Probably the most gratifying thing about being a reader of fiction is when the characters take you by the hand and bring you into their world—into their fears, their struggles, their happiness, and their conflict. Characters that are likeable can make for a pleasurable read. Characters that are dull or trite can make for a tedious read. But characters that are epic make a memorable read.
Epic characters are unforgettable. They’re those fictitious entities that force you to believe that they actually exist, and that the world they inhabit—in all its weirdness and impossibilities—is true in every sense.
Characters can generally appear epic in two different ways. The first is when a character (or a story of characters) is fresh and groundbreaking in its time. For example, Tarzan and Conan are not deep, rounded characters, but they were new and exciting creations in their period. They became beloved and favored throughout generations—to the point of being adapted multiple times; and we all know who they are today.
The second aspect of the epic character is a character that stands out within a grand tale/story. The characters from The Lord of the Rings, like Frodo Baggins, Gandalf and Gollum, are probably the most substantial characters in fantasy literature. In more modern fantasy, Tyrion Lannister from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga is one of many characters from the series that stands out as unforgettable. Kvothe from Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle is memorable within a unique fantasy series.
Most of us would not hesitate to protect our best friend or loved one from harm. We rejoice when they succeed, and are heavy-hearted when they fail. People in general do not give much thought when they hear a disturbing story on the news about someone who has gone missing, or was wounded or killed in some terrible ordeal. Yes, our hearts may go out to them, but when those people are strangers to us, there is no great effect on our emotions, our minds or our lives. But when it’s someone that we know and love, then our whole world is shaken. Taking from that example—on a far, far lesser scale—we, as readers, respond to the characters that we encounter within the pages of an engrossing book in like manner. We may experience various emotions as we begin to love (or sometimes hate) those characters that set a story ablaze with their very presence.
Just think of the times when you read fantasy fiction and the characters stole your attention from the real world and pulled you into theirs; and, afterward, you are left thinking about them—even years later. It‘s those epic characters that draw you to want to read their story over and over. It’s those epic characters that brought life to a world that doesn’t even exist, except within your imagination (with the skill and aid of the author). It’s those epic characters that make you smile at the thought of them, knowing that they brought a moment of joy to your life.
A reader can find delight in going on an adventure of mystery and magic with Harry Potter; or wandering the land of Narnia in hopes to encounter the wonderful presence of Aslan. And such characters will make you want to come back again—even as years have passed and you look to see the next generation cherishing the very tales that brought joy to you.
Possibly, every writer of fantasy creates a character that they feel is epic, but, in truth, a writer has no way of knowing how their creation will come to life within the imagination of the reader, for that’s where the process begins. No writer can dictate that their character is epic. It is the mass of readers, as a whole, that meets the character and says, “I will follow this character ‘til the end…and I will not forget them.”