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Monday, August 26, 2013

Rating the epic fantasies

Someone came up with this idea in the comments and I thought it would be interesting, especially because I recently started reading two would-be epic fantasies that are, in a word, DEEE-readful.  About which more anon.  Here are the epic series I'm considering for the list, but feel free to add more in if you feel they belong.  To qualify, an epic fantasy has to be epic, it has to be big and fat and set in its own distinct, sprawling fantasy world.  If the books in the series aren't at least 600 pages apiece, (and 750 is better), they don't count, although I'm willing to consider exceptions.  For example, Glen Cook's Black Company, in or out?  I vote in due to the size and scope of the series, though not the individual books themselves. Harry Potter, on the other hand, is definitely out.

The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien
The Wheel of Time, Jordan
The Riftwar Saga, Feist
Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Donaldson
Shannara, Brooks
The Sword of Truth, Goodkind
Malazan  Book of the Fallen, Erikson
A Song of Ice and Fire, Martin
First Law, Abercrombie
Prince of Nothing, Bakker
The Black Company, Cook
The Kingkiller Chronicle, Rothfuss
The Belgariad, Eddings
The Mallorean, Eddings
Dragonlance, Weis & Hickman
The Deathgate Cycle, Weis and Hickman
The Long Price Quartet, Abraham
The Stormlight Archive, Sanderson
Mistborn, Sanderson
The Red Knight, Cameron
The Demon Cycle, Peter Brett

I was a little surprised to go back and discover that Silverberg's Majipoor Cycle was a short as it is.  I remember Lord Valentine's Castle being a huge book, not a mere 479 pages.  Anyhow, feel free to suggest any other epic fantasies that you would argue merit consideration, but note that I've already decided that Guy Gavriel Kay's, Lloyd Alexander's and Robin Hobb's books are of insufficient scale to qualify as epic fantasy, whereas John Fultz's and Mark Lawrence's books are simply too short to make the cut.  And while one could make a perfectly rational argument for Pratchett's Discworld in its totality, I don't think it belongs here for stylistic reasons, if nothing else.

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139 Comments:

Anonymous Faust August 26, 2013 5:10 AM  

What about Katherine Kerr's Deverry series? It takes place over hundreds of years and thousands upon thousands of territory.

The books ranged from the low four hundreds to the high 500s, as I remember, and there were quite a lot of them.

As for whether they're any good, well, it was my absolute favorite series in middle school and high school (I imagine my copy of Time of Exile is still sitting in the back of the Health Teacher's desk after I refused to put it away and pay attention in class for the 15th time.) but I've had the latest one, the Silver Mage, sitting on my bookshelf for nigh on 4 years now and I've never been able to get more than 5 pages in. But it certainly seems to satisfy your definitions.

Blogger obclhorn August 26, 2013 5:13 AM  

Kate Elliott's Crown of Stars. Personally, I think it's stunning in scale, depth, and the completeness of the world. Particularly, the presence and description of religion were well done and fascinating.

Anonymous VD August 26, 2013 5:17 AM  

What about Katherine Kerr's Deverry series?

I've read most of them; to be honest, I don't see them as epic. Perhaps that is because they start off very small and were much better at that scale. I really liked the first four books but as it went on, it got to the point that I didn't bother read the last two or three.

I love Katherine Kurtz's Deryni books, but again, I don't see them as being epic.

Kate Elliott's Crown of Stars

Never read it, so I'll have to open that up to the crowd.

Anonymous Dc August 26, 2013 5:31 AM  

Ah Vox, nothing by R.A. Salvatore makes your lists!?

Anonymous Holmwood August 26, 2013 5:39 AM  

What about Lewis' Narnia? Granted, thin books, but a fair number of them and epic on several levels. Surely qualifying for an exception?

Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series is also similarly slim, and perhaps pushing it on epic fantasy world, but the literary quality is a good deal better than, say, Eddings. Can't push it over Lewis, though.

Nesbit's turn of the century Phoenix and the Carpet series is, granted, too small and slim, though the almost-Victorian world it conjures up as the root of the series verges on epic fantasy in this enlightened age.

By insisting on fat books, isn't there a risk of biasing this towards shovelware fantasy?

Lynch might qualify, in a decade or too, if he could ever move forward. Still not sure that he's living up to the quality of Lies of Locke Lamora though.

Also liked the Deryni books, but I was pretty young when I read them. Not sure they'd stand up.

Anonymous Anonymous August 26, 2013 5:42 AM  

Seems your length requirement also kicks Moorcock's Elric saga to the curb.

Anonymous VD August 26, 2013 5:59 AM  

Definitely no to Lewis and Cooper. Great books, but just not epic fantasy. Great fantasy, classic fantasy, but just not fat epic fantasy.

By insisting on fat books, isn't there a risk of biasing this towards shovelware fantasy?

Perhaps, but giant fat fantasy books is part of epic fantasy.

Anonymous VD August 26, 2013 6:08 AM  

Ah Vox, nothing by R.A. Salvatore makes your lists!?

None of the very little I've read would qualify. Epic, by definition, means not focusing on a single character and his adventures.

Blogger James Dixon August 26, 2013 6:08 AM  

The size limitation cuts out a lot. Moorcock's Eternal Champion series, Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Neil Hancock's Circle of Light and other books, Chalker's Well World and other books, etc. I haven't read enough of Rosenberg's Guardians of the Flame to know if it qualifies or not.

Anonymous VD August 26, 2013 6:16 AM  

The size limitation cuts out a lot.

It is supposed to. For example, Leiber is clearly Sword & Sorcery, not Epic. Guardians of the Flame is definitely not Epic. There is a fundamental difference between what you can do in 300 pages and 900 pages, hence the different categorization.

Anonymous TheExpat August 26, 2013 6:25 AM  

Zalazny's Amber Chronicles, maybe, but it was so long ago that I can't recall if they measure up in terms of epic fantasy, and the individual book lengths were also probably too short.

Anonymous TheExpat August 26, 2013 6:26 AM  

**Zelazny's

Anonymous Kocour August 26, 2013 6:33 AM  

Book of the New Sun? Or does that lack enough fantastical elements?

Anonymous Kocour August 26, 2013 6:45 AM  

Book of the New Sun?

Blogger Unknown August 26, 2013 6:54 AM  

Yeah, Lloyd Alexander's is def too small of a scale, but that stuff was great when I was a kid. It wrecks Harry Potter's face.

Anonymous J August 26, 2013 6:57 AM  

Jack Vance's Lyonesse trilogy are 400 pages each, but superior to everything on the main list except Tolkien.

Blogger Falco August 26, 2013 7:01 AM  

Definitely Book of the New Sun, also Prince of Nothing by Scott R Bakker

Anonymous Kyle In Japan August 26, 2013 7:13 AM  

I love Mistborn, but while it has the pagecount and intricate plot of epic fantasy, it feels more like heroic fantasy to me, since people beating each other up is such a big part of the series. Also, the world is very small in scope, comparatively speaking.

Stormlight Archive, on the other hand, definitely applies. Forget Martin, I'm a lot more excited about seeing more books in this series.

Anonymous YIH August 26, 2013 7:18 AM  

Harry Potter, on the other hand, is definitely out.
I can see why, while 'fat' (nine volumes) it's most certainly not 'sprawling' - just the opposite.

Anonymous Herman the German August 26, 2013 7:44 AM  

I was quite pleased to see my favorite childhood epic fantasy made your list, Vox.

Dragonlance by Weis & Hickman was broken up into tinier books back in Europe in the 80's & 90's. I remember reading Drachenkrieg as part of one of the two original volumes of Chronicles & all the rest. So, it dawns on me that had most Americans and/or readers of this blog viewed the series in that light, they might have felt inclined to discount Dragonlance due to smaller books. Happy to see you did NOT. Also love Lord of the Rings and Wheel of Time. Great list!

