Dalton, Adam (2018) The sub-genres of fantasy literature: Where does ‘metaphysical fantasy’, as exemplified by A J Dalton's novel Empire of the Saviours, sit in relation to traditional ‘high fantasy’ and other second-world sub-genres of fantasy literature? Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Drawing upon academic and critical literature, the introduction to this exegesis considers how J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (1954) became the ‘norm’ in modern second-world fantasy. Just as Tolkien’s ‘high fantasy’ mediated the fantasies of the sociohistorical periods that preceded it (James, 2012), so subsequent fantasy authors and sub-genres have inherited from and had to react against ‘high fantasy’ in order to discover their own definitions and distinct voices, styles and relevance. Thus, the introduction argues, in order to define and demonstrate the distinct nature of second-world ‘metaphysical fantasy’, of which Empire of the Saviours (2011) is a defining novel, this exegesis is required to show how the second-world ‘epic fantasy’ of the 1980s and 90s inherited from and reacted against ‘high fantasy’, and how ‘metaphysical fantasy’ in turned inherited from and reacted against the ‘epic fantasy’ sub-genre. There is also a discussion of how competing sub-genre definitions within academia and the publishing industry have complicated the debate.

The first chapter considers the sociohistorical context of the development of the various sub-genres of fantasy literature, moving from the ‘high fantasy’ of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, through the nature-based fantasy of the 1960s, to the ‘swords and planets’ sci-fi crossover sub-genre of the 1970s, to the ‘epic fantasy’ of the 1980s and 90s, to the ‘urban fantasy’, ‘flintlock fantasy’, ‘steampunk’ and ‘comedic fantasy’ of the new millennium, to the ‘dark fantasy’ and ‘metaphysical fantasy’ (the latter established by my various novels) of the mid to late 2000s, to the ‘grimdark fantasy’ and ‘dystopian YA’ of the 2010s. The chapter shows how each sub-genre is informed by and reacts to its own sociohistorical moment and that each sub-genre in large part derives its distinctiveness from that unique moment.

The second chapter considers how second-world ‘metaphysical fantasy’ in large part derives its definition and particular motifs from a ‘Millennial’ sociohistorical moment. The chapter then analyses how ‘metaphysical fantasy’ is distinctly informed by, reacts to and differs from the preceding sub-genre of second-world ‘epic fantasy’. Finally, the chapter considers how subsequent second-world ‘grimdark fantasy’ is informed by, reacts to and differs from ‘metaphysical fantasy’.

The third chapter sets out how my novel Empire of the Saviours further exemplifies ‘metaphysical fantasy’ and has served to establish the sub-genre as a distinct and valuable contribution to the wider genre of fantasy. Drawing upon Empire of the Saviours, the chapter identifies further literary features and themes (other than those detailed in the second chapter) that are unique to the ‘metaphysical fantasy’ sub-genre.

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