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Epic Fantasy: What Makes it Epic?

When we think about epic fantasy, I think it’s safe to say that we think of J.R.R. Tolkein and The Lord of the Rings, or maybe we think of Game of Thrones. We think of magic and dragons, elves and goblins, and grand quests. We recognize this subgenre of fantasy when we see it, but what exactly is it that we’re looking for?

1. Medieval and diverse setting

While we don’t always see this, we often think of epic fantasy as being set in pseudo medieval times. Bows and swords are the main arms, and horses are the only way to get anywhere quickly. Most warriors can be seen in chain mail and suits of armor, with the sigils of their houses and country emblazoned on their chests. There may be more than one country in this world, or even more than one people. There could be a place for elves, dwarves, wizards, Man, goblins, etc. There could be high mountains, dangerous forests, barren deserts.

2. Magic

Magic is always a very heavy part of epic fantasy, whether that’s because there are wizards and witches or because the magic is drying up. The magic may be elemental in nature, or perhaps it manipulates time/space, or heals wounds. Magic systems can be as diverse as the setting and characterizations, and will always vary between worlds. There is usually a cost, a toll to be taken for using it, but mastering its power will make the wielder valuable. Good epic fantasy has creative magic systems that vary the type of magic with the cost of using it.

3. Good vs. Evil

While good versus evil is a common theme in a lot of stories, it holds especially true here. There is nearly always a source of evil in a place of power that tries to bend and break the world to its will.

4. A large cast of characters

One of the things that makes epic fantasy epic, is having a large cast of characters. Each character that the reader follows in this tale will have some key role play in the story, and each of them will have many individual tasks to complete in order to successfully complete the quest. Which brings us to our next point.

5. A Grand Quest

Our hero(s) will get word that there is a way to stop the evil from conquering the land, and the hero(s) will embark on a grand quest to do just that. The quest will typically involve much travel with many challenges, or trials, along the way. The hero(s) will often encounter hardship, battle, and/or tragedy. One of more of the heroes’ numbers may fall in battle, or be taken by surprise by a terrible monster. But each task must be completed in order to reach the final step of the quest, good conquering evil.

These are five main elements of epic fantasy, but they are by no means all inclusive or exclusive. The brilliant thing about this subgenre is that the world you are creating can be as wild and as complicated as you want. I’ve read a lot of epic fantasy with complex political systems and magic, steam powered technology, magic powered technology. I’ve seen worlds with invented languages, monsters, and gods. It can be anything you want it to be, and that’s why I love it so much.


Keep checking back this month to see how we explore the fantasy genre! Follow us on Facebook, where we have regular updates on our exciting new projects!

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