Thursday, April 25, 2013


I have read very little fantasy. John Lanchester notes the problems with getting people to read fantasy in his excellent piece about GAME OF THRONES in the LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS.

For me, the suspension of my very literal belief in what I see before me in juxtaposition to imagining the possibility of elves, dragons, and other worlds will always stand in my way. The visuals on the HBO series, GAME OF THRONES makes it much easier for me than only seeing those words on a page though. Show me a dragon and I might believe in it. Surely the HBO series, LOTR, and the Harry Potter books and movies have promoted the reading of fantasy than anything in a long time

Also interesting in the article is the idea that a series holds more interest for people than a standalone novel. People want to spend a lot of time in another world once they invest.

What are the great fantasy books besides the Tolkien ones?


Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - I'm not big into fantasy literature. But people who are tell me that the Frank Herbert Dune series is a great one.

Anonymous said...

Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere
Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...


John said...

Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy (very reminiscent of Game of Thrones and all the intrigue among monarchs and their heirs) is one definitely worth tracking down. There's a TV version out there somehwere.

Also, I just discovered E.E. Eddison's The Worm Ouroborus. He has a prose style that reminds me of the dense writing of M.P. Sheil, but it is utterly addictive. WORM... is considered one of the true masterpieces of fantasy literature. Out of print (of course) and largely forgotten. But I bet Jerry House and Todd Mason know about it.

John said...

Typo in Eddison's name. It's E.R. Eddison. Thought I'd correct it before Mason nails me. ;^)

Bill Crider said...

May favorites include LeGuin's Earthsea series, Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn, and Patricia McKillip's The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.

George said...

Although he's on the bubble of fantasy, I'd recommend H. P. Lovecraft. He's utterly unique.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have read some LeQuin but more science fiction than fantasy. HA! I thought I was the only one who worried about that, John.

Brian Lindenmuth said...

I think genres have a tendency to get reduced to and/or categorized by one element or sub-genre even. Like a multi-faceted object with only one surface visible.

Mystery/crime fiction gets reduced to the PI/detective; SF gets reduced to the spaceship; horror gets reduced to gore. And fantasy gets reduced to elves, dragons and quests.

But we all know that these genres are more expansive and inclusive then these initial assumptions.

Here a few rec's, some of these books may straddle different genre lines.

As for recommendations:

Last Call, The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

Bones of the Moon, After Silence, White Apples by Jonathan Carroll

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Requiem by Graham Joyce

Winters Tale by Mark Helprin

Veniss Underground, Finch by Jeff Vandermeer

Little Big by John Crowley

The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque by Jeffrey Ford

Door Number Three, The Gift by Patrick O'Leary

The Hearing Trumpet by Lenora Carrington

Zod Wallop by William Browning Spencer

All the Bells on Earth, The Last Coin by James P Blaylock

Spaceman Blues by Brian Francis Slattery

Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge

Laughin' Boy by Bradley Denton

Printers Devil by Stona Fitch

Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine

The books of Jack O'Connell, Robert Jackson Bennett, Cherie Priest

Richard R. said...

So far I've only seen 1 or 2 books mentioned I'd agree with. I'd start out with Robert E. Howard's Conan books. Then Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Grey Mouser books of short stories/novelettes. I find the books John mentions, while fantasy and classic, are darn near unreadable these days.

Also Zelanzy's AMBER series of novels, and perhaps the best of the bunch is David Eddings' BELGARIAD.

Charles Gramlich said...

how odd to me that the visuals help you in getting into fantasy. I've found so often that I love reading the books and descriptions but when I see what the movie makers have put on the screen it is so much less than what I envisoned that I'm thrown completely out of the story.

Todd Mason said...

(putting nail gun away...wondering if the rein of terror is perhaps not the best way of going about matters) Recently, in a discussion at an informal meeting at work, it turned out that I was nearly alone in my working group in not finding GAME OF THRONES particularly all seems rather overfamiliar and pedestrian when I've watched it, but I've probably not given it enough of a chance (but Martin is not my favorite writer of the fantastic, and some of his prose can be rather, well, pedestrian and unexciting).

But you can believe in the tropes of other sorts of literature, Patti? It's all (I do mean all) metaphor, after all, even if it tries to capture life as lived as closely as you write some horror and fantasy, I've never quite understood your occasional statements that you don't quite Get it. That said, elves or dragons per se don't do much for me...they have to be employed well (and the twee doesn't engage me often, whether in the hands of Piers Anthony nor John Kennedy Toole).

