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Medieval Fantasy

What is Medieval Fantasy?

Medieval Fantasy is defined less by its characteristics and more by it setting: namely, the medieval historical period. This sub-genre has had a great influence on the Fantasy genre as a whole. Indeed, many Fantasy stories have a setting, that while not strictly medieval, has noticeable influences and resemblances to that time period. The sub-genre has grown beyond the literary formats to include movies and games.

The European Middle Ages tend to the be setting for these stories. Featuring the culture, social structure, monarchial government, and warfare of medieval Europe. Medieval Fantasy stories blend the historical with the magical and often European folklore.

Other Features of Medieval Fantasy

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  • Level of Magic

    High. For the most part magic is a strong and compelling component of Medieval Fantasy. Expect powerful wizards and magical creatures to grace the pages of these stories.

  • Level of Grand Ideas and Social Implications

    Variable. Medieval Fantasy can be incredibly engrossing and really draw a reader into its world. As a reader you will likely gain knowledge of the world's social structures, cultures, government systems and religions. However, the world-building is not necessarily a commentary on these structures. But then again, sometimes it is!  

    When adults read children's literature an interesting thing can happen. Most of these stories are told through the eyes of a young person. Kids can be pretty smart, clever, and even surprising. This lens provides an opportunity to reconnect, reexamine, and experience things anew.

     

    Medieval Fantasy has a history of having white male protagonists, female characters who only seek the love of a good man, and feature privileged members of society. The abundance of Medieval Fantasy stories that lack diversity can be read as a commentary not on the story, but on genre itself, and even us (as writers and readers).

  • Level of Characterization

    Variable. There are stock and cliched characters in Medieval Fantasy: lovesick princess, reluctant nobleman, honorable knight. These characters have been done to the point of boredom—there are even online 'tests' to see which stock medieval character you might be. 

    But then there are some awesome characters. Characters who are so well developed that they become beloved and timeless.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    Variable. Medieval Fantasy is often plot driven and will often have complex plots with multiple players—as is typical of Quest and Epic Fantasy. However, the sub-genre also has some typical plots that have become borderline cliché. For example, the boy rescues girl scenario—not terribly inventive and we all know how it ends.

  • Level of Violence

    Moderate. Violence is a part of the medieval makeup. Swords, shields, fire-breathing dragons, flying fireballs, bows and arrows, staves, and anything you would imagine a dwarf carrying.

Related Fantasy Subgenres

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Medieval Fantasy Isn’t For You If...

If you have grown tired of the often used medieval setting. Indeed, it could be argued that sub-genres like Urban Fantasy were created to get away from the stuffy castles and what has become known as Medieval Stasis.

Popular Medieval Fantasy Books
  • 1 The Lord of the Rings


    By J.R.R. Tolkien. The quintessential Fantasy trilogy draws from medieval history as well as its European folklore.

  • 2 The Chronicles of Narnia


    By C.S. Lewis. Another quintessential Fantasy series. Narnia is a fantastical medieval land, ruled by kings and queens, complete with epic battles of good and evil, and some religious overtones. Indeed, the adventure is to defend Narnia and return the throne to the rightful lineage.

  • 3 A Song of Ice and Fire


    By George R.R. Martin. This series is set on the fictional land of Westeros, which is based on medieval Europe both in history and society.

  • 4 Deryni


    By Katherine Kurtz. A series about power politics in a medieval setting. The Deryni are psychic humans. The series is rich with history, politics, magic, and religion.

  • 5 Ranger's Apprentice


    By John Flanagan. A juvenile/young adult series set in a medieval Europe that resembles our own. The story follows an orphan protagonist who seeks to protect the kingdom from evil invaders.

  • 6 The Once and Future King


    By T.H. White. An example of Medieval Fantasy as it invokes the Arthurian legend, for a child audience.

  • 7 The Crystal Cave


    By Mary Stewart. Another example of Medieval/Arthurian Fantasy, this book is the first in its series. The focus on the character of Merlin.

  • 8 A Knight in Shining Armor


    By Jude Deveraux. Just one of many books in the Montgomery series. A very romantic take on the Medieval sub-genre.

  • 9 Memory, Sorrow and Thorn


    By Tad Williams. This epic series takes place on a fantastical continent with distinct human nations as well as other fantasy creatures. There is a monarch, castles, conquering armies, and influences of ancient legend. A traditional fantasy story.

  • 10 The Red Knight


    By Miles Cameron. The first in its series, this book introduces readers to a mysterious character who returns from a campaign and fights for money.

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