Epic Fantasy: The Quest for a Resolution

The Lord of the Rings Movie Poster

Epic Fantasy has gained the reputation of being the genre where nothing can happen for long periods of time and it’s readership will carry on reading in the hope that something awesome will happen the next page or the next or the next.

The Lord of the Rings

Epic Fantasy has been around for ever since The Lord of the Rings were published in 1954-55 and can be considered the granddaddy of epic fantasy.  The genre of fantasy has no doubt been around for a while longer although the splitting of novels into genre is only a recent development.  The Lord of the Rings was to be the sequel for J.R.R. Tolkien’s first novel, The Hobbit which had been considered a children’s book.  The publishers had expected a novel in a similar vein with a length of approximately 80k words.  Instead it took more than twelve years before they received the novel which had been completed as an adult’s novel and was approximately 400k words long instead.  Due to publishing restrictions at the time, the novel couldn’t be published in a single volume but had to be split into three novels.

Ever since then it seems as though when any fantasy story is written, the immediate length is to plan for a trilogy.  In fact, everything came out in trilogies including movies like Star Wars.  It sometimes felt as though the resolution was delayed due to the fact that it had to be a trilogy and not a stand-alone novel.

But even the Lord of the Rings had nothing happening for a long time before anything really exciting started to happen.  After all, the novel starts with the preparations for Bilbo Baggins’ eleventy-first birthday and then carries on for a while after Bilbo has disappeared from the Shire and left Frodo his inheritance, the one ring.  Even after Gandalf sends the hobbits on their way, the going was pretty slow until they finally found Strider in the town of Bree.

The Wheel of Time

It would appear that the new standard for Epic Fantasy is The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.  The series started with a bang with the Eye of the World.  Yes, things seemed to take a while for the first few hundred pages  but after the Trollocs (trolls with added oc) attacked the Two Rivers and the youths left with Moiraine it sped up and seemed to carry on going until you finally found yourself in Sheinar with the Sheinarans defending against an attack by the Trollocs.

I thought I had struck gold.  I’d started reading the series when the first eleven novels were out and people were waiting for the twelfth book to come out.  If the next eleven books were as good as the first novel, it was going to be awesome.  Originally, RJ had said he believed the series could be finished in six books and then it changed to nine novels and then it was twelve.  And then he passed away tragically and fans of the series were left to wonder whether the series would ever be finished.  Brandon Sanderson was picked by RJ’s widow to complete the series.  The estimate changed from twelve novels to fourteen novels with the final novel only set to be released in 2012, about 22 years after the Eye of the World came out.

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know my issues with the Wheel of Time and how I’m torn between abandoning it or to carry on reading and finish the series.  I’m currently busy with the tenth book and have almost finished it.  And do you know what’s happened?   Nothing of any great importance.  All the characters carry on from where they finished off at the end of book nine and it feels as though they’ll do the same in book eleven.

So what happened?  Why has the series become so bloated?  I believe the love of money has played a part in the series growing to such monstrous proportions that the story isn’t progressing any further.  The publisher saw the revenue stream generated by the novels and asked if it could be stretched just a little.  How about expanding on a story line here or there?

But it feels as though I’m so close to the end that I should just carry on.  I’ve basically read ten novels out of a probable fourteen (excluding the prequel) that it would be a waste of all the time I’d already sunk into the series not to see the end.

The Malazan Empire novels

Steven Erikson and Ian C Esselmount created a screenplay for a movie which had been turned down by all of the movie producers and so they turned to novels.  I believe the difference here, as stated before, is that Steven Erikson went with the proposal to complete ten novels in the series and as stated in a previous entry, the final entry in the series is coming out in March.  I honestly cannot comment on the full series and whether it drags or not as I’ve only finished the first novel but I’m hopeful that because the original plan had been for ten novels, the series won’t be dragged out.

The Way of Kings

The Stormlight Archive

The latest entry into the epic fantasy market is called The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson, RJ’s successor in completing the Wheel of Time.  I’ve almost finished the novel and can say that I’m thoroughly enjoying the story so far.  The plan is for ten novels and a part of me is hoping that the Stormlight Archives is not the successor to The Wheel of Time in dragging out a story for the longest possible time.  I’m hopeful that it won’t because according to what I’ve heard is that the Wheel of Time has picked up again after Brandon Sanderson has taken over.

The future

So where to from here?  Due to the publishing restrictions placed on new authors as discussed earlier it seems unlikely that a new author will be able to start a series.  The restriction of 100k words for a new author almost means that the epic fantasy genre is sealed off from any new authors until they can break into the publishing industry through maybe a subgenre of fantasy.