Very thoughtful article up at Fantasy Faction on what it is that actually makes “epic fantasy” epic:
Epic Fantasy takes its name from the tradition of epic poetry that reaches back to antiquity and beyond. Epics, in this meaning of the word, were stories that stood as central pillars to the cultures that created them. Preserved orally, they were capable of being repeated thousands of times, so that listeners would grow up knowing the tales, not even able to remember a time before they had heard them. They were massively long and complex, and although they did have heroes, and often battles and dramatic adventure, their role was more complex than merely to entertain. They described a world not different from the one their authors lived in, but one in which the mysterious, the mythic, and the divine were made to speak openly and to make their actions clear. They helped explain the nature of the world.
Further, they showed how it changed. In all of the traditional epics, the narrative of events takes place on what historians call “a world historical scale.” This means that deeds of the main actors, the struggles and journeys that the epics recount, have an effect on the very nature of the world. They permanently change history. For better or worse, something is different at the end. When Odysseus returns home, Troy has been destroyed and the mythic age of heroes is over. At the end of the Aneaid, a city is established that will grow to become the largest empire the world had ever known. In vanquishing Ravenna, Rama establishes himself as the God-King on earth, fulfilling the destiny of the seventh avatar of the God Vishnu (I count the Ramayana as an epic in the traditional sense, although it is at the same time a living religious text). When Dante completes his journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, he has explained the fall and redemption of man according to the medieval Christian understanding.