Designer Diary: Epic Fantasy & Tabletop RPGs – A Look at the Fundamentals of the Genre

I’ve talked about my strong personal affinity for the Epic Fantasy genre, and why understanding the genre matters when thinking about designing and playing a Tabletop RPG. But all of that begs the question: Just what is Epic Fantasy, anyway?

The easy (and flippant) answer is: “I know it when I see it”. But that’s hardly satisfying.

In fact, as I spent some time thinking about it, there are some features that most if not all examples of Epic Fantasy (with which I am personally familiar) in the body of the literature share in common. What are those common features? And how central are they to the experience of Epic Fantasy?

In my musing on the subject, I came up with over a dozen different genre features. Some of them, I reasoned, are very central to the experience of Epic Fantasy. Some less so. And some are actually red herrings – features that appear common but in fact are not central to the experience at all. This latter category can be confounding, as these features, if present, may lead one to mistake a given work of fiction for a work of Epic Fantasy even when they are not.

Accordingly, I grouped these different features into three buckets, or categories: the Fundamental Elements of Epic Fantasy, the Auxiliary Elements of Epic Fantasy, and the Common Supporting Tropes.

The Fundamental Elements of Epic Fantasy

These are the genre features – or “Elements” – that I deemed the most critical and defining features. In my game design notes, I wrote:

These are the irreducible core of the genre without which you lose the very heart of the genre. So essential are these that any single element lacking, in whole or in part, almost certainly excludes a story from the corpus of the genre. But while the Fundamental Elements are necessary to define the genre, they are by themselves insufficient.

Now, how true this is in practice may vary in part by the individual’s own personal preferences. But for me, they make up the heart of what I’m after. They are, in summary:

1. Wonder & Magic

This is the first and most obvious element or feature. It’s core to all of the larger Fantasy genre. It’s what defines Fantasy. Somewhere in a story there is that sense of wonder, that magical, mythical beating heart. Find it, and you’ve found your way into a Fantasy story.

While it’s the most irreducible feature of the genre, it may be that it’s also the easiest to capture. From the perspective of writing a TTRPG: is there some system or mechanic or key setting detail that supports the inclusion of the magical, mystical, wonderful world of the impossible? Congratulations: you have a Fantasy!

So my game needs something magical, wondrous, or supernatural. Since it’s a fantasy game, that’s basically a given. But the field is wide open as to what that looks like. Do the players get to dabble in the magic of the world directly, or is everything done indirectly or through NPC intermediaries? This gets to the heart of what the “magic system” looks like. And see: D&D has a magic system – it’s not exactly my favorite magic system ever, but it works. A lot of other fantasy games have gone before me that also have magic systems. Some well-regarded fantasy RPGs notably lack a defined magic system – magic is an alien and mysterious aspect of the world that is beyond the ken of mere mortals.

What makes figuring out what this trait of the game perhaps the most difficult is that what the magic system looks like really is dependent on the setting of the story. But if the game is meant to be setting-agnostic, focused instead on genre as the backbone of the game, then how can magic be addressed directly? It’s a challenge I’ve yet to figure out, honestly. Instead, as I’ve worked on the game, I’ve focused the vast majority of my attention on creating a solid system underlying everything else – everything mundane and non-magical. And yet, if my goal is to have magic and wonder woven into the fiber of the world (and the game system), shouldn’t figuring this out be one of my first priorities?

So in the near-term, figuring out a systematic approach to “magic” that comfortably encompasses “high-magic” and “low-magic” settings, whether “hard-magic” or “soft-magic”. At this stage, I don’t have an answer for that.

What’s more: there’s a lot more to what makes a fantasy story epic than the presence of magic.

2. Secret Lore & the Ancient Past

Not everything is known or, indeed, even knowable about the world. There is a rich and vibrant history to this world, but some of the most important aspects of that history remain, to this day, a mystery waiting to be discovered, apprehended, and as often the case may be, corrected.

Now, honestly, as an element of a game, it seems to me that maybe this feature trades more on the setting than on the mechanics. But let’s think about that, and unpack that assumption. Are there ways to pull in the secrets of the ancient past in a mechanical way? I honestly don’t know yet. But I suspect there’s something there. Maybe it’s just mechanics for how you go about building a setting from scratch. But I think there’s more to it than that. It’s an aspect of the game that I want to explore further as I dive deeper into designing and developing this game.

