Tag Archives: Lord of the Rings

The Origins of Epic Fantasy

This month’s fantasy genre is “Epic Fantasy” but where did it begin? We’ll talk about that today!

To start, I think it’s a good idea to break down the term Epic Fantasy into its two separate definitions. These definitions were taken from Dictionary.com

Epic [ep-ik] = heroic; majestic; impressively great

Fantasy [fan-tuh-see] = imagination, especially when extravagant and unrestrained.

Put them together and what do you get??? An impressively great imagination. This is a great short definition for what we would consider Epic Fantasy today. Just naming a few epic fantasy books off the top of my head: George R. R. Martin’s, A Song of Ice and Fire; J.R.R. Tolkein’s, Lord of the Rings; Robert Jordan (pen name), Wheel of Time; Steven Erikson, Malazan, Book of the Fallen etc.

All of these books are MASSIVE. They’re tomes. Literally. Every single one of these authors has, what I would consider, an impressively great imagination. I’m not saying that no other authors do, because every author needs to have a great imagination to write, I should know I am one 😉 But, the scale of these books is just phenomenal. There is so much depth and richness and history behind all of these series. I want to go into detail about how each of them have a lot of depth but chances are if you are reading this then some of those books are already on your bookshelf (and if not put them there) and you know firsthand how much depth there is to them. Just a few quick examples, Tolkein’s series Lord of the Rings is made up of elves and dwarves but he took the time to create an Elvish language for them to speak in his books, he plotted out their history, etc. In Martin’s ASOIAF the story itself rotates around 7+ character perspectives. Each of them is needed in order to tell the essential parts of the story that is Westeros and Easteros.

Okay, so where did this all begin then? Well, although I find it common knowledge because I’m an English Major, many people do not know that the word epic actually has another connotation. Here is another definition of the word:

“noting or pertaining to a long poetic composition, usually centered upon a hero, in which a series of great achievements or events is narrated in elevated style”

Classics of literature such as Beowulf, The Odyssey, or The Iliad are examples of “Epics” usually referred to as Epic Poetry. These epics were preserved orally despite that they were long and complex. They had heroes and battles and wars and, most importantly, a world different than our own. They told of stories that made the people listening imagine they were there, fighting the war with the hero. They talked about the mysterious, the mythic, and the magnificent and, like most stories do, they helped explain the nature of the world.

The three examples I showcased also have another great commonality, and this, I think, is where the difference should be noted from epic fantasy to other genres of fantasy. The time period. No, I don’t mean when they were written, I mean the span of time the story takes to be told. These events take place on a world historical scale. Things just don’t happen in one year, they take several years to progress and the heroes find that parts of the world they know are gone or changed at some point in the book. For example, when Odysseus returns home, Troy has been destroyed and the mythic age of heroes is over. In Beowulf he needs to kill Grendel and he does so in one night and then battles the mother soon thereafter. However, Grendel had been a problem to the town for years and years beforehand. Also, it doesn’t stop there, the final battle (with a dragon) takes place 50 years after Grendel is slain when Beowulf is now king of the Geats.

So, when we talk about defining Epic Fantasy, it should be noted that these stories do take place on massive scales not only with the people involved, but with the time involved as well. Also, we should look at a few questions: How significant is the change it marks on its world? How big is the scope of its conflict, and how significant the power of its eventual resolution?

In the next blog post we’ll be looking at answering some of those questions but using some of the more modern epic fantasies that I have acquainted myself with and others that I’ll research online. If you want a particular Epic Fantasy novel researched a little more or you have a book that you think may fit into this category, comment below I’d be happy to take a look into it and see what I can discover.

Hope you enjoyed the blog post. Until next time!!!

Where Does Fantasy Stem From?

So, as I outlined in the previous blog post, this is going to be a blog mainly about science-fiction and fantasy novels and the genre that is science-fiction and fantasy. Although, I should warn you all, I have a tendency to formulate more ideas on the latter so expect more on fantasy than science-fiction.

When I think of the term Fantasy my mind immediately goes to Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire) by George R.R. Martin and even Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. All of these are huge fantasy novels, and all of them different. LotR is High Fantasy, GoT is Epic Fantasy and Harry Potter is a more modernized fantasy. You may disagree with these categories that I’ve placed them in and that’s fine. Much of these blend together to multiple types of fantasy in general. To add to the confusion, here is a definition of the fantasy genre I found from www.findmeanauthor.com

“Any book that contains unrealistic settings, or magic, often set in a medieval universe, or possibly involving mythical beings or supernatural forms as a primary element of the plot, theme, or setting. Something magical is almost always part of fantasy and magic may be seen in the setting or in the plot. It may even be practiced by the characters.”

