High fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy. High fantasy stories typically have big themes, such as the conflict between good and evil, and often take place in heavily-developed settings.
There are many different definitions of the term ‘high fantasy’ across the internet. Some of them are very vague; some of them are very narrow, and would mean that only a small fraction of the stories generally considered to be high fantasy would actually fit the definition. Everyone seems to have a different understanding of what this term means.
However, something that would appear to be true of most of the stories that are generally considered to be high fantasy is that high fantasy stories have ‘big’ themes. High fantasy stories often have themes such as the conflict between good and evil, what it means to be morally good or morally bad, the nature of power, or the nature of life and death.
This is certainly true of The Lord of the Rings, which is generally considered to be the archetype of high fantasy. The Lord of the Rings looks at the conflict between good and evil, the consequences of that conflict, and the temptation of power.
This is also true of the Harry Potter series. (Some people consider the Harry Potter series to be high fantasy; others do not – because of the different definitions of this term.) The main theme of the Harry Potter series is death, and the series also looks at the conflict between good and evil.
Something else that would appear to be true of most of the stories that are generally considered to be high fantasy is that they take place in heavily-developed settings. This does not necessarily mean that they take place in worlds that are separate to our own – it just means that the setting includes a lot of fantasy elements, such as magic, fantasy races and creatures, fantasy clothing and weapons, and alternate societies, cultures, and languages.
This is also true of The Lord of the Rings – the archetype – which takes place in an entirely separate world with elves, dwarves, hobbits, dragons, and magic. The world of Middle Earth contains many distinct polities, each with its own culture, and there are many distinct constructed languages in the story.
This is also true of the Harry Potter series, which takes place in an alternate version of our own world, where a wizarding society lives alongside our own, along with centaurs, giants, trolls, ghosts, and phoenixes. The wizarding society has its own history and culture.
So, the defining characteristics of a high fantasy story are that it has ‘big’ themes, and a heavily-developed setting.← Writing FAQs