Epic stuff.

by Terrell
(Columbia, MO)

Hello your advice have been helpful. My question is: what makes a book or a story an epic? What are all the elements in an epic? Does an epic have to be fantasy? Can it be science fiction or horror?


Answer: The original meaning of "epic" referred to epic poems, which are long narrative poems, generally concerning the founding of a people, a civilization, or an era. They depict the heroes and heroic battles that were required to make the world safe for the people in question, and the values that led to victory. They purport to be re-tellings of historical events (though a large measure of the stories may be purely mythological). Nonetheless, being perceived as history lets them impart to the readers a sense of a shared cultural identity.

Some examples are:

The Iliad, which is about how ancient Greek peoples united to fight the Trojan war.

Paradise Lost, which is a British retelling of the Christian creation myth in an attempt to reconcile it with other ancient myths and histories.

The Indian work, The Mahabhurata, which (not unlike Paradise Lost) tells of the end of one idyllic era, culminating in a climactic battle, and the beginning of our current, rather less righteous civilization.

Some epic novels, such as The Lord of the Rings tell of great turning points in the history of a fantasy world. Others are a kind of historical fiction (for instance, War and Peace).

Epic novels tend to be long, often covering large periods of time or spanning several volumes. Single volume epics will be over 110,000 words. They tend to have subplots and large casts of characters. Sometimes they cover the history of several generations. They celebrate heroism and the values of the culture they are written for or the world they take place in. They also tend to have dark villains who must be fought and defeated in order for the good side to have a chance to thrive in the next era.

There's no reason why your fantasy world cannot resemble science fiction or space opera. Some would argue that the Star Wars series or Battlestar Galactica are science fiction epics.

As for horror, that's more of a stylistic choice. However, as I say, evil, scary enemies are certainly found in epics. The more terrifying and evil the villain, the more brave and noble the heroes look when defeating them. The Old English epic poem, Beowulf, for example, features great battles against great monsters, as does The Lord of the Rings.

Comments for Epic stuff.

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May 13, 2013
one more thing?
by: Anonymous

One more thing? Can an epic hero also be a tragic hero?

May 13, 2013
Response
by: Glen

Generally, an epic will have an outcome of success. That is, the goal of defeating the evil enemies will be achieved in the end (so it's not a straight tragedy).

Whether the epic ends well for the main character is another story. Frodo, for example, is left with wounds that never heal and he can never fully rejoin the Shire. Beowulf is killed by a dragon in the end. Adam is kicked out of Eden. On the other hand, Aeneas and Odysseus have happier endings.


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