As a writer of epic fantasy myself, I am endlessly fascinated by the genre. There is something magical about being able to disappear into a world so removed from real life.
So, here is a little background on this amazing genre.
Fantasy storytelling in general follows a basic formula that has been successful for thousands of years. The epic fantasy tradition began with vocal storytelling, where the orators of the past would enthrall and entertain their listeners with tales of magic and gods. These stories would not only entertain, but would educate the next generation, enabling them in turn to pass the stories to their own children.
These epic fantasy vocal tales, though seemingly far-fetched, explored a real human issue. They tied into the quest to solve a world-affecting problem (in many stories this is a dark lord, an evil wizard, a magical device that’s going to destroy everything, a world-ending/shaking event that must be somehow avoided). And in turn, there would always be a hero who could solve the problem, kill the enemy, and bring peace to the world once more.
Myths and legends may have been the origin of this type of storytelling, but the genre has since branched into many subgenres and categories. A quick Google search brings up the following:
If you want to delve further into the fantasy subgenres, I highly recommend this post with descriptions and recommendations for a huge range of subgenres: https://reedsy.com/discovery/blog/fantasy-subgenres
I have often pondered whether my series, The Light and Shadow Chronicles, falls under the ‘Epic Fantasy’ or ‘High Fantasy’ genre, but what exactly is the difference between the two?
*The focus is on the scale of the conflict (huge, apocalyptic battles, threats to the very existence of all life etc)
*A large cast of characters – often of a variety of races and/or species
*Magic, or other-worldly powers, are a key part of plot/story/character abilities
*Often takes place in medieval times, with swords, armour and medieval-style castles and towns
*Features a good vs evil story (but this is tending more towards shades of grey in modern epic fantasy)
*Relies on many sub-plots to help advance the story. These often merge in cataclysmic, or epic, ways towards the finale of the story.
*May involve power politics, gods among men, wars, the birth and death of nations, and/or the threat of the end of the world
*Epic fantasy deals with cultures and people that are entirely imagined and not drawn on any myth or legends. The author of epic fantasy creates entirely different kinds of myths and legends and prophecies for their world.
*High fantasy is more about the choices the characters make than the events of the world
*The focus is on the setting itself and the integral worldbuilding NOT the scale of events
*Magic may or may not be involved
*May be focused on the character-building of an event, rather than the event itself – for example, long travelling scenes may help to develop the character rather than advance the storyline
*High fantasy is often inspired by classical mythology, folklore, and fairytales.
What is Sword and Sorcery?
Another sub-genre of fantasy, which my books tend towards, is Sword and Sorcery. This type of fantasy uses a mash-up of all the epic elements of fantasy—magic, supernatural, action, romance, excitement, and escapism.
The atmosphere tends to be darker in this genre. Good and evil still exist, but there is more moral ambiguity and fewer absolutes.
Good examples of Sword and Sorcery Epic Fantasy:
Mistborn – Brandon Sanderson
Stormlight Archive – Brandon Sanderson
Crown of Stones – C.L. Schneider
The Word and The Void – Terry Brooks
The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
I have been told good things about the following authors, but have yet to read any of their work: Peter V Brett, Robin Hobb, David Eddings, Robert Jordan, Joe Abercrombie, Andrzej Sapkowski, Patrick Rothfuss, Trudi Canavan, Susan Faw, Mark Lawrence, Sarah J Maas
In conclusion, my books contain mystical creatures, heroes of incredible power, large-scale battles and power politics of entirely made-up cultures. Therefore, I market my work as Sword and Sorcery Epic Fantasy.
One thought on “Epic fantasy as a genre”
Thank you for the mention of The Crown of Stones! What a nice surprise 🙂