Urban Fantasy 101

warfortheoaksUrban fantasy really seemed to blossom around the early 80’s. Authors like Emma Bull and Mercedes Lackey wrote stories about people who appeared fairly mundane being thrust into fantastical situations. Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks (1987) was about a rock musician pulled into the middle of a Faerie war. Mercedes Lackey introduced several books during this time about people in urban settings with fantasy situations. Her books ran the gamut from Guardians protecting people from super/paranatural harm to elves who drove race cars and rescued children in need. (See the Diana Tregarde series, The Serrated Edge series, and taking things into the past with The Elemental Masters.)

In the 90s we saw the introduction of Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. Nowadays we have a veritable smorgasbord of urban fantasy to pick from. There’s the wildly popular Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlain Harris, The Dresden Files, Kim Harrison’s The Hollows (which takes place in an alternate Cincinnati,) and more. I particularly like Anton Strout’s Simon Canderous series.


Urban fantasy has even made the leap into TV. True Blood on HBO is based on Charlain Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series, there was dresden-itunesThe Dresden Files on Sci-fi some years back (and it was cancelled way too soon, IMHO). Today there are UF shows all over the place on prime time TV. Examples include The Vampire Diaries, SupernaturalGrimmOnce Upon a Time, and CSI (just kidding about the last one, although it is fantastical to think that they could read a license plate number in the reflection of someone’s eye from a grainy photograph taken by a bank camera).


Kim_Harrisons_The_Hollows_Series_coming_to_CWWhat makes it all urban fantasy? Well, for starters it must take place in, or really close to, an urban city. Often authors use real cities that they are familiar with as a location. Jim Butcher uses Chicago, Kim Harrison – Cincinnati, Anita Blake is in St. Louis, and Anton Strout used NYC as a base. It needn’t be a big city. Smaller towns can be used, along with suburbs. Most urban fantasy is based in a present or near-present time, but the genre can go back to even the 1800s (like M. Lackey’s Elemental Masters series) or just a short jaunt into the future. Too far into the future and it ceases to be urban fantasy and morphs into something more along the lines of Science Fiction. There are a few elements, or tropes the seem to be common in urban fantasy. The Hidden World is one where all the fantasy takes place behind a “masquerade” and mundane folks are by and large unaware of it. (The Anita Blake series and The Dresden Files are examples of this.) There is also The Unmasked World where everyone is aware of the supernatural. (Such as the Sookie Stackhouse series and The Hollows.) I’ll get more into the tropes of urban fantasy in a future article.

Hopefully this gives you just a little idea about how diverse a genre urban fantasy is. I find it to be a great way to “escape” from my “real world.” As a kid I always loved pretending I was somehow special, or that elves and dragons would show up to play in my backyard. Or that I would find a unicorn and go for a ride. Urban fantasy does just that. It takes our everyday world and turns it sideways just a bit and lets something magical in to say “Hello.”

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