View Full Version : What really makes the Epic: Epic?

Home - Discussion Forums - News - Reviews - Interviews

New reviews, interviews and news

New in the Discussion Forum

March 29th, 2006, 05:23 PM
We've all heard the term epic fantasy, and with marketing today we tend to hear it more and more.

So the question i pose here is simple; "what makes the epic: epic?"

:eek: STOP!!:eek:

Its not that simple, what i mean is, epic means different things to different people and does things different for different people. So what i'm asking for is moderately simple:

1) What stories and/or persons writing would you consider epic?
2) What makes gives it that epic push for you?
3) What would you want from a book that bousted "epic" on the cover?
4) When you feel you've been denied the epic by a book; name it, and tell us what it didn't do for you.

This will not only help me but anyone else looking to find epic fantasy to read, and anyone looking for info on how to give their story that extra kick it may need. Plus we get to have a laugh in the process.:D

March 29th, 2006, 05:53 PM
I would consider Raymond E. Feist's early work (magician, siverthorn, sethanon) as epic, Oliver Johnson's work (The forging of the Shadows), Frank Herbert's work (Dune) and David Edding's work (anything!!).

Things happen on a grand and often unexpected scale to characters you really feel for, or the events make you really think: wow, that was so cool. I stress with this question because there are other authors who i wouldn't call epic but their work is incredibly exciting to me (i.e. Rosenberg, Barclay, Gemmel).

I would want to have a book that i would consider a permanent part of my library because that's how much i enjoyed it. Something that catapults me from page to page and makes me want to stay up all night reading it.

Dragonlance Chronicles denied me the "epic fantasy" mentioned on the back cover. I do think it is a good story but when i came to read it i had already read Eddings, Feist, Martin and Herbert, and i didn't feel that it was up to the literary scratch i was used to.
LOTR, though he did create a genre, i find that he slows the story with too much description and i find him hard to read.
Eye of the World, i've really enjoyed the story, but its one i have to look back on from time to time to remember what happened in previous books and it find that i didn't grab me when it should have.

Okay, let's start the roll, anyone else? Any amazed or disagreeing people out there?
Don't eveyone just go Diddo in places, men have suffered for less-Annoying laugh edited out.-


March 30th, 2006, 11:24 AM
When I think epic, or epic scale, I think of stories that last multiple books without losing the audience because of boredom or whatever. They usually take the characters across the entire length of the known world, and perhaps beyond. I hopefully get a real sense of varying cultures rich with detail. They are also, to me, more philosophical than typical flash-bang, urging me to actually think about something instead of merely having a relaxing read.


March 30th, 2006, 12:18 PM
Aristotle's definition of epic should apply: broad in scope, multiplicity of plots, "important" characters. Exceptions such as James Joyce's Ulysses merely prove the rule (e.g., Leopold Bloom, a mere ad salesman, is made heroic by Joyce's depiction of him as Odysseus, not by the fact that he is an ad salesman).

March 30th, 2006, 01:23 PM
Well, I agree, GS, it's not that simple. In sff, epic has two different meanings. The first is the dictionary meaning of the word, which is a story of broad scope, with multiple plotlines, dealing with heroic characters and important issues.

The second is as the name of a sub-genre of fantasy fiction, and is defined only as fantasy stories in a pre-industrial setting. At first, various names were used to define different types of pre-industrial fantasy, such as high fantasy for Tolkein-like stories about kings and kingdoms, and sword-n-sorcery, for swashbuckling adventure stories like you find in Dragonlance. But it got too tricky and too confusing, so one of the terms -- epic -- started to become predominant in the 1980's, and eventually became the de-facto sub-genre name for all of it. Which is how the word epic ends up on the cover of the Dragonlance novel.

Technically, big stories like Jordan and Martin's are epic whereas Kij Johnson's "The Fox Woman," about a fox who falls for a human, may be considered to not quite fit the dictionary definition. But all of these stories are still likely to be called epic in marketing and on the cover, because that's the sub-genre name too. China Mieville's "Iron Council" is certainly epic by dictionary standards, but using Victorian age industrialization puts him by sub-genre in the contemporary, post-industrial sub-genre.

Fans use both definitions. Sometimes they talk about epic stories in the dictionary sense, but a lot of the time, they talk about epic fantasy as the sub-genre. Sometimes they don't realize there's a difference. And right now, a whole bunch of new sub-genre terms have cropped up, sort of splitting up the contemporary and epic sub-genres in the market, and sometimes causing even more confusion.

For me, I tend to use epic in the sub-genre sense, because that's usually what most people mean by it. I have, though, tried to shie away from it more lately, since the sub-genres are changing, and often substitute the term "pre-industrial fantasy" (which is ungainly and will never get picked up for a sub-genre name probably.) I also sometimes talk about epic aspects of stories, in the dictionary sense, if it's clear that this is actually the topic of the conversation.

The dictionary definition of epic has a lot of shades of gray to it, though. It comes from epic poetry, defining a type of poetry of ancient writings. While it's relatively easy to point to a big, sprawling war story like the Illiad or Lord of the Rings and declare it dictionary epic, a lot of stories that are smaller in scope are still mythological, about heroic issues, and might, depending on your opinion, be considered dictionary epic too.

But if I see the word "epic" on a cover, it just means for me that it's in the epic sub-genre and has a pre-industrial setting. I have no other expectations for it. :)

April 11th, 2006, 06:28 AM
Wow, Kat's answer will ensure that I take a slightly closer look at the cover of the books I buy. I tend to buy based on cover quite a bit, but I certainly understand why the presence of the word "epic" on a book that doesn't read in a way that fits that description (in your own definition of course) could be disconcerting.

My 2 cents:

To me, an epic isn't necessarily just grand on a scale of how many books are in a given series. If that were the case quite a few of Piers Anthony's series could be called epic - I don't, however, feel that that title applies to much of Anthony's writing. I find that stories that I feel are epic tend to have to distinguishable qualities: 1. The plot follows a great many different lines cohesively to create and move the primary plotline, and 2. The main character(s) are working to resolve a conflict that exists on a massive scale within the given setting. For example, the series by George R.R. Martin or Robert Jordan would be included among the "epic" fantasies because the main protagonists are affecting their realms on a worldwide level. These two authors in particular go so far as to give detailed accounts of many different protagonists and how their actions complement each other to work toward a final resolution.

But hey, what do I know? :)

April 11th, 2006, 12:45 PM
There you go, that's the dictionary definition and nothing wrong with it. It just doesn't always mesh with the market and book covers, because another meaning developed for "epic fantasy" in the genre. Outside the genre world, epic always means the dictionary definition.