Blogger Nate August 26, 2013 7:46 AM  

hello?

Chronicles of Amber.

Anonymous Jonathan August 26, 2013 7:49 AM  

Epic fantasy ... anything by JJ Rousseau.

Anonymous Rally August 26, 2013 7:50 AM  

The size limitation completely disqualifies them, but perhaps an exception could be made for Robert Howard's Conan series? They were written mostly as short stories, and of course other authors have written the bulk of the Conan works out there.

Take the 12 short book series published in the 70's, which takes Conan from a savage to king of Aquilonia in mostly a chronological path, and repackage into a 3 book trilogy and you'd have epic. Howard definitely qualifies in world creation.

Anonymous Anonymous August 26, 2013 8:01 AM  

The Amber books aren't that fat, but then neither are the individual books of the Belgariad or the Black Company. Amber doesn't really fit the "group of heroes go adventuring" style of most of the rest of these, though.

Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy probably counts. Scullery boy gets caught up in events and ends up with a pack of adventurers who travel great distances to save the world sort of thing, and the last book especially is huge.

Blogger Nate August 26, 2013 8:03 AM  

"The Amber books aren't that fat, but then neither are the individual books of the Belgariad or the Black Company. Amber doesn't really fit the "group of heroes go adventuring" style of most of the rest of these, though."

Neither does GRRM.

Blogger James Dixon August 26, 2013 8:05 AM  

> Chronicles of Amber.

I don't believe meets his size requirements. I'm remembering the individual books as being shorter than that.

> Take the 12 short book series published in the 70's, which takes Conan from a savage to king of Aquilonia in mostly a chronological path, and repackage into a 3 book trilogy and you'd have epic.

That's true of many of the books mentioned. It' definitely true of the Eternal Champion series and the Amber series. Part of the problem is that at one time the publishers discouraged long books.

Blogger Nate August 26, 2013 8:16 AM  

"I don't believe meets his size requirements. I'm remembering the individual books as being shorter than that."

The books don't need to be 600 pages if there are 10 of them.

Blogger Nate August 26, 2013 8:21 AM  

In defense of Amber: The Great Book of Amber contains all 10 Amber novels. Its 6x9 weighs 2.2 pounds and has 1264 pages.

Epic fantasy is about world building. Amber is one of most memorable... bizarre... and colorful worlds anyone has ever drempt up.

Anonymous hvogel August 26, 2013 8:26 AM  

I'm with cailcorishev concerning the Belgariad. The series is composed of five books, none of which even come close to meeting your length requirements. Each book is in the range of 300 pages, plus or mius a few dozen pages. The Mallorean runs into the same problem, though they come closer to the length requirement. If these books count, there's really no logical reason to exclude Amber, Patricia McKillip's Riddle Master trilogy (epic in scope and much better than the Belgariad, in my opinion), or quite a few other books excluded on length alone.

Ignoring page count, do you really want to call the Mallorean an epic? Yeah, taken as a whole it's long, but who can get worked up over the adventures of the seven most powerful people in the world, spoiler ahead but if you haven't read the Mallorean I recommend you read this and save yourself the time it takes to wade through 2000 pages of story for the most anti-climactic ending of all time)especially when the grand resolution boils down to some blind chick saying "The ones on the right - they win!" I kept waiting for Eddings to provide some brilliant explanation for why the blind chick would end up choosing the good guys but he never did. He should have just written a short story where evil and good get together and flip a coin to see who wins. Blech.

Also, consider this another call for the addition of Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. The books are long enough and the scale is epic.

Blogger Ron August 26, 2013 8:28 AM  

Donaldson should have been at the top, or right under Tolkein. It's just as important and powerful. In some ways, it's even more important than Tolkein. Tolkein is about hope, but Donaldson is about redemption, and we need that now even more than hope.

Rothfuss only came out with one decent book, the second book is a steaming pile of Mary Sue crap.

If you are going to put Feist and Brooks on there, you can't knock off the Potter series.

Also, the series of Salvatore novels dealing with the war with Menzoberanzzan should be up there.

Anonymous ChelmWiseman August 26, 2013 8:29 AM  

Dune?

Blogger Nate August 26, 2013 8:30 AM  

Book Length is a symptom of Epic Fantasy. Not the cause. Books are not epic because they are long.. they are generally long because they are epic.

length is a great general qualifier but it shouldn't be seen as the be-all end-all.

Its about the world building.

Anonymous Anonymous August 26, 2013 8:35 AM  

David Drake's Lord/Crown of the Isles series might qualify.

Blogger James Dixon August 26, 2013 8:38 AM  

> ...length is a great general qualifier but it shouldn't be seen as the be-all end-all.

I agree, but Vox set the terms. It's up to him to change them if he wants.

Blogger Al August 26, 2013 8:43 AM  

Personally, I give more weight to the content of the book than the page count. RJ's WoT stuff for instance, especially the later books in the series, are notorious for being maybe 200 pages of story, with the other 600-700 pages meaningless fashion reports, hair pulling, and vapid dialog.

Alexander and Lawrence pack a lot of epic, time-spanning, history-rich punch into their books without needing to bloat the page count.

I'd also add Moorcock (Elric, Corum, etc), and Saberhagen's Sword books to the list.

Anonymous ChelmWiseman August 26, 2013 8:49 AM  

Alexander and Lawrence pack a lot of epic, time-spanning, history-rich punch into their books without needing to bloat the page count.

Agree about Alexander but I am not familiar with Lawrence. Alexander, Lewis, and Rowling are all epic, but are in a different category - juvenile fiction.

Blogger Nate August 26, 2013 8:53 AM  

Rowling isn't Epic. For crying out loud how much Harry's world do we actually see?

Anonymous Porky August 26, 2013 8:54 AM  

LOTR average length = 328 pgs.

Blogger Nate August 26, 2013 8:54 AM  

hells bells Xanth is more epic than Potter.

Anonymous Porky August 26, 2013 9:02 AM  

Christopher's Tripods are more epic than Potter.

Anonymous ChelmWiseman August 26, 2013 9:02 AM  

Rowling isn't Epic. For crying out loud how much Harry's world do we actually see?

Not going to argue the point. Vox did specify sprawling, so Rowling would not fit under that definition anyway.

Anonymous Mike August 26, 2013 9:07 AM  

What about the following:

David Farland's Runelord series.
The Elenium - Eddings
The Tamuli - Eddings
The Dreamers - Eddings
Star of the Guardians - Weis
Sovereign Stone Trilogy - Weis and Hickman
Rose of the Prophet - Weis and Hickman

Although smallish, Piers Anthony's Xanth books could qualify too.

Anonymous Cajin August 26, 2013 9:07 AM  

Page count is no longer a viable metric in the age of electronic devices.

How's this: the book must meet a specific word count, have multiple character perspectives, and/or create a world consisting of its own rules and devices. A considered book must meet 2 of 3 criteria to meet the requirements.

In this way, a ten book series of medium size could be considered.

Anonymous TheExpat August 26, 2013 9:09 AM  

Rothfuss only came out with one decent book, the second book is a steaming pile of Mary Sue crap.

Have to agree with this. And while the world building is decent and the prose fantastically clever in many places, the story is not really larger than the main character, and mainly revolves around Qvothe struggling against his own social ineptitude, and failing much of the time. In any case I don't think an 'epic' judgment can be made until the final book in the trilogy either redeems the story or adds more to the steaming pile.

