Beyond the Midnight Mountain draft 6
Simi draft 2
Most fantasy has magic. Magic users, laws about magic use, magic schools, wands, curses, secret magic that only its users know exists. Maybe some sort of magical object, an unexplainable event, a slightly superhuman ability. At least some magical beings like elves or fairies. Or if not magical, at least fantastical, like dragons.
On Goodreads I have 140 books on my Fantasy shelf. Only 7 of them are also on my Nonmagical Fantasy shelf.
So. Can you have really fantasy without magic? Without even the fantastical beings?
Yes. But I might be biased. My book Beyond the Mountain is fantasy, but it has no magic, fantasy creatures, or supernatural occurrences. A made-up world without magic is still a made-up world.
Hey, Batman doesn't have superpowers, just a bunch of Bat devices, but he's still a superhero.
I recently read a few forums where people discussed whether fantasy without magic is possible (and if so, whether it's difficult to write). Most said yes, it's possible, if uncommon. But many thought it would be difficult to write. A few even said no, it's not possible--If there's no magic or fantastical beings, how is it fantasy? It's just alternate history. (Okay, an alternate history of what? Alternate history, to me, requires a real place with a real history to deviate from.)
I guess it comes down to your definition of fantasy. To me, a made-up world is enough.
I enjoy fantasy, magic or not. Admittedly, it's probably more boring if there's no magic at all. One of the things I love best about speculative fiction is the world building--the cultures, the geography, the architecture--and that can include the magic system.
But if there is magic, it has to have limitations, and those limitations have to be believable. I've read books where things happen...because magic. Maybe the viewpoint character isn't a magician, and so can't explain the mysterious ways of magic to the reader. Maybe it's a world where pretty much any ability imaginable is possible. In either case, the magic can easily become a convenient plot device, where the cans and can'ts of the universe or character abilities make little sense.
I don't hate magic. It can be very well written.
Anyhow, it's still super common in fantasy.
So is this why I wrote a fantasy story without magic?
I don't know. I don't think I made a conscious decision to rebel against the convention, though that sounds like something I'd do. I purposefully changed my setting away from Medieval-Europe-ish to something less common. For my next book, I'm considering fantasy that doesn't involve the typical wars, royal characters, or killing. And maybe someday I'll write one without romance, and one where the main character doesn't have dead/dysfunctional/absent parents.
But really, I had a story in my head, and magic simply never came up.
In all honesty, I think it would be harder to write a magical world that a non-magical one. The more magic figures into the plot, the harder you have to work to create a convincing system for it. And the harder you have to work not to let it overpower character development.
With as much as I've read magical books, the only ones that have sparked ideas for me are the very limited/subtle ones. (Think simple potions, quarry speech, or a single magical object.) That, I can work with. A whole system? I wouldn't even know where to start.