Musings on writing, lessons learned by an aspiring professional, book reviews, movie reviews, an occasional t.v. show review, and unashamed opinion.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What the crap is Epic Fantasy?

My post about space opera seemed to have been a bit of a hit, so I thought I'd take the time to spell-out other sub-genres of fantasy and science fiction for those of you unfamiliar with all of the minor and sometimes major differences.  I figured I'd get to my favorite now, and plan on doing more in the future.  So here we are, ready to learn about epic fantasy.

 What the crap is epic fantasy? Epic fantasy, sometimes referred to as high fantasy, is fantasy that takes place in a secondary world, such as Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings, and is almost always (pretty much used to be always, until recently) about an entire world in danger.  It is about big, sweeping stories that can span continents.  More often than not stories in this genre have huge casts of characters, making plot and story complex and extremely detailed.  This isn't your little brother's fantasy, folks.  It is... well... epic.  

I hate calling it that (despite it being called that) because the word has become quite trendy these days, and you can no longer be sure what someone means by it.  If someone likes something they almost always call it epic.  It's the hip word of choice.  What happened to the good old days when everyone just said cool?  Oh well.  I'm getting off topic.  Here are a few things you can count on finding in your epic fantasy:

-A well-defined magic system, or magic not so rule-based but that is used heavily throughout the story--also known as hard and soft magic.  It is important to include both hard and soft magic as being allowed in the genre, despite most epic fantasies these days leaning toward hard.  I don't think I ought to get in to defining hard and soft magic this time, but I'll do a post on it in the future so that this makes more sense.  The basic thing you need to know is that magic is important to epic fantasy.  Stories in this genre can exist without magic (George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire is pretty light on magic) but ninety percent of the time is full of it.

-A hero's journey archetype.  This is where one character--usually a young boy or girl on the verge of adulthood--begins the story powerless, and ends the story all-powerful.  Usually this means saving the world from destruction, and defeating evil.

-Political intrigue.  Epic fantasy moves at a slower pace than other genres.  It isn't all about the action.  Epic fantasy takes time to delve into national politics and court machinations.  It explores conflicts from multiple angles.  This is almost always my favorite part of these types of stories.

-Milieu.  Because epic fantasy takes place in a world not our own, pages and pages are spent on world building.  This is one of the biggest reasons epic fantasies are so darn thick.  Most readers read this genre because of the interesting worlds authors create.  Middle Earth is a place readers want to spend time in because it is so full of wonder.  If you're reading a fantasy taking place in familiar New York City, you, my friend, are not reading epic fantasy.

Most epic fantasy takes place in a pseudo-European medieval world, though it is increasingly popular to set these stories in Renaissance-esque settings, or other culture-influenced worlds (Silk Road settings are a new favorite).  Also, fantastical races, such as elves, dwarves, or goblins, are common.  (These days authors come up with their own races, rather than relying on those already familiar to readers.)

There you have it.  I hope you know a bit more about epic fantasy than you did before reading.  Here are some books to check out if you are wanting to give this sub-genre some time:

The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan
The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson
A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie
The Runelords, by David Farland
Furies of Calderon, by Jim Butcher
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien (considered the grandfather of modern fantasy)


  1. Spot on, Jordan. Spot on. Perfect post on defining Epic Fantasy. (And I'm totally laughing at your side rant... why can't people just use the word cool? LOL)

    Great list of authors up there. Jim Butcher is one of my all time favs!!! :D

  2. I feel educated. Great post.

  3. I'm just getting ready to start Jim Butcher's series. Epic Fantasy just seems to have more flavor too. All that extra detail just drags you into the writers world.

    Great post!