1. I love all of these (except the last one…it doesn’t sound fantastical enough to tempt me, and I’ve never read anything like that), but if I had to pick just ONE I’d pick immersive fantasy.  It’s interesting, but my trilogy isn’t exactly portal fantasy, because the characters don’t stay in the other world the whole time, but it’s not any of the other kinds either.  It’s maybe a little more like Harry Potter without the intrusion aspect?  Maybe it’s portal/immersion fantasy?  Not sure.  Plus it’s really more sci-fi.  …I like genre-benders. 😛

    • Bethany, from what I read of the reviews and articles, it appears there’s a sort of catch all category for the stories that don’t fit into these four. I may see if there’s a used copy of this book that I can afford, because I’m fascinated with any analysis of fantasy.

      I’ve never thought of it in these terms before. One article explained the categories with the perspective of the reader as well as the protagonist. So for portal stories, the protagonist and reader both don’t know how the fantasy elements work at the beginning. In immersive, the protagonist knows but the reader doesn’t. In intrusive I guess the reader and protagonist are again together not knowing, but in the liminal, the protagonist knows and the reader doesn’t.

      I thought that was an interesting way of looking at the various types, too.

      I looked into this because I read somewhere that a certain agent was looking for immersive fantasy. I thought I should be sure what that was before I went any further! 😉


  2. “Apparently in this category, the fantastical is a known and accepted part of the world, not a shocking anomaly. ”

    Interesting definition. Would this include those urban fantasies where vampires and other magical beings have “come out” and carry social security cards or whatever? Although that still suggests they were an “other” for some time.

    I’m working on an AU series set in present-day earth with a host of different types of humans that have existed on the planet since the beginning of the world. Hence, they’ve always been a part of the established order in some way or another, and aren’t considered fantastical.

    Is that what you mean?

    I tend to love stories and writing in fantasy, not particular genres, but actually, if I had to choose I enjoy stories where the fantastical is considered normal. It’s a fun way of re-imagining life.

  3. Not having read Rhetorics of Fantasy (but now interested in doing so), I’d have to say that Mendelsohn’s “liminal” (literally: “occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold”) fantasy sounds a lot like magical realism, in which a story’s fantastic elements are treated nonchalantly, as though they’re just a normal part of an otherwise unexceptional world and thus deserve no particular explanation or exploration. On the other hand, Mendelsohn might be referring to something more along the lines of Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales series, which is 99.99% historical fiction and .01% spiritual thriller. It features several key events in the lives of its protagonists — a pagan life-swap, a Christian exorcism, etc. — that seem obviously supernatural, yet whose causes remain ultimately ambiguous. In fact, I’ve found that a lot of “Celtic fiction” (for lack of a better term) operates under a paradigm of ambiguity — whether to cultivate an atmosphere of mystery or to furnish an author with plausible deniability regarding overt paganism, it’s hard to tell. Either way, it seems the “liminal” category is perfect for stories in which the fantastic is incidental.

    • Eli C. says:

      Austin, I agree with you, and I have read most of Rhetorics of Fantasy (as research in a class on magical realism trying to distinguish fantasy and MR). Liminal fantasy, from what I remember of Mendelsohn’s explanation, would actually cover both magical realism and the other books you mentioned, because both of them include magic (or “maybe-it’s-magic”) on the outskirts of awareness; for a lot of magical realism, the “magic” is on the outskirts of awareness not in terms of distance, but in terms of how the author presents it (or doesn’t). Mendelsohn also included a lot of recent urban fantasy in this category. I remember her mentioning China Mieville in this section.

  4. Kessie says:

    Yeah, I was going to say, “limnal” sounds like “magical realism”. The only book like this that I’ve ever read was Fire and Hemlock, where the entire book you’re on the fence about whether there’s magic or not. Then the ending is SO magical and weird that it is shocking and bizarre.

    I prefer Intrusive, I think–that’s where urban fantasy falls. That and Immersive, I think. But I like modern/urban, where a normal person runs into the city-dwelling monsters.

  5. Winter says:

    I would say liminal sounds like either urban fantasy or magical realism. I think of Maggie Stiefvater’s “Scorpio Races” as liminal fantasy, since the fantastical element isn’t viewed as unusual to the outside world; it’s just the set-up for the larger point of the story. I actually like this kind of fantasy a lot, though I prefer Quest stories more often.

  6. Julie D says:

    Just curious to see where people think George MacDonald’s work would go.