Anonymous JoeyWheels August 26, 2013 9:12 AM  

I have to second the addition of Donaldson. Covenant was the second major series I undertook as a teen after Tolkien and it has forever cast a long shadow on my reading.
After slogging along with Covenant one cannot help but being more joyful when reading a joyful epic.

I'd also throw a mention to Glen Cook's Dread Empire. They are mostly short stories, but his world-building is nothing short of sublime. Gritty and lived-in, wonderous and complex when needed.

I'm also digging his latest opus...the Instrumentalities books:
The Tyranny of the Night (2005)
Lord of the Silent Kingdom (2007)
Surrender to the Will of the Night (2010)
Working the Gods' Mischief (TBA)

Blogger JartStar August 26, 2013 9:14 AM  

Acacia: The War with the Mein - But I don't know if enough people have read this series to make it worth adding.

Anonymous Anonymous August 26, 2013 9:14 AM  

I agree, but Vox set the terms. It's up to him to change them if he wants.

Judging by the books he put on the list, he's more concerned about the size of the whole series than book length. Which makes sense -- my first copy of the Belgariad was stuffed into two book club volumes, but that didn't make it any more epic than the original smaller five.

I'd probably put the Belgariad and Mallorean together, since they're basically one story (or one story repeated with minor changes). If all the Covenant books are one entry, I'd do the same with Garion's world.

I thought of Saberhagen's Sword books too, since there's an epic-scale world and concept there, but isn't each book fairly self-contained? It's been a lot of years since I read those.

Anonymous Porky August 26, 2013 9:18 AM  

Star Trek?

Anonymous J August 26, 2013 9:22 AM  

"Personally, I give more weight to the content of the book than the page count"

Agree. It is a dumb metric. 400 pages of Jack Vance is far superior to (and more epic than) 4,000 pages of GRRM.

Michael Moorcock's Elric / Corum / Hawkmoon books are pretty short, but I don't know how to describe each series other than "epic".

Anonymous LurkerJim August 26, 2013 9:29 AM  

Good grief people!

ATOB

Anonymous Cajin August 26, 2013 9:34 AM  

I'm not saying it's a dumb metric, but if I recall correctly, Dickens' work wasn't published in book form, but as serials in newspapers. However, those works were eventually combined into books.

I'd like to include The Golden Age by John C. Wright, but as I read it on my phone, I have no idea how long it was.

Blogger lubertdas August 26, 2013 9:47 AM  

I'm not a fantasy fan, I'm definitely a Science Fiction fan, so any recommendations I make are colored by that fact.

With that in mind, my choice would be The Void Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton. An excellent fantasy story wrapped up inside a Science Fiction story that provides the foundation for a fantasy-based world to exist.

Anonymous Papapete August 26, 2013 9:50 AM  

What about E. R . R. Eddison's "The Worm Ouroboros"? It practically defined heroic fantasy for a generation. I'm not saying that it's the best literature out there, in fact it's very "Doc" Smith in style, but it certainly meets the "epic" standard.

Anonymous hideous August 26, 2013 9:53 AM  

The Troy Trilogy by David Gemmell (in lieu of the Illiad itself)

How about sometime also starting a list of The Best Fantasy Books You've Never Heard Of (e.g. sleepers)? With a short explanation for each entry of why it's good. I would have just one contribution: The Dark Border duology by Paul Edwin Zimmerman for its excellent depiction of evil and the strength of its main characters.

Blogger Dreadpiratk August 26, 2013 9:58 AM  

SM Stirlings' change series? It skirts the line between s/f and fantasy somewhat, but is veering ever more towards fantasy as it goes on. It certainly has the scope and length to qualify. Wouldn't be high on the list, but might deserve a mention.

Blogger great Unknown August 26, 2013 10:00 AM  

Could be you remember the Majipoor series as being much longer is that there were more words on a page than they print today. Four hundred plus pages took a loooong time to read.

Anonymous AnalogMan August 26, 2013 10:00 AM  

Somebody recommended The Lord of the Rings to me, back before it was a movie, or cool. I had my first forebodings when I read, in the foreword, that Tolkien wrote the book in a series of letters to his son, with the prime goal of making it as long as possible. Well, he achieved that, but he couldn't hold my interest. Big is not the same as good.

I know that's heresy to this company. Maybe it's just the old saying, A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country.. I'm a Bloemfontein boy myself, and Tolkien is our home town boy made good. On the other hand, I've never read anything else on your list. I'm an old SF fan, but never got interested in fantasy.

Anonymous Bobby Trosclair August 26, 2013 10:01 AM  

Another vote for Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun.

Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series is excellent sword and sorcery, but probably don't qualify as "epic" due to their mostly short story or novella lengths. Same with Howard's Conan and Solomon Kane series.

Blogger Positive Dennis August 26, 2013 10:03 AM  

Feist is definetly Epic, but that is what I dislike the most about Riftwar. Having played D&D in the same group that inspired Feist, I can not give him much credit on originality. I could also do without the gnostic elements.

Anonymous Mark Call August 26, 2013 10:06 AM  

Actually, I admit it's a bit of a stretch to SOME of the definitions you outline above, VD (like thin books in the mix, even short stories, and it's more "hard SF" than what passes for fantasy) -- but RA Heinlein's "Future History" series really deserves to be in the mix.


It's what 'pioneering' is about.

Blogger Dreadpiratk August 26, 2013 10:12 AM  

Jim Butchers Furies of Calderon series should be on the list. It's at least as good as Eddings, better in my opinion and more original.

Anonymous Daniel August 26, 2013 10:22 AM  

Epic, by definition, means not focusing on a single character and his adventures.

I can see how you might have been fooled into including Rothfuss on this list...but did you read the second book? I think it should be struck from the Epic rolls because of it. It is a superhero fantasy.

Codex Alera, Jim Butcher, should probably be on the list. It doesn't do anything special with magic or tropes, but it is both earnest and honest (and far more "realistic" than either Baker or Abercrombie) and the writing is solid.

How long was The Folk of the Air? I could see it being included, at least as an earnest attempt at the type.

I'm tempted to make an argument in favor of the old YA series: The Guardians of the Flame, Joel Rosenberg by clustering the individual novels into groups of three.

Also, I think The Horus Heresy is a very good multi-author epic, although I think one of the strengths of epics is that they sprawl so imaginatively from a single source. In the case of The Horus Heresy, I get the sense that Graham McNeill provides much of the "soul" of the books, even if Dan Abnett and the designers provided the architecture (I honestly don't know if this is true. Just my sense from reading them.)

I almost want to toss in Boy's Life, even though it is clearly a nostalgic horror fantasy. The breadth of characters, the river monster and the angel-winged first day of summer alone have such mythic strength - that book appeals to epic fantasy fans, even though it is not epic fantasy.

Doppelgänger? It seemed long, but now that I think about it, it might have only been 500 pages. Not a favorite of mine, just one I remember reading a while ago.

The above-mentioned Malazan is the one whose nature I'm most likely to compare the handling of Amorr and Selenoth.

Anonymous Daniel August 26, 2013 10:26 AM  

Didn't Tumithak have a big novel that was more about his world than him? I never read it if it does exist, so I may be way off base. That world was pretty cool in the novellas.

Anonymous karsten August 26, 2013 10:26 AM  

Do the epic fantasies have to be of relatively recent date (LOTR onwards)? Or can they be older? Because IMO Spenser's ''The Faerie Queene'' easily surpasses even Tolkien as the finest epic fantasy in English literature.

Blogger GK Chesterton August 26, 2013 10:27 AM  

Book of the New/Old Sun is definitely worth adding. It destroys most of the stuff on this list. Some might argue that it is SciFi, and while that's true to a point, it is also most definitely set in a Cthulu-like universe that has hope.

