What Makes "Epic" Epic

by Matt on August 20, 2012

Hello, minion horde. 
This is a subject that’s been floating around the fantasy field for a while now. What makes “epic fantasy” epic. Or what makes “epic” in general epic. 
There are several different answers to this question, depending on who you ask. If you asked most people, they would say, “If it’s long, it’s epic.” Or maybe they would say that high fantasy in multiple volumes is epic. Some may attribute to “epic” to “an epic”. As in, Star Wars is an epic because Lucas worked on it for 30 years. 
Well, while some of these may be true, they aren’t necessarily accurate. 
To me, epic is scope. It’s multiple viewpoints and complex storylines. “Epic” can narrow down to simply the examination of a single life. If someone asked me, “Is Les Miserables an epic because it details the life and struggles of Jean Valjean throughout the years?” I would say yes. 
And it really bugs me that a lot of people say “high fantasy” when it should be labeled “epic fantasy”. THE WHEEL OF TIME is not high fantasy, it’s epic fantasy. It’s been a 28-year process so far for THE WHEEL OF TIME to come to completion, 29 years by the time A MEMORY OF LIGHT comes out. That dates all the way back to 1984 when Jordan began writing the series. It’s an epic for its effort. 
Which reminds me . . . THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING is “high fantasy”, but it should really be called “epic”, as it took nearly 20 years for the entire thing to be written. The story of Middle-earth took a lifetime for Tolkien to tell, therefore it’s epic. 
For me, something like Narnia is . . . heroic fantasy. It’s whimsical. It’s about children and a few adventures they have in the land of Narnia. And it only took about 10 years to write the entire series of 7 books. It’s “an epic” because it’s a classic, but it’s “heroic fantasy” if you want to put it in a category. 
So, is Harry Potter an epic because it shows the struggle of good and evil and friendship and morality. Yes, it is. And it took 17 years from conception to completion, and it’s going to be on the shelves for the next hundred or two hundred years as well. 
My series is epic. It shows the struggle of good and evil, friendship and morality, love and trust, the rise and fall of kingdoms, the evolution of not just one, but several different lives. It has a huge backstory, and by the time I get to “the end”, I might have been working on it for 15 or 20 years. 
So, guys . . . is your story “epic”? 
-Matt

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jared B. Peterson August 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm

I love Les Miserables; it's definately epic. And it is a definite, philisophical, ongoing debate, the definitiono of and "epic" novel. I wouldn't have enough courage to tackle it. Great job!

Your series sounds amazing. I'm totally in your critique group, right? :)

I'm prettys ure my story's not epic. THE ROAD TO NOWHERE is only one novel, but the fact that it deals with deppression, suicide, the theme of redemption and the human life MIGHT, just maybe, but only by a hair, catagorize it as "epic."

I don't know. Maybe you should read it when I'm done and tell me. :)

Matt Hayes August 20, 2012 at 2:12 pm

OK, yeah, I'll read THE ROAD TO NOWHERE for you. And yes, you're in my critique group. 😛

-Matt

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