For as far back as I can stretch my memory, epic fantasy has been my favorite genre to read. However, I’ve read many books in other categories—long spurts in science fiction, and even some nonfiction, going through phases with each, I always came back to fantasy. Though, mostly epic fantasy, with its sprawling storylines that span more than one book. The good ones of my youth and early adulthood pulled me in and changed my view of reality at least, for a while, then sent me racing to the bookstore to purchase the latest or waiting impatiently for the mail to arrive. Do you recall the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club? With it, one had to buy a certain amount of books over the life of the term in exchange for choosing several free when you first join. I stayed with it for several years and now have an extensive library. Even now, years later, I still read them. What gives them lasting value? Conflict? Certainly, every great story has conflict, usually some very powerful enemy, deadly creature, or ambitious evil wizard bent on either exterminating everyone or enslaving mankind with a personal desire for world domination. Is it the great characters who become the unlikely heroes that make the novel a page-turner as much now as it did way back then? Sure characters are one of the most important aspects of the story. A wondrous, unique magic system with rules, a cost to using it? Sure. It has to have rules or the little person couldn’t somehow win against the adept, evil wizard.
The presence of a deity or deities, are they the defining element? They provide an avenue of worship. Most of the best novels have one or more, but they’re not required.
To me, the most defining element to an epic fantasy is… the world. A world of such fantastical beauty, creatures, and people, it’s magical. A place I would fervently love to visit, given even the tiniest possibility. Of course, if there were magic in this world created, I would want to Use it, competently. If you don’t have a world that immerses the reader, becomes a place they fervently they could go see for themselves, you’re going to lose them as some point, sooner than later. I take the time to draw a map at the beginning, so I can stay consistent with travel.
What do you believe? What are the defining elements for a good epic fantasy to you?