The Lord of the Rings franchise, originally written by J.R.R Tolkien, are great pieces of work, and they have revolutionized the fantasy genre. From the storyline to visual presentation, only a handful of books and movies come close to The Lord of the Rings. However, some fans have debated whether The Lord of the Rings is low or high fantasy, with many suggesting different answers.
The Lord of the Rings movies and books are regarded as a high fantasy due to the story’s structure. The story takes place in an entirely fictional world that follows its unique physical laws. We get to interact with creatures like Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs in depth.
That’s not all, as you still need to know what low fantasy is, whether such movies are good, if The Lord of the Rings qualifies as dark fantasy, and what dark fantasy is, which you will learn if you read on.
Is The Lord of the Rings Low or High Fantasy?
The Lord of the Rings is a high fantasy genre, which is a subgenre of fantasy fiction because of the background setting, characters, and storyline. The Lord of the Rings events take place in a fictional world that doesn’t interact or relate to the real world. There’s also the introduction of different characters, such as Elves and Dwarves, that form alliances with humans in a fight against evil represented by Orcs.
We get to learn more about the characters in depth as we continue reading or watching the movies. There’re also different instances where magic is used, and we’re introduced to Wizard characters like:
- Gandalf the Grey – he works with humans and dwarves
- Saruman – he changes allegiance and works for Sauron commanding an army of Orcs
- Sauron – he was the ‘trusted lieutenant’ of Morgoth, the Dark Lord, and is the primary antagonist of the entire franchise.
The background story takes place in a fictional world, and we get to learn about Mordor and Middle-earth. The books and movies tend to explore the story in-depth, starting with how the rings were forged. Such a story rollout can only be found in the epic fantasy genre.
What is Low Fantasy?
Low fantasy is a subgenre in fantasy fiction work where the events in the fictional world interact with – and even intrude on – the otherwise normal ‘real world’. In most cases, characters tend to come from both worlds, with the story intertwining and taking part in the same way.
Since the events in The Lord of the Rings take place in the fictional world along with all the characters belonging to that world, it’s safe to say it doesn’t qualify for this genre.
Are Low Fantasy Books and Movies Good?
Low fantasy books and movies can be just as great as a book in any other fantasy subgenre, with a gripping and authentic storyline. They mostly follow the life’s journey of one or several characters in the ‘real world’ as they venture into the fantasy world.
How to Identify the Low Fantasy Genre
Besides the story and how it unfolds, many details help to identify a low fantasy genre. They’re common in almost every story but not all. However, if there are one or more of these signs, then the story is a low fantasy genre. They include:
- Magic – there’s little to no magic use, with many seeing it as uncontrolled or corruptive. It’s also left to a select few, often the older generations.
- Mythical Creatures – dragons, phoenixes, and other mythical creatures are often referred to as legends or urban myths.
- Human dominance – the story takes place where the dominant species are humans or creatures resembling humans.
- Heroes – low fantasy tends to focus on ordinary people who defy the odds and change their fortunes, instead of the ‘Chosen Ones’ in the epic fantasy genre.
- Villains – they’re less ambitious, and their actions affect a select few more than villains in the high fantasy that intends to dominate and imprison the entire civilization.
- Morality and War – low fantasy genres don’t usually address the good vs. evil like in high fantasy, where we know the heroes and villains. Also, it’s easy for a villain to change their ways in the low fantasy genre.
In summary, the low fantasy genres are the opposite of high fantasy besides the storyline and the setting.
Does The Lord of the Rings Qualify as Dark Fantasy?
The Lord of the Rings is not a dark genre, even though dark creatures like Orcs and giant spiders are involved. However, there’re some locations that qualify for this genre, although they’re only minor parts.
For a film or book to be a dark fantasy, the events have to unfold in the entire plot rather than in small parts.
What is Dark Fantasy?
Dark fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy fiction work that might resemble the high fantasy genre but with darker twists. For instance, there’s magic in both genres, but it’s mainly used to harm rather than help in the dark fantasy genre.
There’re a lot of enchantments, with the plot dominated by witches and evil wizards. The magic in dark fantasy can be used to cause unspeakable harm, such as rape and bodily torture.
The Lord of the Rings is not part of the low fantasy genre, as the events take place entirely in a fictional world. The setting, storyline, and the characters’ morality are very well defined, with a clear difference between good and evil, making it a high fantasy genre.
Stories in the low fantasy genre take place between the real and fictional worlds, with magic rarely used and no mythical creatures in existence.
Similarly, the dark fantasy genre focuses on the horrors of using magic in evil ways, with dark creatures allowed to cause harm and spread chaos.