What is Epic Fantasy?
You may have heard a book referred to by someone as an epic fantasy, but what is epic fantasy really? I get asked this from time to time when people know that I review fantasy books. But it can be a hard sub-genre to really pin down. Looking at the definition for the word epic, we can see that it usually refers to a story that centers on the adventures of a singular hero or group of heroes.
For my money, fantasy is generally a story that has imaginative elements and usually involves some kind of magic. So a story about a hero that involves imaginative elements may well be a good answer to the question what is epic fantasy. Of course, that is just the beginning of the definition.
The Grand Struggle
Probably the most well known of these epic fantasy stories with a hero on a grand journey or with a major internal struggle is The Lord of the Rings. It is easy to find yourself caught up in the internal battles for Frodo and the others in this now classic epic fantasy. It has almost become a rite of passage for your teen years to work your way through the three-volume story. I have found that as the years passed my understanding of the story grew and now I tend to re-read it every few years to get a different perspective of the tale.
A new epic fantasy series that we have reviewed here both as a book series and as a television series is George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. The television show that is based on it, Game of Thrones is a classic broad-ranging epic fantasy that highlights court intrigue and struggle. This is where the question of settings comes into play when looking at any kind of epic fantasy. This is because setting has such a huge impact on this sub-genre.
A Question of Castles
Do you need a specific type of setting to have an epic fantasy? Traditionally, they have tended to be set in a medieval type of setting, complete with kings and often wizards. But this is primarily so only where the world as we now know it is not a part of the story. But some would call the Harry Potter series an epic fantasy. However, in Harry Potter our world exists. The premise is we don’t know about the world of magic, and so it co-exists beside us. The story of Harry’s journey to find who he truly is, and save the world while he is at it, is the stuff most epic fantasy tales thrive on. But does a castle need to be there for the epic fantasy world?
Although I am sure there are exceptions to this, for the most part the trappings of a castle or something like it tends to be part of just about any epic fantasy world. Another great example of a heroic journey that makes up many of the epic fantasy stories is Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. From the initial introduction in The Eye of the World to the final chapter in the recently released A Memory of Light the three heroes are perfect vehicles to fight the never-ending battle between good and evil. I really think these kinds of classic battles between the two major forces are the crux of any good epic fantasy tale.
Can Girls Be Epic Fantasy Heroes?
While you may have to do some searching to find them, there are some great epic fantasy stories that have women as the heroes. Feminist viewpoints have been fairly strong the last decade or so in the world of fantasy, so it shouldn’t be any real surprise. Elixir Bound by Katie L. Carroll is one great example. It has a young heroine who must make tough decisions, journey to find a magical plant that will answer many questions and in the end make choices for more than just her own life. A true hero’s journey!
K.T. Davies fantasy The Red Knight is a classic take on the Arthurian Legends, with a difference. Here the hero knight is a woman. Oh- and did I mention there are dragons in this one? Great fight scenes and plenty of court intrigue color an epic fantasy adventure where the outcome could be the end of a kingdom or more. These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to finding great epic fantasy adventures where the women are no damsels in distress, but are the heroes themselves.
What is Epic Fantasy to You?
So is it necessary for the hero’s journey to be fraught with danger? What do you need in your story for it to assume epic proportions? From a journey to find and destroy a magic ring to the search for that elusive magical plant, they are all journeys that take our heroes to new discoveries. Some would say that for any epic fantasy journey to be successful needs to mirror our own searches. Do you think this is what keeps books like Lord of the Rings so relevant today? To recognize what is epic fantasy, do we need to recognize our own journeys in it? That may be the ultimate question to answer when seeking to discover: what is epic fantasy.