Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Thoughts from Books: Throne of Glass and My Definition of "Epic Fantasy"

Recently I read Throne of Glass...and it didn't turn out to be quite what I had expected.

See, when I read other reviews on book blogs or watch booktube, I somehow got the impression that it's an epic fantasy. And I LOVE epic fantasy, so there was no reason I wasn't going to read this series. I read it, and I was a bit disappointed. There are a lot of reasons, (I wrote a review of it, so you can head over to Goodreads and read the details if you want to) but today I want to examine one of them -- one of the reasons I was disappointed was that it isn't quite an "epic fantasy". It's a bit unfair, I admit, but it's an interesting topic, and talking about it would be fun.

What do you think is epic fantasy? What do you feel when you read epic fantasy?
While I was reading Throne of Glass, I kept feeling, "When will it start to feel 'epic'"? (Maybe epic is not the word...but I haven't found a word that suits what I mean in my limited vocabulary...so there, epic) And so I started thinking, if that isn't epic, what is?



I looked epic up on the internet. It's pretty interesting to see what it originally means, but it still seem kind of vague.

ep·ic  (ĕp′ĭk)
n.
1. An extended narrative poem in elevated or dignified language, celebrating the feats of a legendary or traditional hero.
2. A literary or dramatic composition that resembles an extended narrative poem celebrating heroic feats.

To clear my mind, I compiled a list (as you do) about what I think are elements of epic fantasy.

The essentials:

Grand setup
Lots of awesome world building. It's all about the scale. Most of the "epic" worlds seem to be purely ancient and primeval, or Medieval. Or maybe they're parallel or "secondary" worlds that the main character(s) enter from their mundane, human lives (Narnia). Either way, it has to be a big world where a lot of things happen.

(However stories set in more recent times are often categorized as urban fantasy, and those with high technology are seen as sci-fi. People are weird.)

Large cast of characters (with different social status)
Because you just can't beat a dragon all by yourself, can you? Okay, say that you can (see A Wizard of Earthsea), but there still need to be lots of side characters or passers-by to show what kind of world the main character is in.

Magic
Cos it's fantasy!
(I have the willpower to resist putting a gif here. Isn't that amazing?)

Creatures
Elves, fae, giants, dragons and dwarves. It's part of the magic.
(Not all fantasy have those, though. See Mistborn.)

Villains (duh)
That's like, the purpose of living for all heroes.

A journey/quest
To defeat the great evil, to find the sacred item, to flee from tyranny, to explore etc. No journey, no story.

Not so necessary but exists in a lot of epic fantasy:

Distant point of view
Perhaps it's just me and what I read as a child, but most fantasy I read is 3rd person, and rarely describe characters' feelings and emotions. It makes me feel that I can focus on the storyline in stead of the characters' personal struggles and see the big picture. Not that the characters aren't important, but the focus is different. On the other hand, magic realism and paranormal are often narrated in 1st person (see Twilight), and I think it's because it focuses on how magic effects the characters in the non-magic world.

Religion
Well okay, this is part of the world building, but it often makes me feel the world is more real, that it actually exists, and it also adds mysteriousness. It might also be the source of the magic. Still it isn't really necessary. There's fantasy that managed to be epic without religion. (Again, A Wizard of Earthsea. Because the series is awesome.)

Note that I didn't include romance. Romance is possible, but if I were someone on a major quest to save the world or fighting some great evil, falling in love would be the least of my concern...

That's all I can think of that makes an epic fantasy epic. Yeah, perhaps they're tropes, but they're good tropes that make good stories!

Back to Throne of Glass, I feel that what it lacks are grand setup (all I see is palace palace palace), and a large cast of characters (there's only Celaena, Chaol, Nehemia, Dorian, Perrington, Kaltain and the king that really doesn't do anything, which doesn't really show a lot about the world); there isn't a lot of magic, and I haven't the faintest idea what the religion is about (by the Wyrd, what does that mean??). I'll wait and see, after all it's just the first book of a six-book *gasps* series!

And if this blogpost seems too...small, that's because I did some research mid-writing, and I found a lot more blogposts that worded my thoughts way better than I do, and my confidence just dwindled all the way down. You should definitely check them out if you're interested in this topic!

What Makes Epic Fantasy Epic
Subgenre Bingo -  Epic Fantasy
Wikipedia - Fantasy
Wikipedia - Outline of Fantasy
Wikipedia - Fantasy Tropes


Finally a tiny little disclaimer: I'm not any kind of writer. Heck, I don't think I even reach the level of amateur. These are just my readerly thoughts, and are by no means any kind of story-writing suggestion or advice. I'd really like to discuss this topic with you guys down in the comments!

What's your definition of epic fantasy?


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