Cozy Fantasy: Warm Tales in the Realm of Stories

The heat of the fire creates a warmth that envelops you. An orc is sitting in a corner of a room, half asleep, with an ale imported from the backcountry and the best stew you could order for miles around in front of him. You can feel the magic floating all over the place, emanating from the scents escaping the kitchen or the witches cheating at cards next to the window. A few minutes ago, it was raining outside, but now, the rays of the sun illuminate the greenery of the forest standing so close to the inn, where visitors come to take refuge after a long journey.

You may just have entered the world of Cozy Fantasy, where magical creatures such as dragons, orcs, or witches live mostly ordinary lives in magical lands where the world is not in danger (or maybe, they are not the ones in charge of saving it!).

You may have already visited the land of Cozy Fantasy in the past without knowing it, as the term is quite recent. It mainly arises as a reaction to the popularity of the cozy mystery genre and the increasing interest for more lighter fantasy fiction.

The Recent and not-so-recent History of Cozy Fantasy

While we can retrace the history of the Cozy mystery genre, the origins of Cozy fantasy genre are less clear. Until recently, the term didn’t exist, and there is no specific record of who coined it. However, the absence of the term doesn’t negate the existence of Cozy fantasy books. It is simply more challenging to pinpoint a particular time or defining books.

Like many elements of fantasy, we can acknowledge the clear influence of The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings on the Cozy fantasy genre. As author K.R.R. Lockhaven wrote, “The Shire may well be the birthplace of Cozy Fantasy: an idyllic, bucolic slice of heaven in Middle Earth. Tucked away on a hillside in the Shire seems like a very cozy place to be. In fact, the opening of ‘The Hobbit’ is sort of an ode to coziness.”

Expanding on this notion, The Shire is a landscape rooted in the English Countryside. This setting appears in numerous fantasy books featuring little villages and towns bordering on the fairy world, such as the influential Lud-in-the-Mist (1926) written by Hope Mirless, a fantasy novel with a cozy mystery at its heart. Lud-in-the-Mist is a city set in the fictional state of Dorimare, bordering the land of Faerie, whose presence and very existence the residents of Lud in The Mist had sought to banish from their rational lives. This is, at least, until the respectable mayor Nathaniel Chanticleer finds himself embroiled in a conflict, forcing him to veer away from traditions and find a new path to resolution and reconciliation.

If we can find great fantasy books that can be classified in the cozy fantasy genres before the term came to the forefront (Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle is often cited as an example), Travis Baldree’s Legends & Lattes: A Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes, released in 2022, is the book responsible for the widespread enthusiasm for cozy fantasy across social media.

So… What is Cozy Fantasy?

Cozy fantasy, which can also be called light fantasy, lacks a definitive definition. This implies that various interpretations exist regarding what constitutes cozy fantasy. Broadly, it is often described as a slice-of-life story infused with fantasy elements, as long as the depicted life is not depressive. It often has low stakes with an optimistic tone. But it can also have pretty high stakes, as a cozy fantasy book can depict a grand adventure but with an inherently positive tone.

The narration plays an important role in transcribing a cozy feeling. Those fantasy stories are not devoid of challenges for the heroes but the style will be upbeat and whimsical, steering far away from gratuitous and graphic depictions of violence. The hero of the story can be put in danger, and battles happen, but no one will suffer for the sake of it, and most of those types of action will take place off the pages. Like in a cozy mystery, the genre is defined by a lack of gore, profanity, or explicit sex.

In an interview, writer Travis Baldree gave his definition of what is Cozy Fantasy for him, saying, “That’s ultimately comforting and that’s human-centered and at the end of the day, you feel good after you read it. I mean, to me, it’s like a chicken soup book, right? […] It’s more personal kinds of friction and drama. Cozy fantasy probably just needs you to feel good at the end and it feels personal. It cares more about people than it does about events.”

The Cozy Fantasy Genre, a Sub-genre filled with varieties

The popularity of the subgenre can be explained by the solace and enjoyment readers found in reading those cozy fantasy novels during those harrowing times. Similar to how “cozy catastrophe” books (or post-apocalyptic sci-fi stories) became prevalent after World War II among British science fiction writers, cozy fantasy books became more widespread in a post-pandemic/inflation era world.

As literature consists of many genres, Cozy Fantasy offers various types of stories for readers seeking a gentle read. Naturally, there are many mysteries to be solved, some of which take place in a fantasy setting, providing us with cozy fantasy mysteries featuring talking animals or classic fantasy characters. Cozy fantasy is full of tropes to be explored, as seen in Cozy adventure fantasy, which takes us on a big and fun journey where characters embark on quests, risking all to find their found family and the place they belong in this world. Let’s not forget that love is everywhere, and Cozy fantasy romance will sweep off the feet of any readers in need of an improbable rom-com filled with castles or enchantments.

In the tradition of the cozy mystery genre, you know there will be numerous cups of tea (or coffee) served in some of your favorite fantasy cozy books, whether you are near an enchanted forest or in a more urban setting. In the end, the promise to be bewitched is just around the corner!