    • Julie, I’ve only read one of MacDonald’s stories and it wasn’t a fantasy. I keep meaning to . . . 😕


    • dmdutcher says:

      Lilith is portal-quest fantasy, as Mister Vane is taken into the weird fairy world by the crow. I think Phantastes also is portal-quest. At the Back of the North Wind would be intrusive fantasy, literally; The North Wind intrudes into the protag’s life. His shorter works tend to be immersive, existing in their own worlds.

  7. In terms of magical realism, I’d have to recommend “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” by Aimee Bender. Beautifully written, very evocative, with just a touch of oddness. Since I have synaesthesia, it hit pretty close to home as being on just on the other side of possible.

  8. OK, these comments are helpful. I can definitely see that magic realism would fall into this liminal category. I’ve read a good deal of The Scorpion Races and would agree that it fits with the description of this type of fantasy. Honestly, I didn’t finish it though it had been recommended to me by someone I respect. I don’t know if it was the fantasy style or some other factor that made me not care.

    I’m not familiar with “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” by Aimee Bender. Is this a novel, Janeen? For adults?

    I don’t know if this is what other people do, but I tend to separate spiritual, supernatural stories from other fantasy. My reasoning is that demons and angels are real beings, elves and dwarfs are not. So when there’s an intrusion of the spiritual into the world, it’s not really an intrusion. It’s an awareness of the mortal beings of the immortal.


  9. “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” by Aimee Bender is an adult novel. It’s secular and has some mature topics, and a little undeveloped and unfocused at the end, but I still enjoyed it.

    “On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the slice. To her horror, she finds that her cheerful mother tastes of despair. Soon, she’s  privy to the secret knowledge that most families keep hidden: her father’s detachment, her mother’s transgression, her brother’s increasing retreat from the world. But there are some family secrets that even her cursed taste buds can’t discern.”


  10. It would seem that all these more-or-less overlapping categories get even more complicated when you factor in science fiction (“hard” and “light” and all in between), space fantasy/space opera, alternate history, steampunk, urban fantasy, superheroes …

    • Stephen, it would seem that the author of The Rhetoric of Fantasy intended these categories to apply only to fantasy. It was a blogger/writer who said he thought they worked for science fiction, too. I don’t know if it would be complicated as much as it would be not so cut and dried. But I’m only guessing.


  11. Chawna says:

    The first books that came to mind when you described liminal was Athol Dickson’s Lost Mission and The Opposite of Art, both of which hint at supernatural elements that never fully materialize and yet are very present.  I have traditionally classified them as magical realism, but like some of the others here, I wonder if they refer to the same thing?

    • Great additions to the liminal list, Chawna. Yes, I’d definitely say Athol’s books teeter toward magical realism. I don’t know the category well, but from the descriptions I’ve read, it is the nearest to what I’ve understood to be liminal.


  12. audie says:

    From the description of liminal, it seems a lot like Lovecraft’s stories. Few things are fully revealed, most of the threats or fantasic elements are more hinted at then fully shown. Along that same line, Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian” might be another example, because it also does more hinting at threats and dangers than really showing them.

  13. Pam Halter says:

    My friend, Joyce Magnin, wrote a wonderful middle grade novel that could be considered Liminal Fantasy.  It’s called “CAKE- love, chickens and a taste of peculiar”

    When I attended the first Highlights Whole Novel Workshop for Fantasy in 2010, an agent joined us for the day. She broke down the types of fantasy. I’ll have to look for my notes to remember them all. High fantasy, urban fantasy, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, portal, magical realism, steampunk, etc. And she also talked about horror a little, which is a type of spec fiction, but not exactly fantasy.

    I think the borders are definitely blurred in a lot of cases as authors get more and more creative.

  14. The liminal fantasy category sounds like magical realism. The genre was popularized by Latin American writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Laura Esquivel. Have you seen Like Water For Chocolate? It’s there. American writers who use this style recently are Sarah Addison Allen and Barbara O’Neal.

    Since I’m a Christian writer, I sometimes call my liminal style “miraculous realism.” My latest novel, The Salvation of Jeffrey Lapin, uses some fantasy elements to illustrate real Christian tradition. But the normalcy of miracles sets the story apart a bit.

    I found your blog on the ACFW Spec group on Facebook, and I’m so glad you linked! I’m a new follower.

  15. Terri Luckey says:

    My favorite is probably immersive, although I like it all.  I’m not sure what category my novel fits, maybe immersive? Kayndo Ring of Death is post-apocalyptic, and takes place in the future. Some think it’s our world, but I don’t say. And there’s a few fantasy components like companion animals that mind speak.

What do you think?