What is urban fantasy?



According to Wikipedia, that onestop shop for ‘info’, “Urban fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy defined by place; the fantastic narrative has an urban setting. Many urban fantasies are set in contemporary times and contain supernatural elements. However, the stories can take place in historical, modern, or futuristic periods. The prerequisite is that they must be primarily set in a city…”

Carrie Vaughn has analysed it… I’ll let her speak for herself, but to give a hint, she starts her discussion by elaborating on the ‘formulaic’ element of this genre, writing that “Apart from the presence of the supernatural and a kick-ass heroine (often wearing leather pants and wielding a semi-automatic), which are big parts of the urban fantasy formula and traits readers look for in these books, I’d argue that the framework boils down to two things: character and world-building. This genre is primarily character-driven: the main characters are at the hearts of these series, and readers keep coming back because of the connection they feel with them. And world building: readers want a world they can fall into, that they can believe in, often similar to ours but the fun comes in seeing the differences, in imagining what it would really be like if these things really happened. When these two things come together, along with the tropes that cause readers to seek out these books in the first place (vampires, kicking ass, etc), you have a successful urban fantasy novel and series. I believe this is what readers are looking for, and what writers in the genre are striving for.  

It so happens that this framework encompasses lots of different stories — mystery, horror, romance, chick lit, action, adventure, humor — while still maintaining a solid identity as urban fantasy. These books are found — in one form or another, with variations — in the romance, science fiction, and horror sections of the bookstore. They cross over. They’re hard to classify, precisely because they manage to cover so much ground within otherwise strictly defined boundaries. This makes them accessible to a wide audience, and I think accounts for some of the popularity.”

Carrie Vaughn has lots more to say, so go to her site for more…

She also points us to Lilith Saintcrow’s article, ‘ANGRY CHICKS IN LEATHER‘  Also worth reading! She works from the position that “Paranormal romance is considered lowbrow and trashy because it’s female,” positing that urban fantasy is the heir of the ‘gritty noir thrillers’ of Raymond Chandler and Daishell Hammett….

…and then…

I do quite like TVTrope’s comment that “In short, put a single vampire (or a few) in something, and it’s horror.Put a gaggle of them in there and mention the phrase “vampire politics”, it’s urban fantasy.” They then contrast it with a few other genres, including Gothic Punk, about which they write:

Gothic Punk   

A place which is like the modern-day real world, only a lot more goth. Various supernatural creatures control the world just below the surface, treating humans as cattle at best, and vermin at worst. There’s also usually pandemic angst. The term was coined in the first edition rulebook for White Wolf’s Tabletop GamesVampire: The Masquerade, and has since been applied not only to The World of Darkness, but also to many other works that are similar in tone.  If a film takes place in a Gothic Punk setting, expect its soundtrack to include something by either Trent Reznor orDanny Elfman.  If this takes place Twenty Minutes into the Future, and with more robots, it’s Cyberpunk. (Which very quickly became a borderline Discredited Trope itself and was replaced by Post Cyberpunk).”

Definition from literary studies?  

I’d quote some academic article, but I’m going to have to follow up on Wikipedia references, then go to the library and look through books first; I’ve done a couple of searches in different databases and haven’t found mention of any articles discussing the genre – certain texts yes, but not the genre itself. I’m assuming books on fantasy will get into it but, curious?! And also a little ironic that you can’t find academic discussion about this genre electronically…  I guess my point is, ask the fans or the authors!




One thought on “What is urban fantasy?

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