and folklore to create a fairy world and the Otherworld. The novel retells the ballad of Tam Lin.

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