Because of such a broad definition there are a bunch of subsections of the Fantasy umbrella. These include, but are certainly not limited to,

  • Romance Fantasy
  • Fairy Tales
  • Alternative History
  • Arthurian Fantasy
  • Comic Fantasy
  • Dark Fantasy
  • Urban Fantasy
  • Epic Fantasy
  • Heroic Fantasy
  • High Fantasy
  • Mystery Fantasy
  • Magic Realism
  • Modern Fantasy
  • Sword and Sorcery

To provide the definitions for each here would be very tedious, not to mention probably boring for many people reading the blog. Also, probably redundant you can find much of this information on the internet. Here is a great blog that goes through not only the sub genres of fantasy listed above, but also many many more: http://bestfantasybooks.com/fantasy-genre.php

With so many genres of fantasy it is quite hard to really nail down the starting point of fantasy. Is the Old English tale, Beowulf, an epic poem or fantasy? Or both? If we define it as an epic poem, which it is most often referred to as, then what would the next possible choice be? Perhaps some of Shakespeare’s works like A Midsummer’s Night Dream, or Arthurian Fantasy (as listed above) with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?

If not them, then maybe Mary Shelley and her Frankenstein novel (1818), George MacDonald and The Princess and the Goblin (1858) or Bram Stroker and Dracula in the late 1800s. All of these contain fantastical elements and fall into one of the genres listed above and pave the way for other, more modern authors today. Since Stoker there has been a plethora of vampire tales and even the whole paranormal fantasy section has come about since. MacDonald was a serious influence on the likes of Tolkein and C.S. Lewis in the 1900s and it is because of their works that I thoroughly believe that fantasy got the fuel it needed to become the epic (pun intended) genre it is today. In fact, it are the works of these two authors that propelled me to write my own fantasy novel. Growing up with the Harry Potter series my whole life has had an affected me as an individual and I thoroughly believe that that series helped to foster my love of writing and reading even more.

Still, despite these literary classics like Frankenstein and Dracula and Beowulf, I think, to some people, there is a certain stigma about fantasy. Many people claim they don’t read fantasy, but yet, have devoured up works such as Twilight and Harry Potter, that, although are definitely modernized versions of fantasy, are still fantasy. If it’s not the readers, I know I definitely experienced some bias in my creative writing courses at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire as teachers did not let us write and take part in the fantasy genre. I never really knew why this was, and to claim, as it were to them, that the fantasy genre is a “lesser” genre because of those very fantastical elements that make it unique is unfair.

Anyways, the treatment fantasy is dealt in terms of academia is a whole ‘nother topic entirely, and probably something I’ll address further into my teaching career. But, that isn’t what this blog post is about, it’s about showing everyone reading that it is nearly impossible to pinpoint the exact date that the fantasy genre began. Some may even argue the Bible for all of its fantastical elements.

What I wanted to do with this post is to show you that the fantasy genre can’t be pinned down. And, to avoid dragging on this post any more than I have already done so by means of periphrasis (okay that word was a word of the day on dictionary.com and I thought it fitting), I am going to end by telling how to tackle this problem of depth.

What I want to do is perhaps have a fantasy “genre” of the month, suggested by you, the readers. I would take a vote at the end of the month and then announce the winner the following month. So an example would go like this. If a majority of people wanted to learn more about let’s say, Magical Realism, and how it relates to fantasy then I would dedicated a month to Magical Realism. First, I would describe what form of fantasy we would be tackling for the month and I would take suggestions for works in that said category. In the following posts I would discuss more of the history of that particular genre and try to find some interesting info and I think a good way to conclude the month is by reviewing something of that particular genre and taking a poll for the following month. Given the depth of fantasy as I made apparent above, this would definitely be a way to keep this blog lively and new and fresh each month for all of you. And it would also shed more light on the specifics of a genre then merely glossing over it.

With that being said, I guess I would like for your feedback on that idea. J Since we are already halfway through January I am not going to tackle a specific genre now, rather, just merely priming for the rest of the year.

Michael E. Thies

P.S. I would like to thank Leila for commenting on my first post and giving me a good starting point for this idea. So, thanks!