Epics

Question: I'm a life-long high-fantasy fan, but instead of being all about novels, my dream is to write my own epic. Not just "epic" as in really cool, or full of all the stereo-typical fantasy elements, but an actual Epic poem, like the Ramayana, the Iliad or the Epic of Gilgamesh. It would be high fantasy, as it is in my own fictional world full of fictional creatures and people and everything. I even plan on a conlang or two for it. Is there anything you think I should know or any advice you can give? I love writing books and have a manuscript or two in the works right now (P.S. your site has been invaluable!), but though I've written some poetry too, I've never attempted anything on the same grand scale as an Epic. While it would be awesome to get this published, I have to say that if I was to ever create a work that was art first and business second, if at all, this would be it. Just anything you could tell me about Epics and/or how I might go about writing them would be an immense help. Thank you!


Answer: I suspect you already realize that the only books that sell fewer copies than poetry anthologies are new epic poems.

Successful epic poems (those that capture the heart, soul, and readership of a nation) are exceedingly rare. The only English one is Paradise Lost. The Faerie Queen comes close, but few people read more than 10% of it.

I'm not trying to discourage you. But I suspect the next successful epic will be very different from the classics. Rap seems to be the only form of poetry that captures a big audience these days. Perhaps, just as Homer's epics, the next great epic poem will be performed rather than read. If you can find a style of language as compelling to the average person as rap that will not tire the ear... but it's a tall order.

Plus, a genuine epic gives an identity to the nation that are its readership, just as a scripture is the centre of many religions. The hero embodies the qualities most valued by the culture. Creating such a story is also not an easy task. In your case, you want a fantasy story that demonstrates the values your readers will feel a deep attachment to.

Of course, there are plenty of epic-length prose works, particularly in fantasy. Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings are two examples. Star Wars came close in film, in the way it captured the heart of a generation - as did a few earlier films. Prose lets you tell a lot more story in a given space than poetry. But it sounds like you really want to use poetry.

Regardless whether your work gets published, I suspect it will be a rewarding endeavor, and I wish you luck.

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