3. A Moral Landscape

What do I mean by a “moral landscape”? Simply this: that Epic Fantasy is by its nature heavily invested in interrogating questions of morality, ethics, right and wrong, good and evil. Some may do it in a simplistic, black-and-white approach (indeed, that may be the ur-example of this feature of the genre) but modern Epic Fantasy focuses more especially on the areas of gray, on the uncertainty of right and wrong.

Epic Fantasy heroes almost invariably choose the “right” path – from their own perspective. But that path is fraught with danger, peril, and threats to life and limb. And, sometimes they discover that what they believed to be the right path was, in fact, problematic – forcing them to re-calibrate their moral and ethical assumptions and re-navigate the moral landscape of the world to discover the true right path.

The mechanical options here present myriad possibilities. There’s D&D’s relatively simplistic “alignment” system, sure. But more often games these days take a more subtle and more story-driven approach to morality in the game, many with more impactful rules and systems. My own preference, here, is to use a somewhat freeform “Trait” system to allow players to define their own personal moral alignment, ethical priorities, and beliefs – and then to invoke those traits in a back-and-forth, give-and-take mechanical tug-of-war, using those Traits to provide mechanical advantage when appropriate, but just as often or more, to create story complications and material that directly interrogate and invoke those traits, and to provide key milestones to allow players to revise and update their alignment Traits based on changes to their characters’s worldviews.

4. The Main Characters Exemplify Heroic Ideals

This is straightforward enough. Sure, the Main Characters of any good story should be flawed, imperfect, and relatable. But in an Epic Fantasy they are also, in the heart of their hearts, Heroic. Heroism doesn’t mean the characters are flawless beyond reproach. But they have a strong internal sense of right-and-wrong, a powerful moral compass always pointing to what they perceive to be the good, and they follow that compass with purpose and intent.

I can possibly just roll this into the former element, since the two have significant overlaps – so I don’t have any more mechanical musings to add to what I already discussed above.

5. Grand Scale, Sweeping Scope

What it says on the tin: Epic means Epic. Big, important stuff happens. The characters travel across the world in their quest to save it. Many secondary and tertiary characters’s lives are touched by the Main Characters’s actions, most for the better, some for the worse.

Now, if I’m entirely honest, I’ve actually read a few Epic Fantasy’s that have a much more intimate and close focus. So maybe this isn’t a “Fundamental” trait? But it feels Fundamental. Even in those stories where the Epic Fantasy had a more narrow and intimate focus, there were hints of this grand, sweeping scope lying just beyond the boarders of the village, of big things happening which related directly to what the Main Characters were doing. At the end of the day, even when the Main Characters didn’t go globe-trotting, you just know that the ripples from their actions will have macro-scale consequences.

Once again, my instinct is to see this feature as an aspect of the world-building and the way the Players and GM navigate the core conflicts of their individual stories. But, once again, I have this distinctive, unshakable feeling that there’s something more to this element – something that I can and probably should reflect in my game’s mechanics.

6. An Ensemble Cast

Epic Fantasies are often about one or two main characters – the proverbial “Heroes”, the neophytes to adventure who nonetheless have the biggest destinies to fulfill . But those few more central characters are almost invariably surrounded by a large, ensemble cast of supporting characters fulfilling a variety of key story roles. There’s the Hero’s Mentor, for instance, and the Hero’s Guardian (a more experienced character who protects the neophyte Hero until he or she is strong enough to stand on his or her own), and the Hero’s Foil or Jester – and so on.

There are plenty of roles for a good-sized group of Players to fill. But here’s the key: these characters don’t all play the same way. The Guardian is strong, experienced, worldly. In D&D they’d be high-level character, whereas the neophyte Hero starts at a low level. Using D&D’s paradigm of class and level simply won’t work to capture the range of characters that populate an Epic Fantasy story.

Mechanically, you need a way to combine the stronger, more experienced characters like the Mentors and the Guardians together with the Neophytes and the Jesters and others who are relatively “weaker” in the traditional RPG, combat-oriented sense, and to have them all play a role of roughly equal narrative weight in the game. This is one of the key areas where I think I need to spend time thinking about how to model the sort of ensemble cast that I envision filling an Epic Fantasy story translating to a Role-Playing Game experience.

7. Sacrifice & Loss

Saving the world, or whatever other epic task is laid before the heroes of the story, isn’t an easy job. In fact, to succeed the Main Characters will have to make sacrifices. Some of them will not make it to the very end and THAT’S OKAY. That’s part of what makes it “Epic“. Even when we’re not talking about the sacrifice and loss of characters’ lives, there are other sacrifices that may need to be made. A traditional one is the loss of innocence – it’s a loss that most of us members of humanity can directly relate to. But there may be still other, more tangible sacrifices: Losing an object of value. Losing access to privileges. Loss of freedom.

