Seven Essential Fantasy Reads

Based on an article in the New Yorker, the following seven fantasy novels are essential books for the novice, literary adult reader:

On a related note, Fantasy Magazine is conducting a poll to determine which fantasy novels are the gateway books (“the novels that compel even the most-resistant” person) into the genre for non-fantasy readers. If someone you know has never read a fantasy novel, which ones would you suggest as a starting point? Personally, I think it depends on the person. I voted for Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and A Game of Thrones. Various selections for various audiences. Harry Potter for youth. Lord of the Rings for classic literary. And A Game of Thrones for modern adult readers.

What are your choices?

9 thoughts on “Seven Essential Fantasy Reads

  • The Lyonesse trilogy by Jack Vance.
    The Dying Earth (and sequels), again by Vance.
    Maybe
    Three Hears and Three Lions byPoul Anderson. These are well loved works, quite accessable to new fantasy readers. Maybe also, one could add Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell . Jack Finney’s Time and Again and From Time to Time might qualify (I consider them fantasy, YMMV).

    As for your choices. Terry Brooks and Terry Goodkind and Patrick Rothfuss are dispensible in my opinion. Steven Eriksen is an inspired choice, Guy Gavriel Kay an obligatory choice. Tad Williams is a nice solid choice; I doubt however that readers new to the fantasy field would find him that seductive an author.

    Alan Campbell (Scar Night, Iron Angel is a newcomer worthy of attention. Ditto (but not a newcomer), Charlie Stross for The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue.

    A step down in pure literary merit, but worthy of attention for sure breakneck page flippin’ pleasure: series by Steven Brust, Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison, Charleen Harris.

  • Looks like I blew the html. Sorry ‘about that. Looks like the words still make sense, fortunately.

  • I agree. I would not have put Terry Brooks or Terry Goodkind on the list. Their works resemble Tokien’s world in many ways; it makes sense that they should have just substituted Tolkien for the both of them.

    My list would have been a little different from the New Yorker’s list. I like the choices of Kay and Hobb. I’ve actually never read Tad Williams, so I’m not sure about him. I would have replaced Rothfuss and Erikson with George R.R Martin. I would have included Tolkien just because he is everything that represents fantasy, and even if his style of epic world-building is falling out of favor, I believe people should read him just to understand where the rapid growth of fantasy began.

    I might have also added Ursula Le Guin to the list. And for youth fantasy audiences, you might as well include Harry Potter. It’s been a gateway book for so many young readers already.

    These types of lists are so subjective, it could be debated all day long.

  • The New Yorker’s list is bizarre if the purpose is to attract lit-fic readers who are prejudiced against fantasy. I’d probably try to lure such readers with The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle and maybe suggest they check out Ursula Le Guin or Joanna Russ. I’d point them to anthologies of short stories, too, which might make them think twice about whether fantasy or lit-fic short stories are more derivative these days…

  • Jeff, I completely agree with you. Particularly, I don’t think the books by the Terrys (Goodkind and Brooks) would sway a lit-fic reader.

  • Terry Pratchett would be high on my list. He’s just such a superb writer; he can do plot, character, style (his facility with language is right up there with PG Wodehouse) and jokes into the bargain.

    Terry Brooks shares the credit for putting me off fantasy for several years. I read one of his Shannara books (Elf-Queen of Shannara? can’t remember the title), and it seemed to me like a sort of watered-down version of Tolkien. Very surprised to see him on the list, unless I was unlucky or have peculiar taste.

  • Carla, I agree. Terry Pratchett should be on the list, and I could have done without Terry Brooks. Too much like Tolkien. If they were going to choose Terry Brooks, they should have just included Tolkien.

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