Monday, August 06, 2007

Q & A 118


I've been working on rewriting my query for my fantasy novel. I have five narrators who each tell their own part of the story (I promise, it all ties in at the end). Looking at other novels of this type, they are generally described as "epic fantasy". Does epic mean "lots of stories spinning into one" or "best-selling" in this context? The novel is under 100k words so it's certainly not epic in word-count.

If it meant "bestselling," it would consist of LOTR. Instead, it includes LOTR and countless ripoffs of LOTR.

Lots of stories spinning into one may describe epic fantasy, but it describes other genres as well. When I call something epic fantasy on this blog, I refer to fantasy involving kings and swords and a hero in a fantastical world and magic and quests for mystical eggbeaters. Word count doesn't matter, as long as you divide it into a trilogy.

The minions will fill you in on the correct answer, possibly even distinguishing among heroic, high and epic fantasy (if they aren't all the same thing).

11 comments:

jjdebenedictis said...

Yeah, I'm geek enough to take up this challenge.

Epic fantasy means big-ass books. Books that weigh more than your cat. Books that are split into trilogies just to keep them from collapsing into black holes due to their own weight. In short: epic fantasy = hernia inducer.

Heroic fantasy means the main character looks like a truck made of muscle, carries edged weapons too "mighty" to be practical in a real fight, and has an IQ roughly that of a retarded bulldog. He is also (it's always a he) a mammary magnet and gets to boink everything female and attractive that happens to wander through the book.

High fantasy means a LOTR rip-off so gallingly obvious you're surprised zombie-Tolkien hasn't risen from the grave to bite the author's head open and nosh on his/her plagiarizing brains. Verily, high fantasy shall have elves and dragons and wizards, oh my, and lo: there shall be magical gewgaws to save/destroy the world with. Extra points are given out for prophesies and swineherds who turn out to be king.

pacatrue said...

I loooooved the Eggbeater Trilogy, particularly book five. When Huron'po finds the Lost Eggbeater of Trilosia and turns Grun'u'ui'pa into a yor't, I completely lost it.

Great books.

Deborah K. White said...

According to Wikipedia:

High fantasy stories are generally serious in tone and often epic in scope, dealing with themes of grand struggle against supernatural, evil forces. ... Some typical characteristics of high fantasy include fantastical elements such as elves and dwarves, magic, wizards, invented languages, quests, coming-of-age themes, and multi-volume narratives.

When the scope is less than epic, dealing with the hero's personal fight for personal stakes against evil forces, the epic fantasy may shade into sword and sorcery [or "low fantasy"].

Unlike the typical sword and sorcery adventurer, the hero [of high fantasy] is seldom bored stiff by ordinary life and therefore will not abandon it quickly and on any excuse.

Good versus evil is a common concept in high fantasy.... Indeed, the importance of the concepts of good and evil can be regarded as distinguishing mark between high fantasy and sword and sorcery. In many works of high fantasy, this conflict marks a deep concern with moral issues; in other works, the conflict is a power struggle, with, for instance, wizards behaving irresponsibly whether they are "good" or "evil."

braun said...

Some working definitions:

Heroic fantasy has dwarves but no elves.

High fantasy has elves, but no dwarves.

Epic fantasy has both elves and dwarves, but they hate each other.

Anonymous said...

High Fantasy: at the end of a long evening in the reggae bar, believing you might actually be able to score with the cute chick in the corner.

pacatrue said...

Following anonymous 8:10, epic fantasy is when you return every night for a week to try again.

phoenix said...

Well, hey, I left an epic diatribe earlier about the differences in a comment. Did it not go through?? Well, grumble, grumble, drat.

High and epic fantasy are essentially the same, and anyone who tries to tell you there's a difference is just being snooty.

High/epic fantasy is not about the scope or how many plots and sub-plots there are, but about the themes and central story line. It's the classic good vs evil struggle on a grand scale with broad, moral themes and ethical protagonists. Usually, if the protags lose, it means a race or a nation or a world descends into evil or gets consumed by evil.

Heroic fantasy has a moral/ethical protag, but the stakes are lower. Slaying a dragon and saving a town or finding the amulet to awaken an enchanted princess are along heroic lines. Heroic is not to be confused with sword & sorcery where the protag doesn't have to have the same moral/ethical standards, but the lines here can get pretty fuzzy.

So if 5 protags embark on a quest to find an amulet that will dethrone the evil dictator and save all of fantasyland from going over to the dark side, it's high/epic fantasy. If 5 protags want to find the amulet to see who can awaken the enchanted princess first, it's heroic fantasy. And if 5 brooding vampires want to find the amulet to deliver themselves from their immortal, soul-less existence, it's dark fantasy. Or if those same vamps live in modern-day Pittsburgh, it's urban fantasy.

Why do the differences matter? Because there are few agents and publishers who handle fantasy to begin with, and some agents (like Rachel Vater) handle ONLY high fantasy and some publishers pub only certain sub-genres.

Surprisingly, trilogies are rampant in all the sub-genres, so that's no longer the clear giveaway it used to be.

sylvia said...

Thanks all. It's clear that the piece in question isn't epic nor high. I'm starting to wonder if I should even call it fantasy!

*looks for a few elves and dwarves to toss into the miss*

bonniers said...

jjbenedictis -- LOL!!!!

Anonymous said...

Epic fantasy has a broad scope, big theme, and long time span, and derives from the classic epics (like Homer and Virgil).

Abbreviated from Virtual Salt:

Epics depict actions, travels, adventures, and heroic episodes and written in a high style (with ennobled diction, for example).

The protagonist is heroically larger than life.

The action, often in battle, reveals the more-than-human strength of the heroes.

The setting covers several nations, the whole world, or even the universe.

Magical beings and divinities play an active role in the outcome of actions.

All of the various adventures form an organic whole, where each event relates in some way to the central theme.

pulp

jjdebenedictis said...

Pacatrue, I read your comment about the Eggbeater Trilogy and just about choked on my lunch.

But in a good way.

Bravo! :-D