Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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The tradition of epic fantasy

Here is a long post by Paul Weimer at Supernatural Underground, about the way epic fantasy has changed as a subgenre.

The First Era of Epic Fantasy

The pre-geologic era, our first era, is the period before there was a defined class of literature called epic fantasy. That is to say that there was no defined subgenre of fantasy and science fiction that one could point to, or ask for, that was called epic fantasy. A time traveler to that era, going to the bookstore or a library or even a SF convention would just confuse people by asking for “epic fantasy.

Paul delineates four eras following the period referenced above, in which the foundation for epic fantasy was laid by Tolkien and a few others. Then:

The First Era — Stephen Donaldson and Terry Brooks

The Second Era — D & D; also many female authors; also the period when the SFF scales started to lean toward fantasy rather than SF.

The Third Era — The Grimdark era, in which Paul references Kate Elliot’s King’s Dragon series, thus instantly making me shuffle that downward in my TBR pile, so I would like to know: those of you who have read that series, do you agree that it is grimdark? I don’t agree that grimdark is characterized primarily by moral ambiguity; as far as I’m concerned it is defined by the world and more than likely the protagonists being worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.

The Fourth Era — Paul says:

…the Cenozoic of my epic fantasy geologic timeline – the era we are currently in – is the era in which The Wall of Night series is a leading light….The basic epic fantasy chassis developed over the previous eras is here: A young protagonist, a woman, the heir to power, but with real doubts and real growing up to do. A quest to stop a previously thought-to-be-contained evil from overwhelming the world – and the “thin red line” of the people known as the Derai. A complicated, complex and richly drawn fantasy world that rewards a deep dive….And with all that, Lowe brings forward the concerns and richness of this new era…reaching out beyond The Great Wall of Europe for ideas and models for cultures, characters and worlds.

The Wall of Night is another one that’s on my TBR list. This kind of description moves it up toward the top. Again, comment, please, if you’ve read it. What did you think?

The whole post is well worth a look, if you’ve got a moment.

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4 Comments The tradition of epic fantasy

  1. Elaine T

    The first book is rather claustraphobic. The second takes a ten year time jump (we skip the training years, hooray!) and focus shifts first to a major trade city with multiple cultures, then a far march/border stronghold, finishing up with a multi-culture tournament, complete with representatives of ‘the bad guys’, some of whom seem better than the ‘good guys’ Lots of varied roles for both men and women. The richness deepens in #3.

    I like it. So does the Teen. #1 does come off as derivative, especially of Hodgell, though. I only got far enough in to get interested because I trusted the guy who recommended it. He likes your work, and McKillip…

  2. Kootch

    Rachel, Wall of Night deserves to be on top of your reading list. The worldbuilding is rich and there is no black/white, there are good guys and bad guys in each camp and each book is a progression in the epic but is also an engrossing story on its own. I have read all the books so far and am waiting impatiently for the next. Re: Kate Elliott’s “Crown of Stars” series, it’s not quite grimdark but yes, lots of fraught moments for the characters. I like it the least of her work because it’s soooo tedious with some of the detail. Almost like Kate has to beat you about the head that she has built this world in detail. I also couldn’t stand the main character but I suppose Kate had to make her stupid to make some of the scenes plausible.

  3. Pete Mack

    King’s Dragon isn’t remotely grimdark, though there’s a lot of death and dying along the way. That said, it’s unmanageably long.

  4. Rachel

    Length is sometimes something I enjoy … more rarely in more recent years, I admit. But the consensus is definitely that the series is not grimdark, so yay for that!

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