Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The best fantasy novels of all time:
A call for nominees

So I've got a dead link over at fantasticfictions supposedly leading to a "top ten best" list of fantasy novels for the discerning reader. I think I could probably come up with a list of ten greats, but I fear I'd be missing some really good ones without testing and cross-referencing a bit with some other interested folks. Besides, I want to hear other people's opinions of stuff I need to read next...

So for all of you out there that read this stuff, here's what I need from you. In the comments, put a prioritized list of ten novels (and novels in a series count only as one; sorry, no listing all of Jordan's or Rowling's latest) in there. "Best" is a subjective term, I realize; I'm asking for your list in terms of ones you liked, that you think are "good", and that you think are "artistically worthy", whatever that means.

And as far as what falls into the fantasy category, let's stretch that to its limits. Herbert's Dune counts, Asimov's Foundation doesn't. If it depends on science or technology for its core story, it doesn't count; otherwise, futuristic "fantasy" counts. Star Wars would count if it were a novel, but it ain't. And just because Timothy Zahn wrote a bunch of Star Wars novels still don't qualify. Movie rippoffs, gaming world ripoffs, comic book conversions don't count. Real, honest-to-goodness novels. Fantasy, fantastic, fairy-tale, science-fantasy, space opera, whatever. Just remember to prioritize as best as you can.

And lastly, try to give me your complete list before you read other people's comments. Cross-pollination won't help my cause of widening my net to make sure I didn't miss any real beauties out there.

Thanks for your help!


Studyhound said...

1. The Hobbit
2. Dune
3. The linon the witch and the wardrobe
4. The Last Unicorn
5. Princess Bride (yes it was a book first!)
6. Beowulf
7. The King of Elfland's Daughter-Really anything by Lord Dunsany
8. Inferno (really the whole The Divine Comedybut I think this one is the best)
9. The Princess and the Goblin
10. Watership Down

James Wood said...

I don't know that I can get 10 and this list is in no order and these are just off the top of my head.

* The Belgariad - David Eddings (I love most Eddings' stuff, but this was the best)
* The Farseer Trilogy - Robin Hobb
* The Chronic[what]cles of Narnia
* Dune - Gotta give props to Herbert, though the rest of the books faltered.

That's what I can think of right now.

Jake Shore said...

Well, since I haven't read enough fantasy novels to put ten on this list, I'm out of luck. But I would offer the usual suspects:

-The Hobbit
-Lord of the Rings
-The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

I would also emphatically include Robert E. Howard's Conan stories, perhaps "Tower of the Elephant," "Rogues in the House," or "Black Colossus."

I would dispute Dune as fantasy. It seems thoroughly Science Fiction to me. I also think it's a reach to characterize Dante's Inferno as fantasy.

I liked the Belgeriad OK, but found it fairly forgettable; not worthy of top ten, much like McKiernan's Iron Tower trilogy.

Anonymous said...

I do read a fair amount of fantasy, enough to know that most of it is garbage. I have lost a small fortune buying books that look good, but are more of the same old "meh" then selling them back to the used bookstore where I originally got them. Sometimes I feel like I'm actually just renting books. Okay, here goes.

1.) Legend by David Gemmell. I like just about everything he's written and this is his best. If you read Lord of the Rings and wished that the seige of Gondor had been the entire book, this is for you.

2.) Dune by Frank Herbert. I agree with Jake that it's not fantasy per se, but it is certainly not hard science fiction. I'll throw it in the bin marked Speculative Fiction and stick it here in the number two spot. I read Legend just about once a year and this one almost as much. I wish I had my own Gom Jabbar to see if I am a human or an animal.

3.) A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin. I wish I knew a few true names. Then I could speak Coca-Cola's true name and it would have to do my bidding and I would say, "who's the master now?"

4.) The Jerusalem Man by David Gemmell. The earth has suffered some forgotten calamity and turned on its axis. Technology is nearly forgotten and a satanic cult roams the land. Luckily Jon Shannow, the Jerusalem Man, is there to blow guys away with cap and ball revolvers and fight with a sword while quoting the Bible. Seriously, it's a lot better than I just made it sound.

5.) World War Z by Max Brooks. One of the funnest reads I've had in a couple of years. The book is pieces of interviews conducted by the author of people who have survived the Zombie War to be submitted to the UN for analysis. It sounds like horror, but it is not. In fact there really aren't any scary parts at all. Another one that's not fantasy as a lot of people picture it (i.e. no wizards in pointy hats), but neither is it horror or hard sci-fi. So fantasy it is. And if you say I can't have it on my list, then Jason can't put on anything by China Mieville.

