Tolkien Gestures – The List!

So before I get to the challenge of actually reading anything in the Fantasy Genre, I have the possibly greater challenge of defining and creating a reading list. So what constitutes fantasy novel? Where the does the genre start?

This sort of question is fairly normal to a sci-fi fan, a genre which is quite capable of creating all sorts of exciting schisms and sub-labels over what is “real” SF and what isn’t. And the dawn of the genre is pretty easy to identify. When i read crime fiction I was very quickly able to track down what is commonly regarded as the “first” modern crime novel, and a lot of other genres seem easily identifiable as they establish themselves. But fantasy, with its folk tales, and magic, and mystic otherworlds feels at first glance to be more ephemeral and harder to pin down. Can I count Journey to the West? Beowulf? Morte D’Arthur? 1001 Arabian Nights? The Book of Genesis?

OK maybe not that last one.

A similar problem appears with narrowing the list. The Fantasy shelves of today seem dominated by big epic novels when you go further back there is a lot of younger-oriented, “down the Rabbit Hole” sort of book, your C S Lewis and your L Frank Baum and there is probably a huge list in them alone, and by and large I’m avoiding them. And again there is what my previous dabblings in the genre, and i want to avoid too much re-reading. So no Harry Potter, you’ll be pleased to hear. But yes to Tolkien, because to read fantasy for a year and not read him would seem just too perverse.

The flip side of this is the very real risk that by narrowing what I’m reading too much I get to play to my own prejudices. I can get to the end and say “gosh, what a narrow genre” after cutting out some of it’s diversity, which may be self-satisfying but possibly a little unfair.

But after a bit of further research, which largely involved me asking any fantasy loving friends I could pin down for recommendations, and trawling wikipedia, I finally emerged from the dark shadows of the internet with a list. And here it is:

The King of Elfland’s Daughter – Alfred, Lord Dunsany  (1924)
Conan the Barbarian (shorts collection) – Robert E Howard    (1933)
The Sword in the Stone – T H White  (1938)
Titus Groan – Mervyn Peake  (1946)
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – J R R Tolkien  (1954)
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – J R R Tolkien  (1954)
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – J R R Tolkien  (1955)
A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula K LeGuin  (1968)
Elric of Melniboné – Micheal Moorcock  (1972)
The Dark Tower: Gunslinger – Stephen King    (1982)
Mists of Avalon – Marion Zimmer Bradley  (1982)
Pawn of Prophecy – David Eddings  (1982)
The Black Company – Glen Cook  (1984)
Legend – David Gemmel  (1984)
Tigana – Guy Gavriel Kay  (1990)
Game of Thrones – George R R Martin  (1996)
Gardens of the Moon – Steven Erikson  (1999)
The Blade Itself – Joe Abercrombie  (2006)
Temeraire – Naomi Novik   (2007)
PLUCKED FROM THE BESTSELLER LISTS! (2010)

There are some omissions, I concede, but I hope it looks pretty comprehensive for a 20-book list and hits some interesting side-paths as well. I also intend to interject with thoughts on fantasy authors I’ve already read and liked who didn’t make the cut, or any emerging thoughts that spring from my head as Ii go through. And of course suggestions are welcome, as is any feedback, either here or to my email at: grampus(at)dissectingworlds(dot)com

Next up: The First Review!

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One comment

  1. JH /

    A very respectable list, and a very respectable project. I’ve read most of these (the pre-2000 titles, anyway), and it looks like a good, varied selection with different styles and different aims.

    The only omission I’d like to mention is Fritz Leiber’s “Lankhmar” stories, starring the dynamic duo of Fafhrd (barbarian) and the Gray Mouser (wily thief). They predate the publication of LOTR, but feel fresher, sharper, and far more accessible this modern reader than Tolkien’s opus.

    But I understand that you can’t include everything!

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