The point is… someone, somewhere along the way will lose something. And that loss itself will propel the story forward. Loss and sacrifice isn’t capricious. Character death is not random. These things serve a greater purpose.

This is another one that I consider supremely important to implement in a mechanical way. But it’s a nut I haven’t quite cracked yet. The simple version of what I imagine is to have players voluntarily make sacrifices at key story moments – voluntarily give up something of value up to and including voluntarily giving up your character’s life, but to have those sacrifices generate new resources or increased effectiveness in proportion to the sacrifice being made, allowing the good guys to triumph over evil because of and not in spite of the sacrifice that was made. But how do you mechanically codify that in a satisfying way?

8. Drawing the Eyes of Gods or Goddesses, Powerful Wizards, Supernatural Beings, or Mighty Kings and Emperors

You can probably file this under “Grand Scale, Sweeping Scope”. The point of differentiation being: even if the main characters aren’t themselves inherently important and powerful people, the things they do will draw the attention of and engage characters – many of them likely to be NPCs – who do have power, authority, or prestige in the world. Or, sometimes, the Main Characters are those mighty kings, savvy generals, powerful wizards. Or sometimes the characters start out as people of little import but transform through the story into those mighty kings and wizards.

The real point is – one size doesn’t fit all, here. Somehow or other, the powerful will make their presence felt in the story. That may be the Main Characters themselves, or others in the periphery who seek to influence or to enjoy the influence of the Main Characters.

It’s also worth pointing out that this particular trait doesn’t boil down as easily as the others to a simple and pithy headline. That’s because what constitutes the “Mighty” and most influential non-player characters in a given game will vary from game to game, potentially even from session to session. In one world the “Gods & Goddesses” may be a distant memory, mythical beings that are no longer followed and who don’t appear to directly interfere with the affairs of mortals. Kings, Emperors, and Wizards may be the extent of the powerful and influential NPCs the main characters will meet. Or the main characters may find themselves drawn into the affairs of the Lords, Ladies, Kings and Queens of Fairyland or a similar supernatural realm. In another story they really will meet the Gods and/or Goddesses who reign over the world directly, whether to petition them for aid or to directly confront them. Or it might be a mix of any and all of the above, or other related events I’ve not personally conceived of.

As I said above: the real point is, one size doesn’t necessarily fit all. And yet, without some interaction with those of power and influence in the world, there’s a bit of a hole where the “Epic” in “Epic Fantasy” hasn’t been entirely filled.

Conclusion

And those are, I believe, the Fundamental Elements of Epic Fantasy. But I’m just one person. I can barely contain my curiosity. What do you think? What makes an Epic Fantasy for you? What did I get right? What did I miss or forget? And what did I include that just strikes you as wrong or odd?

That was a lot of ground to cover all at once, so I’m leaving the rest – the Auxiliary Elements and the Common Supporting Tropes – until next time, and thus I’ll complete my portrait of the Epic Fantasy genre, and how I envision translating it into a game.

Designer Diary: Epic Fantasy, Genre Fidelity, and TTRPGs

As I start to reframe this blog – to refresh it and update it more frequently – I wanted to spend some time here talking about my Tabletop Role-Playing Game (commonly abbreviated as “TTRPG”) design efforts, because it’s one of my two major writing efforts. That means I’ll be, in good time, discussing various aspects of the game’s design, my intent for the design, debating different mechanical approaches to achieving my overarching goals, and so on. So welcome to the first entry in my Designer Diary.

Now before I can get into the nitty gritty of game mechanics and how I imagine the game working I’ve got to spend a minute talking about my goals for the game: what I envision the end-product looking like at a high level.

And for me, for this game, that means talking about genre.

Genre isn’t a new topic of discussion here. It’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about since I set out on the path of trying to become a writer. But why is genre so important to my game design?

Because, in my view, genre is an irreducible aspect of the play experience in TTRPGs. Mechanics can either support or undermine the genre of the game, and I firmly believe that if you are aiming for a certain experience in play, you have to be cognizant of the genre tropes you are seeking to emulate in play. You have to think about how those tropes can best be represented in play, and how to build up or subvert those tropes, and why you might want to. Which means understanding the genre you’re working in.

