So, yesterday I asked what was the big deal with epic fantasy and war. It just seems (to me) to be the go to short hand for creating something that can be slapped with the epic fantasy label. But it wasn’t always necessarily so- as I pointed out before. It seems that during the Epic Fantasy boom in the 80’s too many people copied Brooks and Tolkien and came up with a formula that is a bit binding when you ponder it too much. And probably had to do with it crashing and burning as a genre in the early turn of this century.
So when Epic Fantasy started crawling back to life, it decided to keep the War aspect, but remove the good/evil aspect that churned the wars forward, making it more gritty/real/bleak/etc. Of course, for me I suspect “gritty” is not necessary “real”, but more a short hand for creating one note characters that are just dark. Not emotionally conflicted, or ones that resonate as real people. More on that later.
I just wonder why the epic has to be tied to war. And it’s not that war can’t be in an epic book, but it makes you wonder why it has to be the focus of an epic fantasy. That in the end, even the more modern takes on it, the books are focused on the conflict of large scale war and when that conflict ends, the story ends. Until another conflict begins. Why is this?
We can have things epic in scope but not have to focus on the war as the primary conflict. Peter S. Beagle’s Innkeeper’s Song is a great example of a story that feels like epic fantasy to me, yet isn’t about War. It has deeper, more engaging themes, and resonates more clearly. Or the Earthsea books, were each one has a different focus, but each one feels epic and long and engaging, and I don’t think any of them focus directly on war. In Forgotten Beasts of Eld there is a war, but it’s happening elsewhere, and the main character is just irritated by it.
I could go on and on and on. But I think really, the epic can exist and be Epic and be Fantasy and have a huge scope, and characters, and drama, and melodrama, and screams of joy and pain, and going on adventures without it needing to focus on War as the central conflict to the story, the end all be all focus of the story.
Now, for a side rant-
Monarchies, to me, feel strangely symbolic and disconnected from actuality in Epic Fantasy (even in Song of Ice and Fire they feel one note, undeveloped) to the point of where it feels like Monarchy Worship. We don’t seem to have the complex character depth of something like Hamlet. Here was a monarch that had a psychological portrait that was deep and conflicted and profound. Where are the Hamlet’s of Epic Fantasy?
Is it the fairy tale influence? Are Kings/Queens existing only as things that dispose plot coupons and magic quests, partake in wars, be overthrown? Be cruel to people, or kind to people, or murder, or nice, or whatever? Why can’t they have that deep level of character depth that Shakespeare imbued the Prince of Denmark? Here is loss, melancholy, people weighing the full terrible of weight of what must be done. Sure, it’s bleak, but as for a character study it speaks volumes. Bleakness is not a unique trait in and of itself. Bleakness for bleakness sake is just boring.