What Is Epic Fantasy? (Guest Blog by Charles Yallowitz

th Cover art by Jason Pedersen

Ionia has asked me to write a guest blog on what Epic Fantasy is since it is thrown around so much.  I use it for my series Legends of Windemere and I will go into that in a little bit.  Much of this will be opinion and you’ll see why.

Epic Fantasy is more commonly known as High Fantasy.  The term is thrown around a lot without a lot of people knowing exactly what it is.  The quintessential Epic Fantasy is Lord of the Rings.  Originally, Epic Fantasy required that the setting by in a world distinct from Earth or have larger than life characters, themes, and plots.  Much of this stemmed from the ‘Good Vs. Evil’ standard that was a cornerstone of Tolkien’s tales.  I know a lot of people call this cliché, but this is how it all started and it’s really just another way of saying conflict.

Sword & Sorcery fantasy is a little different than Epic Fantasy.  If the world starts seeping into Earth or the characters are only going on adventures with no wide-spanning plot then it falls into Sword & Sorcery.  Here is where things can get a little tricky.  You can have a series move from one genre to the other.  A series that starts with Sword & Sorcery adventures can rise into Epic Fantasy when it is revealed that there is an epic plot.  For example, the first book or so revolves around the characters handling an adventure.  By book 3 or 4, you suddenly realize that there is something bigger going on and a ‘Good Vs. Evil’ mega-plot shows up.  So, you can see how these categories crossover and swap a lot of the times.

Here is where a lot of people falter in their argument.  When somebody says something is ‘Epic Fantasy’, many times they mean that it is a fantasy story that is amazing and meets all of their personal requirements.  It doesn’t always mean that the story is Epic Fantasy and not Sword & Sorcery Fantasy.  The term ‘epic’ has come to be used for anything awesome to the point where it is the new awesome.  Remember rad, groovy, sweet, and bitchin’ when you loved something so much?  Epic has joined their ranks.  So, you can’t always assume that somebody is talking about actual Epic Fantasy when they use the term.

That’s part of the fun of reading and it really shows itself with Epic Fantasy.  There are so many flavors of it and none of them are really wrong.  Some people require a high body count while others hate it when main characters are killed off.  People have different levels of tolerance for magic.  There’s always an argument over the use of dragons, elves, and orcs because they are seen as cliché.  The entire genre is a cliché, so let’s leave that there.  My favorite argument to watch between fantasy readers is rather popular right now.  Some define Epic Fantasy as political sagas like Game of Thrones while others are claiming adventures with Good Vs. Evil like Legends of Windemere are Epic Fantasy.  The most ridiculous part of this argument is that both sides are right.  They can both be defined as Epic Fantasy because they take place in non-Earth worlds with larger than life characters, themes, and plots.

This is what Epic Fantasy is and even this is filled with personal opinion.  You have the basic definition, but the truth comes from your own standards.  I personally love larger than life characters and have no interest in fantasy politics.  I love magical monsters while getting bored with epic wars if they happen too often.  Humanoids can only do so much before I wish someone would breathe fire on somebody else.  I know people who are the complete opposite on this.  They despise the adventurer stories and revel in the political intrigue of others.  So, you can see how well-written Epic Fantasy can be loved and hated depending on a fan’s personal definition of the genre.

Now for the required book plug:

Legends of Windemere: Beginning of a Hero available on Amazon Kindle.

Legends of Windemere: Prodigy of Rainbow Tower available on Amazon Kindle.

Cover art by Jason Pedersen

Cover art by Jason Pedersen

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15 thoughts on “What Is Epic Fantasy? (Guest Blog by Charles Yallowitz

  1. The original term “Epic” comes from Greek and referred to a very lengthy sort of storytelling poem. Epic is one of those words that has been misused a lot lately. I see some fantasy as like a poetic ballad where there is a lengthy story told of a legendary proportion. Other fantasy comes across as sort of sci-fi to me and yet other is like anime. Yours, to me, is epic with some undertones of anime.

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    • It would be simpler if people called it High Fantasy more than Epic Fantasy. I think Epic is used more because of the modern day obsession with the term. High Fantasy makes more sense because the worlds typically have high magic, monsters, and they are ‘higher/more powerful’ than Earth.

      A lot of fantasy books are including technology, which is sometimes called Science Fantasy. Looking it up, the subgenre has never been fully defined while being around since the 1950’s. There’s a surprising amount of subgenres of fantasy that people mix in as general fantasy.

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      • But then what makes something Fantasy at all? I struggle to think of any genre that gets defined so much by its setting as fantasy/sci-fi. You say “fantasy” and faux-Medieval Europe immediately pops into your head, in a way that even “historical fiction” doesn’t (although “costume drama” on TV immediately makes me go to Jane Austen, but that’s not a book genre). Most other differentiations have to do with the plot of the story (crime, romance, thriller, mystery etc) in a way that fantasy doesn’t.

        That said, high vs low does as said have connotations for plot; there are few low fantasy stories that I know of that have world-shattering consequences in them, for example. But that’s as far as fantasy seems to go; are characters changing the world, or themselves? And I’m sure it could be used to ask more questions than that.

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      • I think it’s personal definition, so my personal thoughts are fantasy is a nin-Earth world with low tech. Magic is usually involved, but people are trying to phase it out.

        As for characters changing the world, I would say yes. Bilbo Baggins changed his world just as much as Ender Wiggin. I think it’s down to storytelling instead of genre in that. Low fantasy is supposed to be the simple quest while high fantasy has the epic struggle. Through changing that world, they also change themselves. A big part of a quest should be a character’s growth because you can’t save the world and stay the same.

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  2. Reblogged this on Verona Richards and commented:
    Fantasy is becoming huge… LOTR, The Hobbit, A Game of Thrones – they’ve all garnered a new following of people who are discovering the joys of fantasy. But what is fantasy really? And is it really okay to club all these books under one genre? Charles Yallowitz provides a wonderful definition to help all readers (and budding authors) identify the niche that they love. And with all the fantasy books out there, maybe this will help you choose the genre that you will really like.

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