When I was 11, my six-years-older sister handed me her dog-eared copy of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I was forever digging through her piles and shelves of books, our mutual love for reading already well established even if I was a bit too young to appreciate many of the books she read. The Hobbit fit into that latter category, as I had never read anything that could be classified as “fantasy.” Elves, Wizards, Dwarves, Hobbits… it was too strange for me to wrap my head around! Yet rather than becoming discouraged, I took it as a challenge. I started exploring the genre in easy steps: reading short stories on Roman and Greek gods, fables by Aesop, Grimms Fairy Tales, and the like. I also delved a bit into Arthurian Legends, kindling a lifelong passion, before I turned back to The Hobbit. I was 12 when I gave it a second go and devoured it in days! Immediately I grabbed The Lord of the Rings, barely eating until I finished all three… and the rest is history, as the saying goes.
All my life I’ve been an avid reader of just about every genre available. I plan to share my favorites in the broad “literature” classification after I finish with this genre. As much as I adore deep, thick, serious literary novels, reading Tolkien opened a door into my heart’s most beloved genre. To this day I prefer pure fantasy above all. I also like pure Sci-Fi, although I love it best if mixed with fantasy elements and themes. For this blog and the follow-up next Thursday, I’ll be sharing my absolute favorite authors and novels, with links to Amazon. Here we go!
J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973)
The grandfather and master of all modern fantasy. No debate. I fell in love with fantasy while trekking through Middle Earth with Bilbo and the dwarves in The Hobbit and have since read everything Tolkien wrote more times than I can count. And don’t even get me started on my obsession with the movies! Truly scary stuff and my basement eerily resembles a Lord of the Rings shrine. Tolkien created a fantasy world with history, poetry, characters, and mythology that is beyond compare.
The Fellowship of the Rings
The Two Towers
The Return of the King
The original novels, and the numerous extra works compiled and published posthumously by son Christopher Tolkien, can be found in digital, audio, and print formats, with dozens of covers and bindings. There are also multiple biographies about Tolkien, in every conceivable format, and of course the outstanding movies by Peter Jackson. Essentially, one could immerse themselves into the world of Tolkien for a year straight and maybe exhaust all the available options!
David Eddings (1931-2009)
After the good Professor, my absolute favorite fantasy writer is David Eddings. His world and characters are a close second, and in some ways even better than Tolkien. Yes, even to me that is bordering on blasphemy, but what sets Eddings apart are characters that are funny and with strong shades of gray. The ten novels that comprise The Belgariad and The Mallorean are a sumptuous treat. The world is wildly diverse, the magic unique, the wealth of characters phenomenal, the mythology complex, the quests exciting and epic, and the reigning sorcerer (Belgarath) one of the best ever created. He gives Gandalf a run for his money! Eddings’ stories are serious but also extremely humorous and entertaining. A must-read for anyone who loves fantasy.
Eddings wrote more novels independent of his main series, and they are all good too, just not as WOW as the ten shown below.
C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)
A contemporary and dear friend of JRR Tolkien, British writer C. S. Lewis was also an Oxford professor who wrote fantasy novels. Unlike Tolkien, Lewis was also a prolific writer of Christian fiction and non-fiction (all of his books are phenomenal) before he delved into Christian allegory with The Chronicles of Narnia. Directed toward children, the seven volume series is an easy read but replete with epic fantasy enjoyable for everyone regardless of personal religious beliefs. The first three books were made into excellent movies.
Anne McCaffrey (1926-2011)
The Dragonriders of Pern series is a rarity in beautifully blending a fantasy world containing literal fire-breathing dragons and a Medieval-esque culture with classic Sci-Fi elements such as space ships and computers. The shift is gradual, only the later novels introducing and mixing in small doses of sci-fi to the pure fantasy of the original books. Through the multiple books, the characters are perfect, the light touches of romance nicely done, and world-building incredible.
In later years, and since her death, son Todd McCaffrey has added to the series. I haven’t read any of those books so can’t comment. Anne McCaffrey (the first woman to win a Hugo Award) also wrote several novels that are outside the Pern series, such as Killashandra and The Crystal Singer, which are really great too. As for the Pern books, there are easily three dozen and they were not written chronologically, so it can be overwhelming to know where to begin. I suggest the following to start:
The White Dragon
Mary Stewart (1916-2014)
Already fascinated with Arthurian legends, immediately after I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, I turned to Mary Stewart’s King Arthur novels. Over time I’ve read dozens of novels about those chivalrous knights of merry old England with Merlin the Wizard pulling the strings, including Geoffrey of Monmouth and Sir Thomas Mallory. Stewart’s version remains my favorites.
The Crystal Cave
The Hollow Hills
The Last Enchantment
The Wicked Day
The Prince and The Pilgrim
Mary Stewart also wrote romantic mysteries, some with a Gothic romance style and other mystical elements. I highly recommend them as well.
Raymond Feist (1945- )
The Riftwar Saga is his best known series, although he has written a slew of books, as can be seen by the image below! Another terrific wizard, Pug/Milambar, and a well-developed world chock full of great characters, magic, and history. As the name implies, The Riftwar Saga deals with two complete and distinct universes that intersect, which does not go so well, obviously! As with Anne McCaffrey, knowing where to begin can be tough to figure out but you want to start with Magician: Apprentice and then Magician: Master.
I also highly recommend Feist’s non-Midkemia novel, Faerie Tale. Trust me, you will never think of fairies as Tinkerbell ever again!
That will do it for this installment.
I have many others to talk about so must split it into two blogs,
the second part posting next Thursday.
For today, let me know if you’ve read any of these authors or books.
Share your thoughts on fantasy and sci-fi!