It wasn’t always so.
Once upon a time, epic fantasy was the staple in the genre. With the publication of The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, epic fantasy took what J.R.R. Tolkien began and became a self-sufficient sub-genre of its own.
It didn’t end with Shannara, obviously. With such series as The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson, The Belgariad by David Eddings, The Dark Tower by Stephen King, The Riftwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist, Memory, Sorrow & Thorn by Tad Williams, Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb, Dragon Prince by Melanie Rawn—and of course the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind—epic fantasy became solidified in the consciousness of the industry.
Because of those authors, I am an epic and high fantasy reader. Always will be. Vampires, werewolves and the like? I read stories with them but don’t identify nearly as well with them as those epic tales from my youth. Blame nostalgia. Blame my odd tastes or sensibilities. Epic is what I gravitate toward.
We are at a crossroads right now though—or perhaps an interesting new beginning. With the exception of George R. R. Martin who still has two books to write in his mega-popular Song of Ice & Fire series, there are many writers who have just recently finished large epic fantasies or are about to. Brandon Sanderson is more than halfway finished with the final Robert Jordan Wheel of Time novel. Tad Williams finished the Shadowmarch series. Terry Goodkind and Steven Erikson have wrapped up their respective series with Sword of Truth and Malazan—or have they? Patrick Rothfuss is working on finishing his fantasy trilogy that many call epic, although if you ask the author he has a hard time defining his series as epic. And with next week’s release of The Sacred Band, author David Anthony Durham is finishing his epic Acacia.
It leads to some intriguing questions:
Are we on the cusp of a new renaissance for epic fantasy? What will fill the void when these major works of fiction are completed? Will new writers enter into the fray to usurp what many consider the greatest works of fantasy since J. R. R. Tolkien? Who are these writers? Richard K. Morgan? Joe Abercrombie? Daniel Abraham?
Or will it be many years before the wheel comes back around and epic fantasy has such an influence on the industry?
What do you think? Would love to hear your thoughts!