Mormon fantasy, Epics, Epic poems


Because of humanity's fixation on death, religion and the afterlife have played a part in human culture throughout history. As a result, belief, religion, and theology have been central to the main action of stories since the earliest forms of literature. One of the greatest ancient literary genres, the epic, is no exception.

Epics have many universal characteristics, such as elevated language in poetic form, vast settings, and strong protagonists who demonstrate feats of great strength and genius. They also commonly contain "supernatural forces-gods, angels, and demons-[who] interest themselves in the action" (Harmon and Holman 185). After the Renaissance, the epic lost two of its most fundamental qualities. First, it was typically no longer written in verse, as the novel became the preferred form with which to tell a long tale. Second, the "gods, angels, and demons" who engage directly in the action of the story disappeared. The first claim is typically accepted by critics, although with some exceptions. Herbert F. Tucker is one such skeptic. Tucker fights an uphill battle to demonstrate that the epic did not die out but flourished from the Romantic to the Edwardian ages. Despite his honorable task, Tucker is forced to acknowledge that most critics "depict prose fiction as the genre in which modernity stands forth over epic's dead body" ( 4). The second claim, that the epic lost its gods and demons, caused a trifurcation of the epic poem into separate subgenres: the social epic, the sacred epic, and the supernatural epic. When the gods, angels, and demons of the epic were split from the tradition, the social epic was created, while the sacred epic retained ancient epic religiosity. ln the twentieth century, as religion became more ambiguous in society, even those authors who wished to write about the supernatural and otherworldly distanced themselves from theology, creating the supernatural epic.

Original Publication Citation

van Dyk, G. “Desperate Not to ‘Forget the Gods’: Mormon Fantasy and the Epic Poem.” Literature & Belief 32, no. 1/2 (2012): 287-298.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

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Literature & Belief




Harold B. Lee Library

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor