I have a 1500 word essay on the decline of Rome in the 3rd century due next Tuesday, and I will be working on that later today. However, for now I would like to discuss something that crops up in the writer circles I like to run. Basically, how do you define fantasy?
The topic has been long-discussed and covered by all levels of writers of the genre. Many minds, much more learned and well-read than mine, have attempted to disseminate the various elements into definitive lists of Fantasy sub-genres. And yet, even when the most knowledgeable of us puts a very concise description out there, invariably, someone will disagree, or want to tweak their definitions, or even pose ideas that hadn't been thought of. So, in reality, there are no right/wrong answers to this quandary. Yet we all try to place our round pegs in our own round holes (ok, that sounds bad if you have a gutter brain), regardless of who agrees or disagrees.
Which leads me to my own definitions. I will admit that I am kind of a minimalist, and tend to define these sub-genres not by the themes they usually include, but rather by the physical conventions used. Things such as settings, races, magic, "monsters" and the like. In the end, I place everything into three categories; High Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, and Urban Fantasy. These are broad categories, and there is sometimes overlap, but not much. In my mind, everything can be placed under one of these three umbrellas.
Sword & Sorcery
You may notice, if you are well-versed in the topic, that I don't include such things as "epic" and "heroic" fantasy. That's because to me, these are not "genres" but rather methods of storytelling, related to the scope of story. Epic stories are all about saving the world, and ending with the world being changed dramatically (usually for the better). Heroic stories are more localized, and involve a smaller cast of characters. At the end of the story, the world itself has not been altered much, if at all, and any changes to the characters are usually temporary or minor. Both of these story-types can be set in a High Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, or Urban Fantasy setting, interchangeably.
As stated, these are my definitions and interpretations, and your mileage may vary.