Form, Content, and History
Epic does many things. Among others, it defines the nature of the human storyteller; recalls the creation of the world and of the human race; describes the paradoxical role of the hero as both the Everyman and the radical exception; and establishes the complex quest underlying all human action. Epic illustrates that these ingredients of epic storytelling are universal cultural elements, in existence across multiple remote geographical locations, historical eras, ethnic and linguistic groups, and levels of technological and economic development.
Frederick Turner argues that epic, despite being scoffed at and neglected for over sixty years, is the most fundamental and important of all literary forms and thereby deserves serious critical attention. It is the source and originof all other literature, the frame within which any story is possible. The mission of this book is to repair gaps in the literary understanding of epic studies—and offer permission to future epic writers and composers.
The cultural genres of Marvel Comics, gothic, anime, manga, multi-user dungeon gaming, and superhero movies reprise all the epic themes and motifs. Consider The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Lost, The Matrix, Superman, Harry Potter, and Narnia. Here can be found the epic beast-man, the miraculous birth of the hero, the creation myth, the founding of the city, the quest journey, the descent into the land of the dead, the monsters, and the trickster. This book will be of interest to all readers fascinated by folklore, oral tradition, religious studies, anthropology, mythology, and enthusiastic about literature in general.
“This is a wide-ranging book which covers epic from its beginnings up to contemporary literary productions and treats of compositions in so many different languages, that, as the author points out, it would be impossible for anyone to know them all. . . . The book is crammed with ideas and images, and I can only mention some of them. . . . Epic typically took its rise when orality was giving way to literacy. It “bestrides the boundary between prehistory and history” (p. 287) and is a genre of such magnitude that it embrases the whole of its culture. Turner encourages us to enter into this vast epic space and imaginatively make ourselves at home there since “time and familiarity themselves ingrain a thing into memory” and “we must live in epic country for a while for it to work its transformation on us” (341).”
—Emily Lyle, Cosmos
“Turner’s overwhelming advantage in writing about Epics is that he is one of our great contemporary poets in that genre. It is as though we equipped Tasso or Vergil with a polymath education in the physical, evolutionary, and social sciences and asked them to use this knowledge to tell us what they were doing. Turner understands that they would come to the same conclusion he does: there are not many epics, there is one epic and that is the story of human evolutionary history from the creation of mankind to the creation of the city, and everything on the way (visit to the dead) and after (destruction and recreation). This story of epic is an epic journey in itself: a tribal encyclopedia for latter-day tribesmen. Brilliantly and expertly told it is not to be missed at any cost.”
—Robin Fox, professor of social theory, Rutgers University, and author of The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind
“There is something almost majestic about Frederick Turner’s Epic, the best study ever composed about this foundational literary genre.The range is formidable: from ancient and classical works to twentieth century literary achievements, from Europe and the Mediterranean to Africa, East Asia, and South America. This is, unquestionably, the main, the true, and the genuine way in which globalism can and ought to be understood: through the commonalities of ideal aspirations, and the memories and images of all members of the human family. Turner, once again, proves himself a reliable guide in the philosophical grasp of human culture.”
—Virgil Nemoianu, W. J. Byron Distinguished Professor of Literature and professor of philosophy, The Catholic University of America