As does Pratchett, who theme or not, I think should be included. He's one of the "Honest Agnostics" and his characters are more robust and less nihilistic than Martin's. Yes, most of the time it is comedy, but it is amazingly _logical_ comedy. His worlds hold together based on their rules more tightly than many authors.

And while I have never read Howard's Connan (minus I think one short) I also agree it is odd to not have it hear. It is definitely, minus the length requirement, a something that should be considered. The depth has just inspired to much to make it ignorable.

One day I'll understand why "The Black Company" is so well liked. I tried really hard to like it and failed. The idea was a great one, the monsters were interesting, but it seemed to misunderstand _scale_. This bugged me. What was it 250k dead in the last battle? That's just silly.

Also, you miss one of the greatest recent releases in my mind, which I believe meets the page requirement, "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell", which is a grand example of chick lit fantasy done right and is the true modern inheritor of Jane Austen done in a fantasy setting. Whip crack smart, amazing world, and a friendship between two men that isn't sane and isn't about sex. In fact it is worth it for the amazingly strong personal dynamic sans sex alone. That is so mind bendingly rare in today's fiction.

Also agree with, "If you are going to put Feist and Brooks on there, you can't knock off the Potter series." Feist was a fun read. But so was Potter. VD has already described Feist as juvenile fantasy in a previous thread. So that can't be used as a disqualifier if he includes it here.

Blogger GK Chesterton August 26, 2013 10:34 AM  

Kudos for "The Faerie Queene"...which reminds me I need to read that.

Anonymous FUBAR Nation Ben August 26, 2013 10:37 AM  

A Throne of Bones by Vox Day.

Anonymous Moar Torture! August 26, 2013 10:40 AM  

I read The Shadow of the Torturer when I was a kid, and I never got over the annoyance of a book about a torturer not having enough torture in it. I was really hoping for some wicked cool tortures, but nope, it was mostly a boring journey from one imaginary place to another.

Anonymous Daniel August 26, 2013 10:41 AM  

Orcs was shockingly "small" for a fat trilogy. It really only focused on the one band. Jim Hines' pre-crossdressing goblin comedies were more expansive! Conan is not epic fantasy...I love those stories, but they are about Conan. Name six other significant ongoing characters in the Conan stories. If you can, you are a bigger fan than I am. Same goes for the - in some ways - superior Solomon Kane tales.

"Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell" - No. Not even close to high fantasy.

Anonymous AXCrom August 26, 2013 10:47 AM  

I would recommend "The Chronicles of Siala" trilogy by Alexey Pehov.

Anonymous The other skeptic August 26, 2013 10:49 AM  

Definitely a fantasy and certainly not science:

Doctors hope that injecting cancer patients with bowel bacteria would stimulate their immune system

Anonymous Anonymous August 26, 2013 10:51 AM  

I think of epic fantasy as about more than the scale and depth of the world; it's about taking a long, "epic" journey through that world with a character or characters, usually on some sort of quest or mission that leaves you exhausted at the end. Epic fantasy provides a map, or results in a fairly detailed map in your imagination.

By that definition, LOTR, Belgariad, Covenant, and Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn are all no-brainers. Discworld doesn't really fit, although if you take the Rincewind books as a set, they might (although I'm not sure running away counts as a quest). But the books that stay in a single area don't. Garrett p.i. doesn't for the same reason: great world with a lot of imagination and plenty of pages, but it mostly takes place in one city (everywhere else is basically "not Tun-Faire"). The Amber books barely fit thanks to the travels through Shadow; if more of it took place in Amber, they wouldn't.

Anonymous Gecko August 26, 2013 10:54 AM  

If you view The Black Company as three large books instead of ten small ones, it makes more sense. Sort of like Lord of the Rings - is it three books? Six? Or just one to rule them all?

I've read A Fortress in Shadow from Glen Cook's Dread Empire, and at first glance it also seems to qualify.

Patrick Rothfuss is actually a friend of a friend, but I just don't see how his tale is much more epic than Harry Potter. Sure, the two existing books are thick, but the scope is so petty, focusing on just one character. I, too, am wondering if Vox actually read both or if it was just a recommendation. (I also can't get past the ridiculous poverty of the supposedly gifted protagonist. He can't find two silvers to rub together? Come on. My guess is that this might be another case of too much projection from the author. I digress. Blech!)

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams seems to meet all of Vox's requirements, so I also vote to add it. An acceptable replacement for Kingkiller, IMHO.

I've read the following from the list, so I'm not exactly an expert in the field:

The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien
The Black Company, Cook
The Kingkiller Chronicle, Rothfuss
A Song of Ice and Fire, Martin
The Wheel of Time, Jordan (only the first two books)

An aside regarding ASOIAF: I suspect that people will find the series to be more epic when they discover that, "all men must die," doesn't actually mean, "death is inevitable," but rather, "humanity must be destroyed." When they see that the Faceless Men are actually plotting to bring down The Wall with dragon fire so that they can unleash the Others (fed by Faceless-gathered corpses) on Westeros to end its suffering, and that Prince Rhaegar has been the biggest piece working against this end (disguised as Mance Rayder for decades), it'll cause them to reconsider a few assumptions about the series. It also explains GRRM's depravity a little better - a reason for them to justify putting the world out of its misery. Not that the last two books weren't total crap, but still...

Anonymous John August 26, 2013 10:57 AM  

I read a book named Duncton Wood by William Horwood, over 30 years ago that was later a part of a series (The Duncton Chronicles). It was fantasy, but I'm not sure if it qualifies as epic fantasy.

It was about moles anthropomorphically portrayed as having intelligent societies with their own social organization, history and written form of communication. It had quests and adventures, spirituality,and good vs evil.

I thoroughly enjoyed it as a young guy those many years ago. I wonder how I'd regard it now. It doesn't even seem to be a very well known book or series, as I believe it's out of print now, at least in the U.S.

Anonymous JoeyWheels August 26, 2013 10:58 AM  

Anyone else familiar with the Horseclans books by Robert Adams?

I received a four volume box set when I was a teen and loved them, but didn't make an effort to seek out the remaining lot. IIRC, the saga spans 15+ books.
Now as I've gotten older and my disposable $$ is a bit healthier I've considered getting the rest.
I've mentioned them to other SF/F reading friends of mine and few have heard of the stories of Milo Morai (and his people)and Billi the Axe.
Maybe they are too "pulp-y".

Blogger Dreadpiratk August 26, 2013 11:00 AM  

Jim Butchers Furies of Calderon series should be on the list. It's at least as good as Eddings, better in my opinion and more original.

Anonymous Roundtine August 26, 2013 11:04 AM  

I haven't read this (was thinking about starting it), but does Stephen King's Dark Tower qualify?

Anonymous Stilicho August 26, 2013 11:04 AM  

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams seems to meet all of Vox's requirements, so I also vote to add it.

Seconded.

My ranks:

Tolkien

Zelazny (individual books are small, but it is undeniably epic in scope, etc...quality has a quantity all its own in this case).

Feist (yes, it's for a younger audience, but it is tops in that sub-genre)

Martin (for all its faults...still excellent with a chance at redemption)

Cook

Tad Williams

Rothfuss (he understands nothing of women, but an excellent story so far)

Weiss/Hickman Dragonlance (if only for nostalgic reasons)

Jordan

Didn't care that much for the rest although the Belgariad merits an honorable mention.

Anonymous Orlok August 26, 2013 11:06 AM  

I guess the Elric saga wasn't your cup of tea?

Anonymous Stilicho August 26, 2013 11:15 AM  

Donaldson should have been at the top, or right under Tolkein. It's just as important and powerful. In some ways, it's even more important than Tolkein.