6.) A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. The first of the Song of Ice and Fire series which has just been optioned by HBO. Tells the story of the Stark family in the Seven Kingdoms. The first novel is low-magic with a lot of good characterization. The series is currently building into high-magic. A lot of the characters start out in this book as quite unlikeable, but as the series progresses they move in a direction that for some of the worst will lead, I think, to redemption. The author is a big fat slob and has taken over ten years to complete four of the novels so far with the fifth nearly complete, so the series could turn out drastically different than I anticipate. It should be noted that these books would never be mistakenly shelved in the Young Adult section. Furthermore, after reading some of the author's other work, I'm fairly certain he is, politically speaking, the anti-Ted.

7.) The Hobbit by some English guy whose name I can't remember.
For some reason I enjoy this more than the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

8.) Waylander by David Gemmell. Waylander is the prince of slayers, a master assassin. The book starts right after he has killed a king and the story unfolds as he deals with the ramifications of his actions, not the least of which is his saving a priest who follows him and constantly debates the value of using violence. Both characters are changed, arguably for the better, by the end of the book. Gemmell wrote two other Waylander books, but this is the best. Sadly, Gemmell died earlier this year so we've got all the Waylander books we're ever gonna get.

9.) The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard. Yeah, yeah, I know it's a collection of short stories and not a novel, but just pretend there's a page at the front that has nothing other than "'Let me tell you of my days,' said Conan." Then read the book. While not in strict chronological order of Conan's adventures as they happened, the book feels like someone telling you stories of their adventures. As they tell one story it reminds them of another, and it's never in any real timeline. Most of this was written prior to the time the The Hobbit was published.

10.) Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. This is the first of Jordan's Wheel of Time series, and one that I liked the best of the one's I've read (I made it through number 5). The series got so long and unmanageable that it apparently killed its author who passed away earlier this month. It's funny, but reading this you can see where a few minor changes could have ended the series within this book.

These are in a very loose order. It would take very little argument for me to move a few of them up or down several spots, but this is what I ended up with. I've also got a few honorable mentions.

Most Hyped Series I Haven't Read:
Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling.

Animals Talk and Fight:
Watership Down by Richard Adams and The Redwall Books by Brian Jacques.

Most Overrated Series I Have Had The Misfortune To Read:
The Shannara books by Terry Brooks, bleah.

Book Series That Should Have Grabbed Me But For Some Reason Did Not:
The Dark Tower books by Stephen King.

Best Rip-Off Of An Idea That Was Executed Better By Someone Else First:
The Iron Tower trilogy by Dennis L. McKiernan.

Books That Are Listed As Young Adult But Are Awesome Anyway:
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis and The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.

The Best Choose Your Own Adventure Books That I Wish I Still Had:
The Lone Wolf series by Joe Dever and Gary Chalk.


David said...

I've read a lot of science ficiton and fantasy in my life, since I was around 10. So there are quite a lot of books which I might include, making choosing 10 difficult.

Also, it's hard to put just specific books as fantasy is so heavily based on trilogies and series of books. Therefore I'm largely just putting in the full trilogy where appropriate, and I'm not putting any particular order really, the numbers are just for readability..

1. The Lord of The Rings Trilogy - No real need to go into detail. The level of thought, detail and planning are unparallelled. He even wrote history books and legends for it. The further you get, the better it gets. (As long as you can get past all the elves singing in Lorien, which was pretty pretty dull.)

2. The Hobbit - far more of a straight up fun fantasy, its pace allows it to be a much easier read than the lord of the rings, and it packs a huge amount of events into its pages. I don't buy the argument that it's for children. It's just a good book.

3. The Riftwar Saga (Magician, Silverthorn, A darkness at Sethanon) - Excellent dramatic story telling, in a high fantasy setting which instantly feels right. Note that Raymond E. Feist paid homage to Tolkein by using Tolkein's Elven language to name his dark elves Moredhel - translating directly to Darkelf.

4. The Farseer, Liveship and Tawny Man Trilogies (They are all part the same story but it took a long time to come back round to that realisation - 10 years of waiting for closure for me. The books can be slow-paced at times, with a huge amount of description or detailing of short periods of time, but this is used to build the reader's involvement in the setting and the emotion of the characters. The downpoint is the liveship trilogy which isn't as fulfilling as the others, but it's worth it for the build up it gives to the final trilogy.)

5. George R.R. Martin's , 'A Song of Ice and Fire Series'. - An immense amount of detail and thought went into these books (some might say too much due to the amount of names you need to remember), probably second only to Tolkien. There are more twists than possibly any other book, and if the thought of major characters dying annoys you, these are not the books for you. Political intrigue leading to bloody wars, backed up by hints of magic and mystery and the threat of what may lurk beyond the Wall to the North (a bit like Hadrian's wall but with far more mysterious and dangerous forces than some Picts or Scots-Irish on the other side).

