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Weird West Fantasy

What is Weird West Fantasy?

Fantasy meets the Western with a dash of the supernatural. Weird West Fantasy is inherently genre crossing with bits of Fantasy, Western, Steampunk, Horror, and Mystery all mixed together to varying degrees. This combination of genres demonstrates the versatility of fantasy and its ability to reinvent stories and tropes.


 MORE THAN A GAME

Weird West Fantasy is also a sub-genre of seemingly opposing forces: law and chaos, folklore and industrialization, natural and supernatural, and the tried and true good and evil. The opposing forces is representative of the changing frontier space, which is in many ways a clash of worlds and cultures. There is the sense of exploration and discovery as well as tragedy and betrayal in this historical period, which is a ripe setting for storytelling. So, what happens when a bit of magic or the supernatural is added to the mix?

 

Other Features of Weird West Fantasy

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  • Level of Magic

    Variable. The significance of magic in these stories depends on the writer's intent. Magical powers are sometimes a regular part of frontier life and in other stories magic is a unique force. In other stories still, supernatural elements are more present than magical elements because they lend themselves better to a grittier atmosphere.

  • Level of Grand Ideas and Social Implications

    Variable. Sometimes, Weird West Fantasy follows the pulpy tradition of the Western. In this tradition ideas and social commentary are pretty well nonexistent and otherwise unimportant to the story. 

    However, there are other stories that take great care of the social and cultural potency of this time period in history. Stories often make readers examine questions of morality, of identity, of duty, of history's significance. These stories can be intellectually engaging.

  • Level of Characterization

    Variable. There is potential for stock and cliched characters here—the lawful deputy, the lone and mysterious gunslinger, the damsel in distress, the raunchy bar maid. Not all writers will resort to these tried characters and will instead create new and engaging characters. For example, a character who is half human and half vampire—plenty of room for some unique character development. Indeed, the sub-genre is full of possibilities and this extends to characters as well. Definitely expect to meet some new and interesting characters!

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    Moderate-High. Plots of Weird West Fantasy tend to be action-packed and full of mystery and adventure. The plot will propel readers forward.

  • Level of Violence

    High. The wild west is a lawless place and violence is a common way to settle disputes.

Related Fantasy Subgenres

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    The whole 'weird' part of this sub-genre also means there is plenty of crossover with other genres and sub-genres. Quests, magic, vampires, and even unicorns make appearances in this sub-genre. Really, anything is game for an adventurous writer. 

    That said, Alternate History and Legend Retellings are common overlaps with Weird West Fantasy, for obvious reasons.Urban Fantasy is also related in tone and atmosphere—dark and gritty. Steampunk might also feature in Weird Wild West if there is a combination of magic and science with the science perhaps being of the steampunk variety.

Weird West Fantasy Isn’t For You If...

If you don't like gunslingers, cowboys, and outlaws. Weird West Fantasy has some potential risks that, if not avoided, can ruin the story. Cliché and stereotypes, both within the Western genre and within the historical period these stories use as setting are well known. Falling into cliché or using stereotypes can have the effect of boring the reader, or worse yanking them out of the story all together. The other risk is insensitivity toward the historical period—particularly with native populations. The best stories will avoid these pitfalls and succeed in creating a fascinating story.

Popular Weird West Fantasy Books
  • 1 The Dark Tower series


    By Stephen King. This series is set in another world, but it resembles the old American West, but with some added magic. It is primarily a quest story, but also crosses genre lines (fantasy, science fiction, horror, western, arthurian legend, etc...

  • 2 Territory


    By Emma Bull. The tombstone mythos, the OK Corral, Wyatt Earp, and some magic make this legend retelling a fun read.

  • 3 Blood Meridian


    By Cormac McCarthy. Or the Evening Redness in the West. Not strictly a Fantasy story, but there are some supernatural undertones, especially in regards to some characters. A darkly gritty and violent tale of the American West that makes readers confront morality.

  • 4 The Tales of Alvin Maker


    By Orson Scott Card. This series is part Fantasy and part Alternate History and takes place after the American Revolutionary War. Supernatural powers are simply a part of life. The main character has tremendous powers.

  • 5 The Hexslinger Series


    By Gemma Files. Magicians can't coexist. But one fallen preacher turned sorcerer and boyfriend gunslinger seek to do just that, with the help of a Mayan goddess.

  • 6 Unicorn Western


    By Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt. A sort of writing experiment for a child and young adult audience, these books combine unicorns with the Western genre.

  • 7 Vampire Hunter


    By Hideyuki Kikucki. Not strictly a western story as it takes place in a post-apocalyptic future, but there are strong Western elements in this world. The supernatural are dying out (eradicated) and the protagonist is half vampire/half human who hunts them down.

  • 8 The Winters stories


    By Lon Williams. Written in the heyday of pulp magazines, this series of stories is about Lee Winters, a deputy in the Old West who meets ghosts, mythological creatures, and gets involved in some good old sorcery

  • 9 The Six Gun Tarot


    By R.S. Belcher. This novel is set in a silver mining and cattle town that also happens to be a magnet for the supernatural. Time jumping, angels, shapeshifting, mythical treasures, and more all blend together for a wild and gritty tale.

  • 10 Six-Gun Snow White


    By Catherynne M. Valente. This book reimagines the classic fairytale story of Snow White in a western format.

  • 11 The Half Made World


    By Felix Gilman. A fantasy that combines steampunk with magic and two opposing sides: order and chaos. Pretty much the clinical definition of Weird West Fantasy.

  • 12 Soldier's Son


    By Robin Hobb. The wild west frontier fantasy with magic.

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