Epic Fantasy Outdated?

I recently stumbled across a web site which dismissed the epic fantasy genre as outdated in the young adult literary world. My first instinct? Roll my eyes and dismiss the site without a second thought—this being a common reaction among epic fantasy lovers when someone scorns our beloved genre.

But then I realized all this eye-rolling, dismissing, and grouchy withdrawal only adds to the problem. Instead of complaining about offensive comments, fans of epic fantasy should meet these challenges head-on (that’s what our favorite literary protagonists do, right?) If we don’t champion this genre as an important literary tradition, how will the wider world understand its importance?

In light of that, here are my top five reasons why epic fantasy is relevant and important to YA literature.

  1. Timeless conflict. The themes of a mighty struggle and good vs. evil can apply to anyone’s life. All teens have problems which feel world-shattering, and the hero quest often speaks to that in a way realistic stories can’t. I do respect and support novels which deal with today’s big issues—drugs, bullying, abuse, sexual harassment, pregnancy—but a literary world devoted exclusively to issue-specific problems would be a narrow world indeed.
  2. Unfamiliar territory. Epic fantasy focuses on worlds foreign to the reader. The settings are strange, the rules unpredictable, the people bizarre. And this is exactly how teens feel about the transition to adulthood. They can relate! Consider how many epic fantasy protagonists begin the story in the real world, familiar to the reader, before making that bewildering jump into a new place and time.
  3. Wide Readership. Epic fantasy readers tend to stay lifelong fans. Adults who loved it as teens continue to pick up teen books in that genre. Teens who develop a taste for it devour any volume within their reach. Epic fantasy isn’t the newest trend, but it has a large audience.
  4. Saving the world. The young adult years bring insecurity and low self-esteem, but readers of YA fantasy journey along with brave heroes who determine the fate of the entire world. It connects readers to the place within themselves which needs to feel important and capable.
  5. Childlike imagination. It’s never good to completely lose your inner child. Epic fantasy draws us back to those most basic childhood daydreams—the prince/princess riding a horse, going on a great journey and bringing home treasure. In a world saturated with hectic schedules and big life decisions, everyone needs a break to return to those simple dreams. Quite frankly, it keeps us sane.

I welcome other voices to this discussion. Any important points I have missed on this list?




Filed under YA lit

8 responses to “Epic Fantasy Outdated?

  1. Hey Rachel, those are all excellent points. Good epic fantasy is entertaining, intriguing, imaginative, and thought provoking. It’s also a good form of escapism 🙂 Keep doing what you’re doing!

  2. rachelhestondavis

    Thanks, Jaron.

    Something else I meant to say, but never figured out how to fit it into the flow of this post: I happen to believe that genre books like fantasy and sci fi can be written to the highest in literary standards. I find it rather sad that genre books are never considered “literature” and are not generally expected to be well-written. What a shame that we have low expectations for such a creative, vibrant, imaginative outlet.

  3. Welcome to Twitter and welcome to your new blog. I’m glad to see it!

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  4. Fishy

    I wholeheartedly agree, Rachel. Especially with your comment that fantasy can be very well-written. Anyone who thinks otherwise obviously hasn’t read anything by Tolkien or Ursula LeGuin, for example.

    I don’t know what I would have done without escapist literature while growing up. To this day, YA lit is my favorite thing to read. And to date, my favorite book is still “The Giver” by Lois Lowry. It was my first glimpse into what could be, and made me think about what might be, if we aren’t careful.

  5. Excellent post and question, Rachel.

    I have loved epic fantasy since I was a child and science fiction as well.

    There is something compelling about a vulnerable character overcoming difficult challenges and circumstances. We face them ourselves but they are never as exciting.

    The world needs to know that sometimes the little guy or gal can make it. That they can overcome.

    Epic Fantasy gives its reader a little hope.

  6. Caitlynn

    I know this is an older post, but I just have to say that it’s really, really encouraging to see that there are others who think this way. In some ways, I’ve always found epic fantasy to be more “real” to me than many of the stories — YA or otherwise — which are supposedly more “literary.” By dealing with more unrealistic circumstances, fantasy is able to directly tackle deeper truths, like what it means to have courage or do what’s right…things that are essential to contemplate, especially during those teenage years when you’re trying to figure all that out.

    • rachelhestondavis

      Thanks Caitlyn! It’s really encouraging for me, too, to know that others out there agree. I take it you’re an avid fantasy reader?

      You said it well when you said that epic fantasy feels more real than many of the “modern problem” novels. I completely agree.

      • Caitlynn

        Yes, an avid fantasy reader…and a bit of a fantasy writer, as well (though I’m still extremely inexperienced at that).

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