6. Michael Moorcock's Stormbringer (and optionally the rest of the Elric of Melnibone series, which again have classic themes and moments, though some of the writing may not hold up to long term reviewing. I would also have put in The Warhound and The World's pain which I think is his best book by far, but it may not technically count as fantasy, being based during the 30 years was when a mercenary leader is pressed into service by the devil in order to find the holy grail in order to redeem the world and Satan.)

7. Controversial possibly, but Dragonlance Chronicles and Dragonlance Legends trilogies. Some classic fantasy moments which help to form the fantasy 'canon' in my mind. Dungeon crawling adventure leads to epic warfare. The forbidding black wizard's tower in middle of the city, and Raistlin slowly the walking the dark path towards black magic were highlights for me.

8. Legend by David Gemmell. Heroic fantasy at its most heroic. Druss' age and aching joints give him just enough human weakness for the reader to empathise with him, and to root for him to overcome incredible odds.

9. Jhereg by Steven Brust - An exciting and interestingly written set-piece based on a quandary which an assassin finds himself in. The interesting and well thought out background and world keeps you interested; racial variation and its social and political problems, the intricacies of magic and it's use etc.

10. The John Shannow Series by David Gemmell - While some might complain of the similarity in theme, story and style in many of Gemmell's books, the series just works so well, and shows far more invention than many other fantasy novels, even though it is not classic fantasy as such. It's possible it could be called Sci-fi, but I think it just creeps in.

Honourable mention, but I've left them out of the top ten: (Some with difficulty)

* The Black Company books by Glen Cook. - Excellent idea and some good stories, but the writing and dialogue in particular can sometimes hinder them. The Black Company are an elite mercenary company, who end up on the 'wrong side', working for the Dominator and his 'Ten who were Taken' or 'The Taken' who are like undead lords and sorcerors.

* The Last Unicorn - Not high fantasy in some regards, but an excellent parable with some really poignant moments, and some brilliantly evocative language and story telling.

* Waylander by David Gemmell - the only problem being that that is a lot of David Gemmell (including Legend and the John Shannow series) and there are a lot of repeated themes in his books.

* The Chronicles of Narnia - Not what I personally would count in the same vein as the other books, but since Tolkien and Lewis were looking to experiment in a similar field then it must get a mention. Well written and a classic for children at least, though I feel there is a little too much Christian imagery. (Though ironically probably more people have cried at Aslan's sacrifice of himself than they ever did when told the story of Jesus.)

* Chronicles of Prydain - Again listed as childrens books, and maybe they are, but they are still well written and tell a good story.

* R. Scott Bakker's The Prince of Nothing trilogy. - Fantasy with roots in the crusades. Starts a bit slowly but gets better and better. I've not finished the series yet.

* The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie. - Again part of a trilogy, which I have only started. Good so far.

* Stephen Lawhead's Song of Albion trilogy. - Interesting and often exciting Celtic fantasy. Based on celtic mythology but with time travel into this mythological past. Annoyingly for me as a Scot, it's an American who is the hero and an englishman who is the enemy. Subjugated again. We could at least have our own bad guys!

* Duncton Wood series. - Who would have thought the lives of moles was so dramatic (and traumatic). But it's not fantasy as I would class it.

* Watership down. - Similar to above

I suppose I should stop or I'll be here forever.

Disregarded from the list (Though others may disagree):

Robert Jordan's books are such a blatant rip off of tolkien that they barely count in my opinion. Mind you I only read the first book, and gave up after deciding if I wanted to read the Lord of the Rings, I could just go and read it again. (I've heard they changed later in the series but couldn't get that far.) Similar could be said of much of the Shanara series, where the start is just a re-writing of the Fellowship with some humans swapped in for hobbits. I was actually reading these though until my dog ate/chewed off the end of the third(?) book. I wasn't too bothered and took that as a sign that I should probably move on.

Dune I think is sci-fi, not fantasy.

Not that keen on David Eddings. Sorry. I just am not.

Ursula K. LeGuin I could take or leave really.

While I haven't read them, what I know of The Harry Potter books seems completely derivative rubbish. While normally the whole idea of fantasy the idea is generally build on what others have done, the idea is to use that as a basis at times, but have your own stories and invent new ideas or worlds. Rowling has plagiarised other work and claimed it as her own. The concept itself was done in The Worst Witch (though she cunningly made it a boy instead of a girl), not to mention Neil Gaiman's Sandman work.

Anne McCaffrey - I only read a couple of books. Very dull I thought.