Epic fail. Donaldson is in the running for worst fantasy writer ever. To compare him with Tolkien is beyond heresy. By the way, do you weigh less than a duck? I just happen to have a torch handy...

Blogger Ephrem Antony Gray August 26, 2013 11:20 AM  

What about M. L'engle's series starting with A Wrinkle In Time? I guess the books are not quite long enough, though in terms of scope the stories have an epic quality. I suppose they would be regarded more as science fiction...

But this got me to thinking about video games and epic fantasy. Many games are too single-character focused to be epic fantasy even if they mimic the setting. So here's my question for VD: What would the characteristics be that set a story apart (which could be applied to a video game) as being an epic rather than lyric or dramatic, fantasy?

For instance, does the Elder Scrolls series, by merit of having a variety of non-specific protagonists along with numerous other important figures, become epic fantasy? It certainly has the development in terms of world-as-itself as opposed to the dramatic/lyric fantasy tendency of world-as-backdrop. Gensu Suikoden seems to be the most boilerplate example of the genre (even the main character of a game gets swallowed up in the mess of other important figures politically and dramatically.)

Games like Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana (Seikendensetsu II), Final Fantasy III (VI) and XII, the Dragon Quest series, the Wizardry series all wade into questionable territory for being epic fantasy.

I think it's clear that you at least need a story which even if it has a single protagonist is not really about the protagonist (it helps if the protagonist changes or there are multiple) and the world is as though it pre-exists and is independent of the story. What else is there? Should I consult Umberto Eco? How does the 'Choose Your Own Adventure' aspect of protagonist-identity affect this?

Anonymous maniacprovost August 26, 2013 11:27 AM  

The Book of Swords. Saberhagen deserves credit for writing awesome pulp in two completely different genres. Though I've only read the Fantasy.

Blogger GK Chesterton August 26, 2013 11:31 AM  

I don't think L'engle's work should be considered Sci-Fi. In many cases it meets the tests here. I also liked it less and less as I grew older. I went back and re-read some of it a few years ago to see if my daughter should read it. There is just something _wrong_ with it and I can't put my finger on what it is (beyond the obvious gnosticism of the thing).

""Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell" - No. Not even close to high fantasy."

Could you try explaining this rather than making just a bald assertion? What does it lack exactly? It has fairy magic, epic naval battles, and a cyclone through Venice. What more qualifies exactly?

Anonymous Lucius August 26, 2013 11:42 AM  

Big fan of Feist's early work. But his collab with Wurtz on Daughter of the Empire bested his best writing.

Blogger Revelation Means Hope August 26, 2013 11:43 AM  

Saberhagen: Swords had many books, especially if you include the ones about Ardneh's battles (kind of a prequel to the Swords).
I think the Swords books had 10, plus 4 prequels.

The Majipoor Chronicles were epic in scale. That world was absolutely huge!

Zelazny's Amber should definely qualify. Follows a family for 4 generations, across the universe, and thousands of years.

Anonymous Daniel August 26, 2013 11:44 AM  

I haven't read this (was thinking about starting it), but does Stephen King's Dark Tower qualify?

Probably not, but it is a very odd duck. For example, if you include the non-Dark Tower books The Talisman, The Stand, IT, Salem's Log, Eyes of the Dragon and Cycle of the Werewolf into DT's "canon"...you start to get close.

Dark Tower has a few things keeping it out of contention for high fantasy. First, it is a fairly singular quest series, centering primarily on a single character (Roland) in "save the world mode." Second, despite taking its inspiration from A Song of Roland, one of its most interesting aspects is that the different books are each from different genres. The Gunslinger is a western, a la Louis L'Amour, The Drawing of the Three is an occult horror novel, Waste Lands is a science fantasy, and so on. The series is ruthlessly American in nature, and also metapoetic. In other words, the Dark Tower is more interested in being about storytelling than it is in telling the story.

I say it is worth reading if and only if you also read (at the very least) Talisman, The Eyes of the Dragon, The Stand as well. Then, when you've gotten through all of those, read King's non-fiction On Writing and you'll have a full picture - call it a "meta-Epic."

But Dark Tower, on its own, is not Epic Fantasy.

Blogger Revelation Means Hope August 26, 2013 11:44 AM  

Julian May's The Many Colored Land series kind of crosses the line between fantasy and Sci-Fi, but it really is fantasy with sci-fi flavoring. It follows the Remilliard family across several million years, and multiple planets.

Saberhagen's Dracula series is iffy, as I suppose it doesn't count as epic in scale.

Blogger Revelation Means Hope August 26, 2013 11:46 AM  

Glen Cook's Dread Empire is pretty epic in scale. I didn't like the series, but it certainly qualifies....if the page count of the books are big enough (they might be too short).

Blogger Revelation Means Hope August 26, 2013 11:54 AM  

Was the World of Tiers by Philip Jose Farmer too limited in scope? Because it only followed Wolff (books 1&2) and Kickaha (books 3, 4, 5, 6) and Red Orc (Red Orc's Rage), but it certainly crossed the cosmos in scale.

Or is it considered Sci-Fi rather than fantasy?

Anonymous physics geek August 26, 2013 11:55 AM  

I see that others have mentioned Cook's Dread Empire series. My feeling is that if you've included the Black Company due to the size and scope of the seris, you should include the Dread Empire books as well.

Would the entire Eternal Champions universe from Moorcock qualify, or would it be simply heroic fantasy? Taken individually, none of the books are long enough, but if you split up each of the heroes into "books", you'd have plenty of pages. Also, since the stories and characters are intertwined, I would argue that the entire collection of Eternal Champion stories would qualify as epic fantasy.

Anonymous Anonymous August 26, 2013 11:57 AM  

Come to think of it, maybe The Stand qualifies.

Anonymous Stephen J. August 26, 2013 12:01 PM  

"I've already decided that Guy Gavriel Kay's... books are of insufficient scale to qualify as epic fantasy...."

I'd argue that The Fionavar Tapestry is definitely at least the equal in scale to LOTR, if "scale" means wideness of geographical territory and variation in culture (Brennin = Gondor, the Dalrei = Rohan, Banir Lok & Banir Tal = Erebor, the Shadowland = Lothlorien & Rivendell, Pendaran = Mirkwood, Andarien & Ruk = Mordor, Starkadh = Barad-dur, Toronto = the Shire). And the stakes are even higher than in LOTR: Sauron's conquest is merely of a world, Rakoth Maugrim's conquest would be of the entire universe, as Fionavar is the first world and all others reflect it.

In terms of established detail and length of history of the created secondary world, no, Fionavar is not equal to Middle-earth, but if Middle-earth is the standard for what is meant by "scale" in this context I think the list above would have to be a *lot* shorter.

Anonymous Anonymous August 26, 2013 12:02 PM  

I was really hoping for some wicked cool tortures, but nope, it was mostly a boring journey from one imaginary place to another.

Yep...and the torturer's fuligin cloak is darker than black, we get it.

Anonymous Krul August 26, 2013 12:03 PM  

Somewhat OT:

Vox, I'm curious. Some time ago you started AG for Game related topics and that seems to have been successful. Have you considered starting another blog dedicated to fiction? It might help people to see past your social views if you kept econ/relgion/politics here, game at AG and SF/F there.

Anonymous VD August 26, 2013 12:14 PM  

Have you considered starting another blog dedicated to fiction? It might help people to see past your social views if you kept econ/relgion/politics here, game at AG and SF/F there.

I've considered it, but if I did a fiction-focused blog it would be a group one. AG was supposed to be a group blog, but everyone else stopped posting there within the first two months.

