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Arthurian Fantasy: A Definition

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Welcome back to another post about fantasy subgenres! Today I wanted to introduce Arthurian Fantasy, a genre dedicated to the high fantasy area of fantasy writing. On the surface, it seems obvious what Arthurian fantasy is. This subgenre is based on King Arthur and the overall Arthurian legend, but that’s only part of it. This genre often focuses on the specific King Arthur legend, but it can also expand beyond that. Turns out, there is a lot more to legends than meets the eye.

Ready to learn more about Arthurian legend, including how to write it? Check out the rest of the post below!

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Arthurian legend itself encompasses a lot of different myths and a variety of stories throughout centuries. Arthurian fantasy obviously didn’t show up until much later, but works such as The Once and Future King by T. H. White showed up in the 20th century. But one of the reasons there is so much history and culture behind the King Arthur stories is because King Arthur himself belonged to history. Arthur was likely fictional but also possibly based on kings who existed throughout historical periods before the 1066 Norman conquest of Anglo-Saxon England.

It’s also not easy to pin down exactly where all the legend comes from either. Early evidence comes from Welsh and Breton mythology as early as the 500s, but there are also stories of King Arthur and other Arthurian characters in French literature in later centuries. Geoffrey of Monmouth would complete the first “historical” account of King Arthur in 1138, though it was designed to be fictional. The whole “medieval romance” aspect showed up around the 12th and 13th centuries, with authors such as Marie de France and Chrétien de Troyes. More famous works during that period also include Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart and Percival, the Story of the Holy Grail.

Probably the most famous work about King Arthur was Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, published by William Caxton in 1485. While tales of Arthurian legend would decline in the following centuries, there would be a revival in the 19th century within the age of romanticism, especially with works by Tennyson.

Before you start writing, you should know about what sets this type of fantasy apart from others. For one, Arthurian legend had (more or less) specific characteristics when it was first being developed in mythologies. These characteristics can still be recognized today, and they make the Arthurian part of the fantasy stand out once you start writing.

Some characteristics include:

Additionally, Arthurian fantasy often follows two types: stories set in the same world as King Arthur (with the same characteristics of medieval romance) or a retelling of well-known characters and stories in Arthurian legend. You’ll find some awesome examples below! But now that you know what’s included, check out how to write this fantasy subgenre.

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If you want to start writing Arthurian fantasy, there are two major things that you need to remember. Well, maybe three major things. The first is that you don’t need to only focus on King Arthur when creating your own story. All the history surrounding the King Arthur legend proves that there are tons of directions and worlds you can explore through this type of fantasy or tons of stories that you can retell or reinvent. This type of fantasy might either focus on a story set in the world of King Arthur (or, more broadly, a medieval romance) or retell the story of King Arthur (or any one of the characters). Knowing the characteristics of what makes Arthurian fantasy will lay the groundwork for how you set up your own story. Second:

1) Focus on the epic. Next, you need the broad scope of the story to play out in a similar way to an Arthurian fantasy. To get the right scope, focus on the “epic” nature of an Arthurian story. How do you write something that’s considered an epic? Spoilers: it doesn’t mean it has to be overly long. Typically, when a story is called “epic” it’s because it focuses on a hero’s journey, along with major themes such as loss, honor, and more. Lots of stories do that! Arthurian legend is just a prime, often-cited example of this because of how long it’s been told and retold in different myths. Discover your hero, then set them out on a fantastic journey.

Also, ask yourself: what characteristics of medieval romance will your story have? This type of fantasy in particular may be an epic like lots of other stories are epic, but Arthurian legend still maintains characteristics that stem from the society it came from. This doesn’t mean that you can’t set something Arthurian in, say, ancient China, but it’s still important to remember what medieval romance often included. These stories focused on nobility, knights, people with magical abilities, quests, chivalry, and more. Additionally, these stories are often episodic, creating a broad scope by how everything comes together in the end.


2) Focus on the magic. Speaking of magical abilities, Arthurian fantasy needs a little bit of magic included as well. In these worlds, individuals with magic or other “fantastic” elements are normal, existing like the rest of the characters and often driving the story. After all, it’s not uncommon to start a quest because a witch or wizard told you to. Additionally, in Arthurian legend, supernatural creatures often appear, such as the Green Knight in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, or even the Lady of the Lake, who hands over the sword Excalibur. Be sure to make the magical and fantastic another integral part of your story.

There are plenty more types of fantasy to explore, which will appear in more of my “A Definition” series! In the meantime, check out a few of the more famous King Arthur stories and Arthurian fantasy retellings below!

Happy writing!

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