Genre as Argument: Urban Fantasy

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When the modern world meets magic, the result is Urban Fantasy. As a sub-genre of Fantasy it expands the genre by blending the modern world with the ancient by answering the question, “What if magic was still around?” In asking and answering that question, UF presents us with two arguments:

  1. We still need magic.
  2. Their is space for heroes in this cynical/post-modern world of ours.

Urban fantasy abounds in the middle grade and YA markets for no other reason that children are steeped in magical thinking. But UF is not limited to those markets. The genre is tailored to anyone with a taste of the fantastical in their stories. Magic is a space to wonder, to break from the mundane in multiple ways, not unlike superpowers in comics transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. The argument is that magic allows to break with convention, expand beyond the modern paradigm and either return to a simpler time or see beyond the apparent by simply turning the corner or going down the right (or wrong) alley.

The second argument is tied to the first. What distinguishes Urban Fantasy from Horror (where magical elements may play a role) is that the heroes can fight back (even if outnumbered/outgunned). The protagonist(s) have at least a chance to defeat the villain by using the same magic, relying on skill, using technology or any combination of the above.  That means that no matter how cynical the story looks on the surface, underneath there is a persistent current of idealism. Good and evil exist both within and without Man, and it is up to him or her to decide which wolf they feed.


2 comments on “Genre as Argument: Urban Fantasy

  1. This was actually a response to your second “Genre as Argument” post, but it looks like that’s gone:

    “Sidestep the present” is a perfect phrase to apply to most of Charles de Lint works–characters slipping out of present reality into other layers of myth moving beneath the surface of the modern world. It’s too bad most urban fantasy today doesn’t take that approach. I think it was the dominate strand in the 80s, when Terri Windling was still the guiding hand behind the movement that labelled itself “mythic fiction”–best exemplified by the Bordertown collections. More recent examples only let us go one layer down, and that layer is often completely severed from the “real world”, so secret it might as well not exist.


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