I recently stumbled across a web site which dismissed the epic fantasy genre as outdated in the young adult literary world.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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?