I mean, once you get past Patricia McKillip, who else is utterly essential? If you met someone who had just discovered fantasy as a genre, who would you instantly recommend?
I had a neighbor once tell me she’d tried fantasy and didn’t like it. A moment’s questioning revealed that’s she’d only tried a couple fat fantasies that were popular but not actually good — I don’t remember which, but things like The Sword of Shanara, you know?
I handed her THE CHANGELING SEA and she stayed up way late to finish it and was completely converted to fantasy as a worthwhile genre. I still remember her asking the next morning, “Are there more like this?” Lucky for her, yep, plenty!
But who would you recommend after McKillip?
For me the MUST READ list would include:
Peter Beagle — The Last Unicorn and A Fine And Private Place
Lois McMaster Bujold — The Curse of Chalion
Emma Bull — War for the Oaks — she was doing paranormal romance before it was a fad genre! But I don’t know, one could hardly say that Emma Bull is one of THE fantasy authors, right? Because she hasn’t written enough? Or is it legitimatize to include authors who aren’t very prolific if they’re good enough? After dithering a bit, I decided the heck with it, this is a great book and I’d include it.
CJ Cherryh — Fortress in the Eye of Time, maybe The Goblin Mirror
Susan Cooper — The Dark is Rising series
Diana Wynne Jones — The Power of Three, Dogsbody, the Chrestomanci books
Barbara Hambly — Dragonsbane — but I don’t know, the later books in the series aren’t necessarily ones I’d recommend. And Hambly’s written some that aren’t very good, imo, as well as many that are excellent.
Barry Hughart — Bridge of Birds and the other two. Again, he may not have been very prolific, but everyone should read Bridge of Birds!
Guy Gaviel Kay — Maybe The Longest Road trilogy? Or, for me, Under Heaven is one of his best.
RA MacAvoy — Tea With the Black Dragon and Lens of the World
Robin McKinley — The Blue Sword and Sunshine For me, anything new by Robin McKinley is occasion to celebrate.
Juliette Marillier — Daughter of the Forest
Margaret Mahy — The Changeover
Ann McCaffery — The original Dragonriders of Pern trilogy. I know, I know, McCaffery has written some AWFUL books, but I still think her first Dragonrider ones and some of the others are really good.
Elizabeth Moon — The original Paksenarrion trilogy
Tim Powers — On Stranger Tides; if someone doesn’t like that one, don’t you think the probably wouldn’t like Powers? Or would you recommend something different?
Sharon Shinn — The Safe-Keeper’s Secret trilogy; and then maybe The Shape-Changer’s Wife if they loved McKillip, or maybe Mystic and Rider if they leaned more toward adventure and less toward beautiful language.
Maggie Stiefvater — The Scorpio Races, which feels like I’m cheating because Stiefvater is hardly a classic fantasy author, she’s too new, but she’s so good that I can’t leave her out.
Judith Tarr — Lord of the Two Lands
Patricia Wrede — The Talking To Dragons series, Sorcery and Cecilia.
What do you all think? Have I totally missed somebody crucial? I would never recommend something I didn’t like, no matter how influential it was or how many awards it won, so nothing like The Chronicles of Thomas Covenent is on here. So a reader who might like a grimmer sort of story is out of luck with this list, but there you go, all lists of this kind are going to be personal, after all.
And I’ve assumed that YA and adult are both going to appeal to any fantasy reader, which I think is true if the books are really good. And I guess I’m assuming that absolutely everyone’s either read Tolkein or at least seen the movies — though I certainly don’t think the movies substitute for the books. (Though they were REALLY GOOD, weren’t they? I’m looking forward to The Hobbit this December!)