Also, I'm far too well-known at this point for anyone to see past my social views. And frankly, if people want to pass on my fiction because they are upset that I don't believe in unicorns, warrior women, and the moral imperative of transgenderism, I'd just as soon they did. They're the same idiots who get upset when they realize Narnia is a Christian metaphor.

Blogger James Dixon August 26, 2013 12:15 PM  

OK, the consensus seems to be that total page count of the series is more important than the size of the individual books/stories.

We'll see if Vox agree or not.

Anonymous Stephen J. August 26, 2013 12:17 PM  

I'd also add one note on the definition of "epic": Using LOTR as the ur-example of this, epic means that the story is about a fundamental change in the world -- "the passing away of an Age," to use Tolkien's words. The events of the story are a historical watershed for the world, and life afterwards will be profoundly (though not always obviously) different for all, or at least many, of its people.

To be really "high fantasy", I'd also suggest that the change has to be not just political but almost metaphysical: the end of the Third Age of Middle-earth is not just about the fall of Sauron, but the departure of the Elves and the end of magic (one thing I enjoyed about ASoIaF is that it is at least in part a story about the *return* of magic).

With this definition the following stories qualify, at least to my reading:
- LOTR (natch)
- Wheel of Time
- Belgariad & Malloreon (they're really one story, and they're about the healing of the universe's purpose through the death of a God and the instantiation of his replacement)
- Dragonlance Chronicles (the gods return to Krynn)
- Crown of Stars (the undoing of a great magical catastrophe, if I understand correctly)
- Prince of Nothing (a war for the boundary between the material world and the Afterlife)
- The Fionavar Tapestry (final resolution of the greatest threat to cosmic existence)

The Kingkiller Chronicles may qualify if the extremely cursory backstory of the Chandrian and the skraeling-demon incursions turns out to be of sufficient import, but as of yet they're just very long peregrinations. Likewise, the worlds of the First Law and the Black Company seem much more static; the defeat of their Big Bads lets them survive, but nothing seems to change much (though I may be wrong on this as I'm going by reviews and research rather than personal reading). Feist, Donaldson, and Brooks don't seem to me to qualify either, as the fundamental metaphysical nature of their world doesn't really change in a significant and permanent way (magic does "fade from the Four Lands" at the end of the first Shannara trilogy, but it returns in the next one).

Anonymous Krul August 26, 2013 12:23 PM  

VD - I've considered it, but if I did a fiction-focused blog it would be a group one. AG was supposed to be a group blog, but everyone else stopped posting there within the first two months.

I don't see why that's necessary. AG is popular enough with just you.

I ask because it's clear that you have several different audiences that don't completely overlap. Also, the abrasive culture of the Dread Ilk might put off potential commenters who just want to discuss your books without arming up to deal with real world controversy.

Anonymous Cajin August 26, 2013 12:26 PM  

Can someone explain the love for Donaldson's Thomas Covenant Chronicle? I've heard it about it everywhere and it's always included in these types of lists and discussions, but I read the first book and thought it was horrible. I get it, the protagonist is not supposed to be likeable, but I think thought it was boring and uninteresting on the whole.

Blogger James Dixon August 26, 2013 12:27 PM  

> Also, the abrasive culture of the Dread Ilk might put off potential commenters who just want to discuss your books without arming up to deal with real world controversy.

I take it you've never frequented a forum heavily populated by book lovers. :)

Anonymous Pan* August 26, 2013 12:27 PM  

The Book of the New Sun.

Anonymous Josh August 26, 2013 12:41 PM  

They're the same idiots who get upset when they realize Narnia is a Christian metaphor.

If it takes them any time at all to realize it's a Christian metaphor, they're idiots. It's a pretty bloody obvious metaphor.

Anonymous Anonymous August 26, 2013 12:44 PM  

The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien
The Wheel of Time, Jordan
Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Donaldson
Shannara, Brooks (IMO good for younger ones)
Malazan Book of the Fallen, Erikson
A Song of Ice and Fire, Martin
First Law, Abercrombie
Prince of Nothing, Bakker
The Black Company, Cook
The Kingkiller Chronicle, Rothfuss
Dragonlance, Weis & Hickman

My personal fav's are LOTR and Black company. Loved Dragonlance and Shannara as a yute. Malazan is truly epic, given the vastness of territories and characters Erickson covers.

I have recently enjoyed David Weber's Safehold series. Particularly his detail in charting geometric naval developments (I don't know why this interests me, but it does), and his careful and very detailed handling of religion (his titles - By Schism Rent Asunder, By Heresies Distressed, A Mighty Fortress, How Firm a Foundation...read like an old-time Lutheran hymnal. I believe he is a Methodist lay preacher, but we won't hold that against him.

Anonymous VD August 26, 2013 12:45 PM  

OK, the consensus seems to be that total page count of the series is more important than the size of the individual books/stories.

Disagree. There is nothing epic about Gor, about the Hardy Boys, about Mack Bolan the Executioner, and so forth.

What makes a literary genre is partly style, partly tropes, partly scope, and so forth. For example, as much as I like them - I have two sets - I don't consider The Chronicles of Amber to be epic fantasy because the focus of the books is intensely personal; they are concerned with the individual and the world is mostly there as backdrop.

Xanth and Discworld are ruled out for the same reason. They may have some epic characteristics, but they fit better in other categories. Epic is not humor; if the books are described as "romps", they aren't epic. Again, this is literally an art, not a science, so there are no hard-and-fast rules.

I haven't read Rothfuss or Mistborn by Sanderson; I included both only because everyone else seems to lump them in with epic fantasy. I am willing to follow the consensus of those here who have read them, so speak your piece if you have.

Also, the abrasive culture of the Dread Ilk might put off potential commenters who just want to discuss your books without arming up to deal with real world controversy.

The book discussions here seldom, if ever, get political. Everyone on both sides of the ideological spectrum has been very good about that.

Anonymous VD August 26, 2013 12:47 PM  

I don't see why that's necessary. AG is popular enough with just you.

True, but I don't have the bandwidth to manage the comments on three blogs. And there are a number of other writers who have interesting perspectives. I'm not looking to do this, but it is something I discussed with a certain publisher before they got scared off by my being too controversial.

They were envious of the traffic, which considerably exceeded theirs, but failed to realize that it is in part due to the willingness to be controversial and step outside the PC box.

Anonymous VD August 26, 2013 12:52 PM  

Can someone explain the love for Donaldson's Thomas Covenant Chronicle?

They are different and rich and portray a unique world-vision. They are morally deeper than most fantasy fiction; that being said, I found the Last Chronicles to be unreadable.

I would give the first two another try. Those who fixate on "the hero is a RAAAAAPIST!" are completely missing the point. They contain some of the most poignant descriptions of corruption and forgiveness that you will find anywhere in literature, not just fantasy literature.

Anonymous Anonymous August 26, 2013 12:52 PM  

Can someone explain the love for Donaldson's Thomas Covenant Chronicle?

I love it, but I probably can't explain it. There may be something about his writing style, with the big words and the way he describes his characters, that either pulls you in or puts you off entirely. Donaldson says he thinks in words, not in images. I think that means he doesn't see a person or event and then think of the words to describe it; it comes to him in words in the first place. Maybe that results in a style that works very well for some and very badly for others.

I think his Gap series may be even better, and the Man Who detective books are also excellent. On the other hand, I found Mordant's Need only so-so and was disappointed in the first couple books of the new Covenant series, so I can't say I love everything he writes just for the style.

Blogger Ephrem Antony Gray August 26, 2013 1:02 PM  

Partly epics are characterized by detail, and thus by length. Look at the beginning of The Illiad and notice the amount of repetition in the first scene. The reason for this is it replicates in complete detail a possible conversation; it is not paced for action but is fashioned for content (and memorization.)