But there’s another reason genre is so important to me. There’s one genre in particular that is nearest and dearest to my heart. One genre that speaks to me like no other. One genre that, in my view, has some of the most powerful potential to tell stories that examine and build up the human condition.

Epic Fantasy.

But there’s a problem that I see. There are literally thousands of TTRPGs on the market – everything from the behemoth that is Dungeons & Dragons to free, single-page RPGs and the thousands of games in between. Just peruse the offerings at DriveThruRPG.com if you want to take a gander at the plethora of offerings. What chance do I have in crafting a game that stands out?

No chance, honestly. But that’s not the point of design. For me, the design process itself is rewarding – and it would be even if I ended up with a game that was too similar to any other game on the market. I want to create a game that matches my vision of what a Role-Playing game can be. And that means zeroing in on that genre: Epic Fantasy.

And yet, of these thousands of games I know to exist, few if any manage to capture the essence and tropes of Epic Fantasy in a thoroughly satisfactory way. Granted, I can’t possibly know about every game on the market – thousands is too many for any one soul to meaningfully comb through. Even so, among the many high-profile games with which I am familiar, I find that quintessential Epic Fantasy experience ever elusive. There are games that I believe, if I got a chance to play them, would come very close. (I’d truly love to try out games such as FATE, which may have the flexibility to do Epic Fantasy as well as it does any other genre, Fellowship, which is definitely billed as Tolkienian Epic Fantasy, and Ironsworn, which isn’t Epic Fantasy per se but looks like it has a lot to offer that mirrors the experience I’d want to see in an Epic Fantasy game.) But none (that I know) that have quite everything I want to see in a game. None that match my vision for what an Epic Fantasy game could be, arguably should be. I perceive this gap between the gameplay experience of even those games that I know are aiming firmly at an Epic Fantasy experience, and the ideal Epic Fantasy experience.

I call this gap between what Epic Fantasy embodies in the ideal sense, and the actual play outcomes “Genre Fidelity“. Inasmuch as some games are ostensibly trying to go for the Epic Fantasy experience, or at least market themselves as such – let’s pick on Dungeons & Dragons for a moment shall we? – and the play experience falls short of the ideal, there’s a very low degree of genre fidelity.

Using our example of Dungeons & Dragons, it largely markets itself as the quintessential Epic Fantasy game. (Yes, arguably, they are positioned more as a Swords & Sorcery game, which is a different genre entirely, but in my opinion it’s not really marketed that way.) But when you dive into the mechanics and the kind of play the game supports? It’s a fantasy combat simulator game. Does combat happen in Epic Fantasy? Well, sure, of course it does. But Epic Fantasy isn’t exclusively or even mostly about fighting. It’s about so much more. And none of that “more” is supported by the mechanics of D&D. If, while playing D&D, you happen to get a high-fidelity Epic Fantasy play experience, that’s mostly in spite of the game’s mechanics, and not because of them.

But if Epic Fantasy is so important to me, and the play experience I want to engender so entangled with the genre, what does that mean for me, as a designer?

First and foremost, it means defining what it means to be Epic Fantasy. Which, even for a genre as “prescriptive” as Epic Fantasy, is a tall order.

Next time I’m going to tackle that very question.

Prescriptive and Descriptive Genres

I’ve been involved in a number of discussions on genre, recently.  As I thought about the many genres and subgenres of speculative fiction – and indeed even outside speculative fiction – I realized that what defines one genre from another is not always consistent.  Some genres have more rules than others, or more specific rules, or rules about different things.  To put it in a simple dichotomy, some genres are more descriptive and some are more prescriptive.

What do I mean by that?  A descriptive genre merely describes what a genre or body of literature looks like.  A prescriptive genre is very codified, and if you fail to abide by that code, you can’t really be said to be writing in that genre.  As I thought about the subject deeper, I concluded that the difference lies in a specific subset of rules: those rules governing the form and structure of a genre.

Descriptive genres are less specific about rules governing form or structure.  They are less formulaic by default.  Instead, the rules governing a descriptive genre are rules of elements.  If certain elements are present in a work of literature, it can be said to belong to the associated genre.  If those elements are absent, it may not be a work of that genre.  These elements may be aspects of setting, character, plot, style and technique and so on.  Fantasy, in the general, categorical sense, is a fairly descriptive genre.  Does the story include elements of magic, mysticism, mythology, the supernatural, or the numinous?  If your work includes these elements of non-real, non-mundane, then it is a work of Fantasy.  Mainstream or Literary fiction is similarly fairly descriptive.  Does the novel employe so-called “literary” techniques (and usually, but not always, does it eschew the non-real elements for a mundane and frequently contemporary setting)?  Then it is a literary novel. 

