Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Media Studies


Nick Dyer-Witheford


Narrative Epic and New Media investigates why epic narratives have a renewed significance in contemporary culture, showing that new media epics model the postmodern world in the same way that ancient epics once modelled theirs. It demonstrates how the epic genre recurs across different cultures and subcultures, even as each instantiation of the epic remains unique to its particular society.

The dissertation draws upon genre theory from critical discourse analysis and from observations made by various critics about the epic’s status as a literary “super-genre,” which encompasses as many other kinds of narrative as it can. It extends genre theory to explain how works of epic scope emerge from new media as well. The dissertation develops a framework for defining epics that balances textual analysis with attention to the social processes of narrative representation, production, and reception. This model outlines the formal continuities of the epic’s field of cultural production while accounting for historical change and differing cultural contexts.

The following texts are analysed in depth: the HBO drama The Wire (2002–2008); works adapted from Batman comics, specifically the Dark Knight film trilogy (2005–2012) and the Batman: Arkham video game series (2009–2015); and Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda video game series (1986-2013). Related books, films, comics, and video games furnish supporting evidence, while the reception of these works is gauged in journalism and scholarship, as well as in popular sources (blog postings, fan fictions, etc.).

After showing how The Wire, Batman, and Zelda relate to their cultural contexts as epics, Narrative Epic and New Media addresses the implications for epic theory in light of current cultural production. In particular, The Wire, Batman, and Zelda all demonstrate the new understanding of space and cognitive mapping that critics have seen as essential to theories of postmodernity, especially those that examine how the features of fictional narratives model lived experience in society. The dissertation ends with an argument in favour of a more “flexible” formalism, which can better account for the disembedding of generic forms.