Tired of enormous epic fantasy series with thousand page novels that cover an incredibly complex world full of factions, kingdoms and social structures? These works are at the end of the fourth cycle of epic fantasy and the fifth cycle is coming soon.
Epic fantasy is the genre of asking the big questions and taking on the challenges of what being human is all about. In this respect it is a mirror that has reflected and followed the changing view points of humanity over the last several thousand years. As humanity changed its outlook on what the big questions were so epic fantasies reflected this change.
The earliest epic fantasy, dating back two thousand and more years showed the big question of the mystery of the world. The world to a person from this era was a big and scary place. A person most likely lived his whole life never wandering further than a few miles from the village he grew up in. So the outside world was scary and mysterious. What was out there? That was the big question and this was reflected in the first wave of epic fantasy and the book most representative of this would be the epic of Gilgamesh.
Around two thousand years ago mankind and epic fantasy entered their second cycle. People had been traveling and exploring the world and their focus turned to the gods. What were they, how were they angered and what was man's place in the world under the gods. This cycle is best represented by the Iliad and the Odyssey.
In the Middle Ages mankind stopped looking to the gods and turned his gaze inward toward himself. He now looked to see what made a man and to understand how a man should act and behave. Chivalry was an important component of this theme and the internal struggle was the most important factor in the epics. This cycle was begun in the Arthurian Legends and continued all the way up to the mid twentieth century. The final major piece for this cycle was the Lord of the Rings.
Around the middle of the twentieth century the fourth cycle of epic fantasy was born and it continues to this day. It is the cycle of complexity in human society. We live in an incredibly rich, textured, and complex world and the works of epic fantasy reflect this. Navigating a life through this complexity was the big question. How should I cope with all this change was what was asked? The big, multi-volume series in the genre reflected this in that they are complex works that deal with the politics of warring factions, multiple kingdoms, secret societies, subcultures, the rise and fall of dynasties, and all of the intrigue that accompanies these battles. This cycle is now ending as we change and turn our focus to other questions about life.
So what is the next cycle?
The world is a familiar place to us now and we travel around it practically at will. The gods are dead, we have a good understanding of our own nature, a moral code that is cohesive and comfortable, and we are all immersed in a complex social life that we have a pretty good understanding of. That takes care of the previous four waves of epic fantasy. So what is the next cycle? To answer this question you have to look at humanity and examine what kind of life we are living and what questions are the big ones?
The big questions we have in life now are about the malleable and changing view of reality itself. We have a relatively good understanding of the physical world and now we are looking to the mysteries of the non-physical realities. This is because we all spend a lot of time in artificially constructed worlds. Every time you read a book, watch a television show or movie, or play a video game you are adventuring off to another world. And these alternate realities are getting more complex and more engrossing. You can see this in the online video game where millions of people practically create a whole new life and get totally immersed in the constructed world. This progression is easy to see. The book represents one level, film and television has taken it to a second level that is even more real, the World Wide Web took this artificial reality even further and now the online games have taken it yet to a further step. So now we are questioning the nature of reality itself because reality has become very malleable and multi-faceted. We are now faced with the questions of what exactly reality is all about and is it more than just the everyday world or is it something we manifest, change, and experience solely in the space between our ears? Epic fantasy will soon be changing to help us examine these questions.