Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Epic Fantasy

An epic is a long narrative poem which tells large tales, often incorporating a mixture of Legend, Myth and folk history, and featuring Heroes whose acts have a significance transcending their own individual happiness or woe. The classic epic tells the story of the founding or triumph of a folk or nation. Examples include Gilgamesh (circa 3000BC), Homer's Iliad and Odyssey (both circa 1000BC), Virgil's Aeneid (circa 19BC) and Beowulf (8th century). Later epics include many Taproot Texts, like Ariosto's Orlando Furioso (1516) and Edmund Spenser's The Fairie Queene (1589-1596). More recent examples of fantasy interest include The Idylls of the King (1842-1885) by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) (see Arthur), the Kalevala (1834; exp 1849) by Elias Lonnrot (1802-1884) and Hiawatha (1855) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882); and – if one admits prose fictions to the canon – Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851) and James Joyce's Finnegans Wake (1939). But EF in the 20th century – certainly if one insists the tale be told in verse – is uncommon. Examples include The Dynasts (1903-1908) by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), Nikos Kazantzakis's The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel (1938; trans Kimon Friar 1958) and Martyn Skinner's Merlin (1951) and The Return of Arthur (1955). Prose fictions which might be called EF include several of the central Secondary-World tales central to the development of fantasy over the past 100 years – e.g., much of the work of Kenneth Morris, E R Eddison, J R R Tolkien and Stephen R Donaldson. Any fantasy tale written to a large scale which deals with the founding or definitive and lasting defence of a Land may fairly be called an EF. Unfortunately, the term has been increasingly used by publishers to describe Heroic Fantasies that extend over several volumes, and has thus lost its usefulness. [JC]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.