Hmmm...Eddison certainly inspired Peake and Tolkien and such contemporaries and peers as Jack Vance and Fritz Leiber...and there are potentially duller classic fantasists, such as William Morris or George MacDonald (PHANTASTES and such) and, later on, Lovecraft, as well as potentially livelier ones (such as Dante, and such contemporaries of Eddison as Lord Dunsany, Kipling and the Virginia Woolf of ORLANDO).

I'm still pretty happy with what I wrote here:
Beyond and alongside Tolkien

DUNE isn't quite fantasy, while I wonder which Le Guin sf novels you read, Patti?

Todd Mason said...

I think most of the suggestions so far have been good, btw. Most have, um, nailed it.

Brian Lindenmuth said...

I've always liked this article by Jeff Vandermeer:

I think that Dune is a secondary world fantasy with SF trappings. But that is way out in the weeds for this conversation :)

Todd Mason said...

"But people who don’t read fantasy just simply, permanently, 100 per cent don’t read fantasy."

I'm sorry, this is patently untrue. Stephen King, Anne Rice, Richard Bach, Tolkien's posthumous career, Alice Sebold, Audrey Niffenegger, Neil Gaiman and a host of others are quite widely read by those who don't realize they are fantasy readers, and I'm not sure the ignorant snobs who refuse to consider a Joanna Russ or Fritz Leiber novel are vastly more numerous than those who will refuse to read Mere mysteries, or certainly Mere romance or westerns, or even fiction as a whole...

Chris said...

Terry Brooks is quite popular. Tad Willliams has written some good stuff. Michael Moorcock. Marion Zimmer Bradley. There are just tons of excellent books and authors.

I didn't get all the way through the article you linked, Patti. Thing is, I'd expect that there are plenty of "respected" and/or "literary" writers who would kill to have the "few hundred thousand readers" that Neil Stephenson mentions. I don't think getting more people to read fantasy is that big of an issue -- seems to be a huge, wildly successful genre.

Todd Mason said...

Well, Tolkien in his posthumous career.

Brian, you might well be right, in classing it as at least borderline fantasy...I certainly gave up on DUNE the novel rather early on in the proceedings, and have never bothered with the sequels. Nothing about it I read seemed inherently impossible in consensus reality, nor terribly compelling in getting me to continue reading in my then-current personal reality.

Jerry House said...

Fritz Leiber, Avram Davidson, and Jack Vance top my list (at least today's list).

Mervyn Peake's GORMENGHAST trilogy. (I haven't read the fourth book in the series, completed by Peake's widow.)

THE WORM OUROBORUS is a good choice, John. Eddison's other major work, the ZIMIAMVIA trilogy, is somewhat convoluted and not everyone's cup of tea.

And I am partial to Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and Manly Wade Wellman.

pattinase (abbott) said...

THE ONES WHO WALK FROM THE OMELAS and THE LEFT HAND at least. All a long time ago. I am much more likely to read a fantasy short story such as in the volumes Todd gave me than an entire novel. Unless it's time travel, which I love if it's not too technical in how it all works.

Jerry House said...

Oh, and there is one that I have never read but, from all accounts. really should: LUD-IN-THE-MIST by Hope Mirrlees.

pattinase (abbott) said...

In my case, Charles, seeing is believing.

John said...

Mirrlees' book is one I have on a list of must reads, too. ALso ARMED WITH MADNESS by Mary Butts. Where's the time for all this catching up on books meant to be read?

I forgot to mention MISS HARGREAVES by Frank Baker. Shame on me - one of my all time favorites. And most of Thorne Smith, too. I'm no good at these list making tasks. I keep going back and amending them.

pattinase (abbott) said...

GAME OF THRONES requires me to read synopses every week. And it is so dark I can hardly see what is going on especially with the guys out at that wall. The dragon-girl's kingdom is the only one with good lighting. And winter comes!

Todd Mason said...

"Winter is coming," indeed. The joke phrase...much as with "You OK?" after the first season or so of NYPD BLUE, when Caruso was still on it.

Much of the draw of such fantasy-fiction magazines as UNKNOWN and BEYOND, and to some extent FANTASTIC and F&SF and WEIRD TALES as edited by Dorothy McIlwraith, was their fostering of the Thorne Smith school of fantasy, or the HG Wells school--as the latter put it, only one miracle (or fantasticated eleemnt) per story, which was otherwise realistic. Of course, the majority of horror fiction falls into this mode, as well.

Loren Eaton said...

While I found Neverwhere underwhelming, I very much loved Neil Gaiman's Stardust.