Epic Fantasy is a very wide genre and it encompasses a lot of work that has been defined in a lot of different ways from fantasy to childrens fantasy to high fantasy. Women writers have been breaking new ground and exploring new ideas and concepts in this genre since its inception. Here are some of the pioneering women writers of the genre of epic fantasy.
She was born in 1858 and was a prolific writer who is generally considered to be the creator of the genre of the childrens fantasy novel. She created the whole idea of several children who embark on a grand magical adventure. This is a theme and tool that still stands very strong to this day with works like The Chronicles of Narnia . Some of her most famous works include Five Children and It (1902) and The Story of the Amulet (1905). Her work has fallen into the public domain so you can get copies and read her work for free.
Ursula K. LeGuin
LeGuin is a prolific writer who rose to fame in the sixties and seventies with a series of books that crossed genres between science fiction and fantasy. Her mark was made on the epic fantasy genre with the publication of her novel entitled A Wizard of Earthsea which is the first book of a quartet that takes place in a world (Earthsea) that she is still writing about today. The main story line of this first Earthsea book is about a young boy who has magical powers and sets off to magic school. Sound familiar? This is a beautiful series of books that take place in a masterfully crafted world complete with wizards and dragons.
Marion Zimmer Bradley
She was another prolific author who wrote some science fiction but focused mostly on fantasy. Her most famous work is a signature piece in the whole realm of fantasy called The Mists of Avalon (1979) and it is a retelling of the Camelot Tales from the point of view of the women Morgaine and Gwenhwyfar. Bradley and her series of Avalon books has been a major force in the development of a whole generation of woman writers. And the Avalon books are a triumphant addition to the whole sub genre of Arthurian writing.
McCaffrey is an author in the realm of fantasy that formulated and created much of what the modern epic fantasy saga is all about. She is one of the originators of the template that writers follow to this day. She has done this with her nineteen volume Dragon Riders of Pern books. Pern is a fully realized world with a fully developed history, society and economy. The world of Pern has inspired many different media offshoots including a vibrant fan community, a video game and an upcoming major motion picture. This is pure epic fantasy at its best.
J. K. Rowling
Is there anything I can say about the Harry Potter phenomenon that hasn't already been said? Her books are wonderful and wildly successful but I believe that her real gift to the genre is the bridge she has built between the past and the future. She, single-handedly, has had a tremendous impact on the genre of fantasy. And she will no doubt be seen as the inspiration for a whole new generation of writers over the course of the next several decades who will add to and grow the genre of epic fantasy in wonderful and new ways.
Epic fantasy is a genre of writing that has been profoundly impacted and grown by women writers and there are literally hundreds of great writers that I could have discussed in this article. These five are just who I consider to be among some of the most influential and important when looking at the development of the genre as a whole.