To get this without length is hard... in my view, you get lyric if you take most epic and shave the detail down.

What about George MacDonald? Obviously this is not a series, but does Lilith meet qualifications? I think it doesn't (personally) based on some of my qualifications. For one, it is about the internal journey of Mr. Vane which does involve Another World and what are essentially epic events in that world. In my mind it fits more of a lyric classification, as MacDonald did not write epic fantasy. (I would regard all of his fantasy works as lyric or dramatic.)

Blogger Dreadpiratk August 26, 2013 1:09 PM  

Can someone explain the love for Donaldson's Thomas Covenant Chronicle?

Donaldson also describes himself as having a very conflicted inner life. I think his work appeals to those of us who identify with that, and turns off people who don't. His work seems to be pretty much love it or hate it. I don't think anyone else has come close to creating a conflicted, anti-hero like Covenant. Few other authors have dealt with sin and redemption on the level Donaldson does either.

I have to disagree slightly with cailcorishev in that I really like the Final Chronicles of Thomas Covenant so far anyway, but i admit it's as much nostalgia as anything else, I've been a huge fan since I was a teen.

Anonymous JoeyWheels August 26, 2013 1:14 PM  

@Cajin
Can someone explain the love for Donaldson's Thomas Covenant Chronicle?

The affection *I* have for it is not so much in Covenant's likability; but in the lengths to which he goes to remain distant from,unaffected and disdainful of the world he has been thrust into. He is not a reluctant hero. He is the difinative anti-hero.
"White Gold Wielder" which caps the Second Chronicles is my favorite book in the series. Despite his avowed distrust of magic in the land and his place in it's lore and destiny Covenant STILL makes his sacrifice. Of course, the parallel doings in the real world have jump-started a new chain of events for the Final Chronicles series. This set of books revolving around his prodigy and lover Linden Avery and how her adopted son figures in to Foul's plans to finally undo the Land.
Yes...the First Chrincles are a torturous read. They are emotionally draining and there is very little joy in Covenant the man. Donaldson intends for the reader to see the joy and glory of the Land seperate from how we view Covenant and how he sees the Land. By the Second Chronicles, Covenant has tacitly accepted the Land and to a lesser degree HIS place in it. Much of his interaction is framed by and through commitment and responsibilty to his friends and their duties as relating to their goals. Thomas Covenant still does not fully believe but his desire to be of use to his friends in their quests give him the impetus to see the game through....to the bitter end.

This series has never been for the faint of heart or the casual reader. It is work to read and move through. Much in the same way I suppose that being in the Land is for Covenant.

I'm eagerly awaiting the final book "The Last Dark" in October.

Blogger  Trust Ted get misled. Gamma secret kings reddit August 26, 2013 1:26 PM  

Ah! Cool list, I'll add some books to my ledger for Fall reading.

Blogger Beau August 26, 2013 1:54 PM  

the way he describes his characters, that either pulls you in or puts you off entirely

Both actually; he pulls you in, then for no apparent reason he does a completely rewrite of the same character. What was virtuous, or evil, or merely inconvenient, morphs into yet another actor inhabiting the same shell of a name placeholder. I suspect when he paints himself into a corner that's no longer interesting, or running out of steam, he reinvents parameters to charge off into a different direction. It appears he doesn't know where he's going, so he just offers occasional emotional jolts to keep you buying his books.

Goodkind does this too.

Anonymous Patrick August 26, 2013 2:17 PM  

The Winter of the World - Michael Scott Rohan. The original trilogy is quite good; the three prequel books that followed not as good but still readable.

Others have already nominated Tad Williams's Memory Sorry and Thorn;
Julian May's Saga of Pliocene Exile (Technically SF. Like lots of fantasy (e.g. Pern) it adopts the conceit of loosely using science to explain how a fantastic world exists, but the story is far more fantasy than science);
Jack Vance's Lyonesse trilogy as the only serious challenger to Tolkien - Yes!

I agree that if Eddings and Brooks make the list there's no reason Fionvair shouldn't. It's adolescent but so are Eddings and Brooks. Ditto Pern.

IMO only the first Riftwar Series and then the Empire trilogy he wrote with Wurts are at all passable.

I don't see how The Worm Orobouros could qualify as a series, but Eddison's Mezentian trilogy should. Also going back a ways would be Mervyn Peake's Titus series.

Anonymous Blume August 26, 2013 2:25 PM  

Patrick Rothfuss' King Killer Chronicles will one day be epic but right now its to short to be epic. If Rothfuss dies today and all we have are these two books then it will just be a foot note in fantasy history.

Also would people stop nominating scifi books. I know scifi and fantasy are the siamese twins of literature but there are some clear cut line between the two. If it involves a space ship powered by anything other than magic, it can't be epic fantasy. It could be some other fantasy/scifi mix though. Which means Modesitt's Recluse series is out since people got to recluse on a space ship. Its a rather odd series in that regard.

Tad William's Memory, Sorrow and Bone is a very good epic fantasy and if you average the books out, it will match or exceed your page limit.

I agree with the people that say the Mallorean/Belgariad should be considered one series.

I would like to nominate Michelle Sagara West's Sun Sword series. It is epic in length, covering six books, two prequels and a host of short stories. It has a huge cast of characters though only about six of them serve as points of view. It covers the entirety of two Empires and a few minor kingdoms and deals with the return of the gods much like what happened in the original dragon lance series.

Anonymous Daniel August 26, 2013 2:41 PM  

Patrick Rothfuss' King Killer Chronicles will one day be epic

I'm willing to bet against this, even if he finishes the third book. The first two books are a biography of one guy at college. How can that be epic?

I suppose if the second trilogy takes on a new character with a new perspective, it has the potential for slowest, most detailed epic ever, but I think if he wants to make an epic in Kvothe's world, he's going to just need to start writing an epic.

Structurally, it is pretty difficult to make a pseudoautobiography of an unreliable narrator into an epic fantasy. You are going to end up with something a lot closer to Little Big Man than a classic high fantasy. Nothing wrong with that - it is just misidentified.

It was when The Name of the Wind came out to such great fanfare as the new successor in fantasy that I finally realized that the publishing industry had completely lost sight of certain genres in favor of the pc revisioning of what those genres "should" be. When the gatekeepers go nuts over an average-to-good heroic fantasy book like Rothfuss' first book, you know they have lost all discernment in lieu of the new preferred channels of proxy "pre-approved" quality.

Anonymous JoeyWheels August 26, 2013 3:03 PM  

On Shannara....

Having been reading Brooks since Sword (which I tell people wanting to start the series to skip as it is PAINFULLY and SHAMELESSLY ripping-off LotR; I find that Brooks has slid headlong into the formula phase of writing his books.
From Elfstones up through the High Druid books, all of the characters seemed to be cut from the same bolts of cloth with minor changes in embroidery and finish.

HOWEVER....

Once he made the concious decision to fold his Word and Void trilogy into the world of Shannara the story telling got a kick in the pants. Sadly, it seems as if he has already backslid into the formula he established from Elfstones on.

Even so, I like his world-building. In ways, it seems derivative, but as he realized he wanted to roll the Word and Void in as a precursor to all that is Shannara he began to make some calculated decisions about the remnants of technology left in the Four Lands and the Lands beyond the Seas.

I'm kind of thinking Mr. Brooks may have a small stable of writers churning out the new books to his outlines while he and his wife bask on the beaches of Hawaii.

Good gig if you can build it I guess.

Anonymous Daniel August 26, 2013 3:09 PM  

Monarchies of God should probably be on the list, as an entire work. Even if it is relatively short in comparison to others, I don't know how it can be denied standing as epic fantasy.