But many genres are more restrictive and confining than that.  Continue reading

The Depths of Genre, the Heights of Audience Expectation

I regularly read the Magical Words blog, whree a group of speculative fiction authors joined together to offer writing advice and stories from the word-mines.  Over time, I’ve become ever-so-slightly more active a commenter on the posts, sharing my own thoughts and experience.

One recent post got me thinking about Genre.  In it, fantasy author Misty Massey begins a series of genre-definition posts similar to what you’d find on fellow writer-blogger T.S. Bazelli’s blog.  The post and ensuing discussion made me think about genre a lot (so much so that I was accused of overthinking the matter; I deny the charge as I don’t generally think it’s possible to overthink anything, and more likely to underthink something; I’m guilty of the latter as often as anybody else, but I’d rather be guilty of the former, which I think is no sin).  So, this is going to be a long post.  I’d split it up, but I think I’d lose something salient to my point in doing so.  My intention is to inspire deeper thinking on this topic – maybe even overthinking.  So put your thinking caps on.

Misty sets off on this whirlwind tour of the many genres and subgenres and subsubgenres of Speculative Fiction by discussing high and epic fantasy.  But before launching into discussion of individual genres, she says this:

When you’ve finished your manuscript and are ready to send it out into the world, one of the most important things to know about it is what genre it belongs to. Once upon a time, if a book had magic in it, it was fantasy. Period. Tolkien was fantasy, Tim Powers was fantasy, Glen Cook was fantasy. That’s no longer true. Genres have split and split and split again, becoming more and more specialized as the audiences demanded. Where once agents said they read fantasy, now they say they only want comic paranormal romance, dark epic or dieselpunk. Which puts the writer into a quandary – how do you know what you’re writing? Continue reading

The Maker’s Art, Part 3: Creating Mythopoeia and Anthropological Artifacts

Last week I waded into long discussion in which I tried to draw a clear line between what constitutes a work of “Mythopoeia” and what is only “Fantasy” – acknowledging along the way that Mythopoetic works can be something other than Fantasy.  My position is perhaps an arguable one, but I’m comfortable delineating Mythopoeia as separate from other forms of Speculative Fiction, and even defining it as separate from the physical “artifacts” that represent it.  Mythopoeia is an idea, something that lives in the hearts and minds of both creators and producers of artistic works.  But it is an idea that we engage by interfacing with those anthropological artifacts: be they written works such as novels, poems, epics, webpages and blog posts, or be they visual works of art, sculptures, paintings, and photographs, or be they motion pictures or music, or be they works in an interactive medium like video games, table-top games, or board games, or be they some sort of new and evolving oral history. There are a variety of mechanisms by which mythopoetic works can be expressed in physical form.  But I’m primarily interested in the written form and those that can benefit from the techniques of the written form. 

By now, you must be wondering… so what?  What does it matter?  Why did I set out to try to define Mythopoeia in the first place?  And, having done so, to what use could this definition be put?

Last time, I mentioned my contention that few writers today are consciously attempting to write something that might be called Mythopoeia.  And part of the reason is that writing Mythopoeia is hard.  It requires thinking at a whole different level, layered on top of the thinking that goes into writing a novel.  I could say the entire essay has been a long way of saying it was partly this realization that forced me to conclude that I wasn’t ready to write “Project SOA #1” yet.  Because as I’ve spent years developing background detail, filling several notebooks with thoughts and ideas on historical and mythological complications, I’ve discovered how truly difficult it is to organize a coherent, complete, and engaging mythology, and how challenging it is to weave that into the primary narrative.  Because as an idea takes hold, if you think about it for a while, you realize the idea has implications – huge implications – that must necessarily change the plot and direction of the novel itself.  This is but one of the challenges I faced with making “Project SOA” work (another being a serious grappling with clichés, tropes, and genre conventions, and better understanding them and when and whether to use them, or if not to use them, how to adjust my plot and characters to compensate).

But the whole point of coming to a better understanding of what is or is not Mythopoeia has been to better equip me with the tools to write novels that rest on the bedrock of a solid mythopoem.  Why would I want to do that?  On one level, because it’s intellectually interesting to me.  I find intrinsic value in the creation of a coherent mythological narrative.  But there’s a baser reasoning, too. 

