Love it or hate it, if you’ve ever read epic fantasy you know that it’s different. Not just in the subject matter, but in the language that is used. Epic fantasy tends to the more ornate, perhaps the more old-fashioned.
Why is that?
I’ve heard it said that fantasy allows writers to be sloppy, to use adjectives and adverbs to excess in ways that isn’t tolerated in other genres. To some extent that is true, but that’s not the reason. Even among excellent writers of fantasy, like Brent Weeks and Brandon Sanderson, there is a certain feel to epic fantasy prose.
I’ve never written anything that isn’t epic fantasy, and this is why. I don’t know that I could let go of the epic
fantasy style. I know that other genres are different, but I don’t know how to create them. Possibly because I’ve been immersed in the epic fantasy style for so long, or perhaps just because I’m so in love with it.
But still, why is epic fantasy this way?
A thought struck me last night, that when fantasy is filmed, like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, great care is taken with the accents of the characters. Why? I think because it’s a critical part of the world-building. It just wouldn’t feel right if the characters sounded like Americans or, perhaps even more laughable, Aussies. How could you possibly immerse yourself in this world that is other, that is elsewhere, and suspend disbelief, if Eddard Stark sounds like your neighbour?
I think that’s part of the answer to epic fantasy prose. The language is different because the world is different, and it ought to feel different.
The other part, I think, and a problem that doesn’t exist in visual representations of the genre, is that so much of what is seen in an epic fantasy world is other. The creatures, the magic, the people, the clothing, the weapons, the buildings – everything– we see none of this in our day to day lives.
While other genres can rely heavily on the fact that the reader knows intimately what an iPhone looks like, and therefore need not describe it in evocative, so much of what is present in epic fantasy is drawn either from the pages of an unfamiliar history or the imagination of the writer. Creating a vivid setting, a world in which the reader can feel present, requires more description. The subject matter of that description is often so fantastical or unfamiliar that the prose needs to be different in order to convey the feel of it.
The prose of epic fantasy is different so that we can be transported to a different realm of existence, in which the sheer flights of fantasy produced by one person’s imagination are painted entirely with words.
If the characters in Game of Thrones were Aussies:
Eddard Stark: Hey Bob, how’s it garn?
Robert Baratheon: She’ll be right, mate.
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