The Urban fantasy genre can be traced back as far as the beginning of the novel, both with origins in the 18th century. Books such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a novel set in, then modern, London about a vampire who comes to claim his reincarnated wife, and even Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein share the fantastic elements which identify the genre. Though one might argue that Frankenstein is a science fiction story, it is important to understand that it is the mystical, unknowable, and even magical elements of a story which can cross a novel from science fiction to fantasy. Dr. Frankenstein used his science like magic to create life, achieved miracles with his alchemy. At its heart, this is what urban fantasy does; it makes the ordinary extraordinary.
Today, urban fantasy is widely thought of as a sub-genre of high fantasy. Werewolves, vampires, and fairies can be seen walking through the streets of Chicago, New York, and L.A. causing mischief or rising from obscurity in order to save the day. For some readers, this unique combination of the physical and fantastic provides the ideal form of escapism. They aren’t forced to leave reality, as many of these stories occur in recognizable places, but they are allowed to imagine that there is still magic in this cynical world.
The appeal of this combination of wonder and real has crossed age groups in an interesting and thorough way. For example, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter may be one of the most well-known urban fantasy series. The youth of today enjoy a wide range of urban fantasy stories, from Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series to Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series, from vampires to nephilim. These stories have such appeal that they have jumped media from novel to silver screen, which can also be said for urban fantasy novels written for adults. The HBO series True Blood is based on Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels about a telepath who longs to meet a vampire and does with unexpected consequences.
Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, about the only wizard for hire in the Chicago phone book, spent time on the small screen as a series on the Syfy channel. With all its rich history and wide appeal, it’s hard to understand how so many critics still fail to recognize the importance of urban fantasy. These works, entertaining rollercoasters of adventure that they are, explore more than life as we know it but examine perspective. They ask old questions in new ways, as Octavia Butler did in her urban fantasy novel Fledgling, where she used the evolution of a new breed of vampire to put modern racism on trial. Stories of love, discovery, and perseverance, many urban fantasy novels challenge their heroes and heroines to do the right thing under astonishing circumstances, to fight darkness when it often looks no different from the light. With so much to offer: adventure, magic, and perspective, it is easy to see how this genre has already lasted over two hundred years and will be enjoyed by readers for a long time to come.