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Is it Fantasy if it Has no Magic?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by joshua mcdermott, Jan 8, 2021.

  1. So about 10k into a new bit of writing and so far have had no reason to include any magic or mythical beasts/races etc. but its setting is a fantasy world, as its not our world...

    I am fine with that myself, but it got me thinking - what is it if its basically fantasy in all aspects except the whole 'magic' thing.
    Son of the Roman likes this.
  2. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    It can work.

    Before writing 'Game of Thrones,' George RR Martin went back and forth between a world with no magic and a world with low magic.
  3. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Sage

    The Wikipedia definition states that fantasy is based in myth/folklore and doesn't have the themes you'd otherwise find in scifi or horror (so no space ships or spoopy monsters). You wouldn't say (a) god has powers because of magic, they have powers because they're (a) god, so the story of Heracles isn't inherently magical.

    So you say it's a "fantasy world" but not our world, but it also doesn't have any mythical beasts/species. What you're writing is speculative fiction, yes, but what, exactly are the divergences from our world? If it's something like "what if the dinosaurs didn't get killed by an asteroid" then that's speculative biology and would lean more sci-fi (or one can argue alt-history, which is its own genre of speculative fiction and is'nt necessarily sci fi or fantasy, though a lot of times they tend to be. They also might be military fiction, too). If it's "what if humans just started living forever? but nothing else changes" then it's magical realism I guess? Which is a type of fantasy...or can be a type of literary fiction, depending on how pretentious you want to be.

    Genre is really vague, and at the end of the day it's just a marketing term. What books would yours be near at Barnes and Nobles? That's, ultimately, the question.
    S.T. Ockenner and Aldarion like this.
  4. LAG

    LAG Minstrel

    We enter the realm of semantics, but yes, it can be.

    If I create a world 250 million years ago of warring tribes riding dinos and pterodactyls, is that fantasy? They exist, that's it. No time machine macgoogadads, so it's not sci-fi, and sure as hell not historical fiction.

    The lines between sci-fi/fantasy/weird/spec/horror pretty blurred for me personally, I consider anything that is not realism fiction to be fantastical. If you create a world full of normal folk that war against each other or trade or make music, and they are on another, low-tech planet, or another dimension, but no magic in the common sense exists, pretty much fantasy.
    Jack Vance's Planet of Tsai is a perfect example of the irrelevance of distinction. It certainly is sci-fi, human cosmonaut crash lands on alien planet. All 'magic' on planet is rather tech-based, but the story, in my view, can just as well be termed fantasy. With the Pnume and the tribes of the idols and all the crazy stuff happening, even if its high-tech and 'galactic.'

    I know 'hard science fiction' (Clarke) is greatly different from fantasy, but all-in-all, I don't care what it's called on the box, I only care how well it plucks my nosehairs.
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2021
    Malik likes this.
  5. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Yes, of course. There are plenty of fantasy books with no magic.
    Za'dok Khoal, Reaver and Malik like this.
  6. Mari More

    Mari More Minstrel

    Yes you can, just like what the above stated, you can create a fantasy story without putting magic in the book.
  7. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

    Well yes, by almost all defintions what you're writing is fantasy. The requirement you've met is that you've set the story in a secondary world. That for may critics would make it high fantasy, but since your world doesn't include magic or anything supernatural most English readers would probably class what you're writing as low fantasy. The French would probably call it "le fantastique", since they don't distinguish between high and low fantasy.
  8. ladyander

    ladyander Dreamer

    Yes. You don't need magic to write a fantasy. There are many fantasy novels that don't include magic at all.
  9. TJPoldervaart

    TJPoldervaart Minstrel

    My initial answer is: yes, you absolutely can. Just as an example, one of the most popular fantasy middle grade series is the Ranger's Apprentice, and apart from I believe the first two, none of them contain magic or mythical creatures.

    However, I do think it is important to ask yourself: Why do I want this to be fantasy? If your setting has a clear added value to your books, which I can absolutely imagine, I'd say go for it! However, if you find that it wouldn't make that much of a difference to a reader if it were set in our world and be more of a historical fiction novel, then even if you love your setting, it might be a case of kill-your-darlings and write something that is not fantasy.

    Then again, the genre fantasy is mostly a marketing tool, and at the end of the day you should write the story you're exited about :)
    Za'dok Khoal likes this.
  10. Valena

    Valena Acolyte

    I agree with TJPoldervaart.
    Fantasy is mostly a label put onto something to help it sell, so don't stress yourself about that.

    Long story short: you can absolutely write fantasy without magic.
    Long story long: In German literature, we have a clear distinction between 'fantasy' as a genre and something that is called 'the fantastic'. Fantasy usually means everything with magic or elves or dragons and the like. The fantastic on the other hand tackles a wider range and focusses on the fantastic aspects (e.g. E.T.A. Hoffmann, but also Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, fairy tales etc.)in rather 'non-magical' texts. For example, Todorov defines the fantastic (contrary to the 'wonderful' which naturally includes the supernatural) as the indecision of the reader. So, whenever the reader is not sure how or why things are or work, then it is fantastic.
  11. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

    It depends on what you count as magic, but it is technically not fantasy if it does not have supernatural elements. It does not have to be wizards or magic items, but supernatural creatures, ghosts, and psychic abilities count.
    Aldarion likes this.
  12. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

    As was said before: you should have supernatural. It doesn't need to be magic, but something unexplainable by science - be it gods or ghosts.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  13. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

    Of course it can be fantasy without magic. And I personally prefer that kind of fantasy anyway.
    Reaver likes this.
  14. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

    As a nod to your handle my friend I must mention that "Titus Groan" (Gormenghast #1for the uninitiated) is a great example of this. So is "The Dragonriders of Pern" series.
    Steerpike likes this.
  15. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

    I think Anne McCaffrey actually considered the Dragonriders series to be SciFi, not fantasy. And even if there's no actual magic in there, there are plenty of fantastical elements in the books. There's dragons and a mysterious sun raining down death and destruction. That makes it fantasy.

    It's a tough question. In my opinion, there should be fantastical elements in a book for it to be called fantasy. But those can be small. In A Game of Thrones (the novel), at the start there's only a few fantastical elements. Mainly the direwolves found by the Stark family, trees with faces in them and rumours that there used to be dragons and more magic. That's enough to make it fantasy for me.

    But something which is simply set on a random world with the exact same rules of physics and biology for me doesn't count as fantasy. It's something like alternate history or something like that.

    Of course, it's mainly a marketing discussion, since genre's are a marketing tool, nothing else. And of course, in an actual, brick and mortar book store, it would all get shelved on the same shelve anyway. So I doubt it matters a lot.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  16. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    How can it be alternate history if the setting is completely divorced from the real world? There's no history for it to be alternate to.
    Za'dok Khoal and Reaver like this.
  17. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Yep! Great books :)
    Reaver likes this.
  18. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

    True. I'm not sure what to call it either. It the same argument why it's not really fantasy if there's nothing fantastical in it.

    By the way, joshua mcdermottjoshua mcdermott I don't mean to say that you should add fantastical elements into it just to make it fantasy. I believe you should always write the story as it is first, without trying to force in things that are not needed.
    Za'dok Khoal and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  19. thanks! I am actually not that conflicted and will write it as I want, just thought it might be good to grab some perspectives. basically the book is: "Things that happen in a made up world that is in all other ways probably just like ours"
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    I guess that depends on how you define "fantastical." The first definition I got from a Google search is: "1. a. Based on or existing only in fantasy; unreal."

    Seems to me an entirely made-up world is 'fantastical' in and of itself.

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