Consider all the most popular works of fiction in the last hundred years.  I’ve talked before about the “triumph of fantasy and speculative fiction” in the larger popular culture.  But at another level, the best works of fantasy and speculative fiction – those with the most enduring fandoms and the most engaged fans – are often among those with strongest mythopoetic frameworks.  This isn’t universally true (for instance, I mentioned Harry Potter last week, and how I don’t find it to be strongly mythopoetic in nature), nor is the reverse necessarily true either: if you have strong mythopoetic underpinnings to your work you won’t necessarily write a best-seller.  But the more strongly a work is predicated on a complex and coherent mythopoetic framework, the more easily engaged its audience.

If you accept this outcome as desirable (or even better, if you find the idea of writing mythopoeia intellectually interesting and stimulating), then you may wonder: how do I do this? Continue reading

The Maker’s Art, Part 2: Refining a Definition of Mythopoeia Through a Sample Exegesis of the Fantasy Corpus

In the previous post I began a discussion of a topic I’ve long wanted to address here on this blog: the concept of Mythopoeia as a distinct genre within the sphere of Speculative Fiction.  However, I ended the first part of my discussion with what appears to be a fatal contradiction.  I defined Mythpoeia as a work of constructed or artificial mythology, but then acceded that most works of modern Fantasy Fiction (and indeed many works of other subgenres of Speculative Fiction) are predicated on invented mythologies.¹  Still, I contend that there is a line of separation between a true work of Mythopoeia and a work of modern Fantasy Fiction.

Just what, then, is that line of separation?  Consider this: I would assert that Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”, in fact, is not a work of Mythopoeia.  It is, rather, an artifact of Tolkien’s Mythopoem.  It is a physical manifestation, in book form, that attests to the existence of the underlying mythopoetic work.  In other words, a novel, or a novel series, is not Mythopoeia.  But a novel – frequently, but not always, a novel of Epic or High Fantasy – is typically the the primary mechanism by which the reading and media-consuming public will discover and interact with the Mythpoetic work. 

It is my contention, therefore, that while many works of modern fantasy and science fiction include mythological motifs and invented backstories and mythologies, few writers and creators are creating Mythopoeia by design.  Most of the imaginary mythologies and backstories exist solely in support of the fantasy novel to which they are attached, with little or no intrinsic value of their own, and with little of interest to explore outside the framework of the novel.

Take the Harry Potter novels, for instance. Continue reading

The Maker’s Art, Part 1: Defining Mythopoeia in the Context of Fantasy and Speculative Fiction

I’ve hinted in the past (digging into the deep history of my blog) that I’d eventually get around to elucidating my views on the genre of “Mythopoeia”, and why I consider it distinct and separate from “Epic Fantasy“.

Let me get this out of the way upfront: this is going to be a long post.  (There’s a fair probability that I may have to split it into several posts.)  So you’ve got to be rather interested in the fantasy genre or in mythology for any of what follows to be of interest to you.

As another caveat: if anything I say here comes off as denigrating or derogatory to other genres of fiction, I assure you this is a misreading of the intent of what I write.  I strive here only to draw nuance and distinction, not to make claims of quality.  I have a particular organizational hierarchy in my head, but that hierarchy isn’t meant to be suggestive of quality or value, per se.  Hopefully that will become clear in the course of this essay.

I’d like to start off my discussion by laying out a lexicon of Mythopoeia.  As I mentioned on one of my early posts on the subject, the term “mythopoeia” is likely unfamiliar to a large number of potential visitors to this site.  The word itself, insofar as I can deduce, can largely be attributed to J. R. R. Tolkien with regard to its use referring to a literary genre: it is the title of a lovely poem written by Tolkien that serves as a defense of the genre (or, more broadly, as a defense of the Fantasy fiction genre).  (As an aside, Wikipedia has an interesting analysis of the poem on its page about the poem itself.)

Mythopoeia, as used throughout this essay, is a noun, referring to the genre much the way I might refer to “fantasy”.  Mythopoeic and mythopoetic are synonymous adjectives.  A work of mythopoeia could be described as mythopoetic.  A mythopoem is a noun, and means a work of mythopoeia.  It does not mean a poem (in the rhyme-and-verse sense, at least) that is about mythology, although a poem about mythology might be a mythopoem.  (In other words, “mythopoem” is a higher-order category of work that can include some poems about mythology, but also includes works that are not poems.)  A mythopoet, noun, is the creator of mythopoeia.

All of these, then, are contingent on understanding what mythopoeia is – and to a lesser extent what it is not. Continue reading