Blogger Seer August 26, 2013 3:19 PM  

Mistborn would not qualify. Focuses on one or two characters, the world-building is fairly restricted to a region, and the effects of the character's actions don't reach beyond a single kingdom.

Blogger Monsignor Scott Rassbach August 26, 2013 3:28 PM  

The Mithgar Series, by Dennis L. McKiernan? I remember really liking the Iron Tower series, and the Silver Call, even if it is derivative of Tolkein. There are apparently 17 books in the series.

Anonymous Laz August 26, 2013 3:37 PM  

Maybe I'm colored by being a longtime hard-core sci-fi fan but, does nobody here consider the Dune saga to be fantasy? To me it's much more fantasy than sci-fi and is definitely epic. Just the original series by Frank Herbert covers like 8-10,000 years of the history of the human race. Also, I don't remember if they were 600+ pages each but, i do remember them being rather large books.

Anonymous Daniel August 26, 2013 3:42 PM  

The Dune saga to be fantasy?

No. The farthest you could go is science fantasy, but based on Herbert's research into arid land ecology and erosion...I don't think there's any reason to call it anything but epic science fiction.

Anonymous Laz August 26, 2013 3:56 PM  

"No. The farthest you could go is science fantasy, but based on Herbert's research into arid land ecology and erosion...I don't think there's any reason to call it anything but epic science fiction."

Like I said, I'm colored. The Wheel of Time is the only fantasy I've really enjoyed, even though the ending was bogus.

Blogger Bogey August 26, 2013 5:40 PM  

The Individual length of a book is kind of limiting. Each of the books in the Lord of the Rings shouldn't qualify under your guidelines.

For consideration:
The Book of the New Sun series by Gene Wolfe

Honorable mentions from a different medium:
Ring of the Nibelung by Richard Wagner (available on youtube)
Cerebus the Aardvark by Dave Sim

Blogger Revelation Means Hope August 26, 2013 5:49 PM  

WoT's ending was bogus?
I thought Sanderson did a masterly job of tying up the many, many loose story threads that Jordan kept introducing into his doorstopper series.

For Wheel of Time, only books 1-3, and the last 3 by Sanderson were good. The others in the series could have had a 60% cut and would have been good themselves.

It was nice to finally see Rand al'Thor stop being such a pussy. If he never became an alpha, it is because the original author so firmly established his voice as a delta in the first 10 books.

If he had been a gamma, then I would have been unable to read past book 2.

Anonymous Nathan August 26, 2013 8:26 PM  

@Seer,

I disagree about Mistborn. The first trilogy plays with the idea of what happens in the world when the epic quest fails. Now, the Alloy of Law trilogy doesn't fit epic fantasy, admittedly, as it's more of a fantasy western. However, I don't think Mistborn and Stormlight Archive are the proper units for Sanderson's epic fantasy as they are smaller units in his planned to be 36 or so book Cosmere story. Unfortunately, not enough of that story has been released to tell where it's going; most of what's known has been Word of Author than put into books. Mistborn and Stormlight represent major events in the Cosmere storyline. It's just going to take a few more books for Sanderson to stop being coy in his stories about the interconnected nature of his worlds.

Blogger Quintus Maximus August 26, 2013 9:19 PM  

I've always had a soft spot for Modesitts Magic of Recluse saga. Big detailed world spanning centuries of society with some interesting twists.

Of course Tolkien is up there as is the Sword of Truth series by Goodkind (although the tv series was a disappointment).

Blogger JaimeInTexas August 26, 2013 10:39 PM  

I think that Devices and Desires (Engineer Trilogy) K. J. Parker qualified as epic.

Anonymous Ian1418 August 26, 2013 11:04 PM  

Shadows of the Apt by Nicholas Tchaikovsky.

Anonymous Lanrick August 27, 2013 12:03 AM  

Lurker, but what about Earthsea by Le Guin? Short, but epic feel to it.

Blogger Bosefus August 27, 2013 1:52 AM  

Carlos Castaneda... it's epic but it takes a while to figure out that it is fantasy.

Anonymous Luke August 27, 2013 4:04 AM  

Saberhagen's Sword books series didn't make it? For shame.

Oh, and Le Guin's Earthsea stuff stunk IMO; couldn't get far into it.

Anonymous Anthony VanWagner August 27, 2013 4:20 AM  

What about Goodkind's Sword of Truth series?

Anonymous Anthony VanWagner August 27, 2013 4:34 AM  

Oops, now I see it was mentioned. I enjoyed for the first 2 books, and continued till Faith of the Fallen. Is it worth it to finish then all?

Blogger Dreadpiratk August 27, 2013 11:31 AM  

Oops, now I see it was mentioned. I enjoyed for the first 2 books, and continued till Faith of the Fallen. Is it worth it to finish them all?

Ehh, more of the same. Kailan gets kidnapped, Richard goes on a noble self sacrificing quest to save her all the while preaching about goodness and nobility blah blah blah. It's not that the series is bad exactly, but it does seem he only has one plot device. Plus the page long sermons get old pretty quickly, even if you agree with his point of view. The second series he started recently in this world is really bad, don't remember the first books name but it was pretty unreadable.

Blogger Desdichado August 27, 2013 1:18 PM  

The earlier Salvatore novels were not focused on a single protagonist; they were definately an ensemble cast (can't speak to the rest of them. I only read about 4-5 of them before I quit.) And the books in Tolkien are well shy of your minimum page limit.

The exceptions, both in and out, seem too arbitrary for this list to be of much utility.

Blogger tweell August 27, 2013 2:30 PM  

I'd nominate David Gemmell's Drenai series, as nine smaller books should add up to three large ones, and it meets the other requirements.

Barbara Hambly's Darwath series may sneak in, but is probably too short.

I'm adding my voice to the calls for C.S. Lewis's Narnia series to be there.

Anonymous Rollory August 27, 2013 4:18 PM  

The Warhammer mythos has at least as much right to be on such a list as any of the works already mentioned.

I'd go so far as to say that the world-building in Warhammer is more consistent, more detailed, more believeable, more internally consistent, and simply better than Tolkien's work. To pick one specific example of what I mean by that: in Tolkien's world, in the 3000 years from the founding of Arnor to the return of Aragorn to the throne, the density of notable historical events - wars, invasions, migrations, etc. - is about equivalent to what any given 500 years in European history can provide. Middle-Earth, over the long term, is a place where 1) just not very much happens, 2) what DOES happen is defined clearly enough that we know there aren't any big unexplored corners where other completely unmentioned aspects of history might be hidden. In part I think this is because Tolkien scaled his worldbuilding to the reigns of his (very long-lived) kings, as opposed to the lives of ordinary real people; in part it is because he was just one man and there was a limit to how much detail he could come up with.

Warhammer doesn't make this mistake - they don't detail everything starting from the top. This lets them detail certain things intensely (far more so than Tolkien had the time for), while not painting themselves into corners when it comes to detailing other aspects they haven't focused on yet.

Between the Felix & Gotrek books, Florin & Lorenzo, Malus Darkblade, Mathias Thulmann, and all the various other stand-alone works, more has been written in this universe than in just about any other - more than in multiple others combined. The underlying ruleset of the world - the absolutism of the moral and physical threat posed by Chaos - I think forces the authors to produce higher-quality material than they might in a more free-form setting.

Anonymous Anonymous August 27, 2013 9:51 PM  

Dave Duncan's "The Seventh Sword"?

GoDownFighting

Anonymous MikeM August 30, 2013 12:38 AM  

I wish to know why Guy Gavriel Kay is not mentioned. His writings are very good, IMO.

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