. . . is a kind of shared-blog challenge thing I’m seeing today. Check these out, if you like. There are four sets, including one by Liz Bourke, whose reviews I really enjoy. I’ll put her list at the end. [So far they’ve all just posted a list of 25 titles, with the other half to come on Monday.]
Here’s Tansy Rayner Roberts’ list:
TansyRR — with my comments. (Hers are very much worth reading! Click through and read them!)
1. The Empire Trilogy, Raymond E Feist & Janny Wurtz — this is the series that starts with Daughter of the Empire. I really enjoyed this series, actually, and go back to it more often than to anything else by either author, but I don’t think I loved it as much as Tansy did.
2. Legend, David Gemmell — um, I think it’s actually on my TBR shelves right this moment.
3. The Belgariad, David & Leigh Eddings — as far as I’m concerned, Eddings shows a knack for dialogue in this series, but those he was clearly striving for a high fantasy tone, I don’t think he quite made it. I particularly liked this comment from Tansy: “Belgarath was my first cranky elderly sorcerer, Polgara was my first motherly but eternally beautiful sorceress, Garion was my first farm boy, Silk was my first nimble thief . . .” You can see why she adds that this series was the work that showed her the shape of epic fantasy. Yes, I can see it would do that admirably.
4. The Chronicles of the Cheysuli, Jennifer Roberson
5. Mists of Avalon, Marion Bradley — I wasn’t as impressed with this as everyone else seems to be. Eventually I noticed that every single male character was either incompetent or evil and my enthusiasm for the book never recovered. (I had the same reaction to Gordon Dickson in reverse; eventually I noticed that all his female characters were flighty, naive, and not too bright and that ruined Dickson for me forever.)
6. The Swords of Lankhmar, Fritz Leiber — oh, to me, definitely not epic, definitely sword-and-sorcery, which was never my favorite subgenre.
7. The Adventures of Alyx, Joanna Russ
8. Dragonlance Chronicles, Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman — Tansy says, “Oh Dragonlance, the candied popcorn of epic fantasy” — which is hilarious, but I admit I never had the slightest urge to read any of these.
9. The Odyssey, Homer
10. The Aeneid, Virgil
11. Song of Sorcery, Elizabeth Scarborough.
12. The Black Company, Glen Cook.
13. The Green Lion Trilogy, Teresa Edgerton — I’ve never heard of it, but Tansy makes it sound really good.
14. The Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay — I’m right there for this one! Yay! Up with GGK! Even though I did not much appreciate the inclusion of the Arthurian stuff in this series.
15. The Riddle-Master Trilogy, Patricia McKillip — I don’t need to comment about McKillip, right?
16. The Neverending Story, Michael Ende
17. Ozma of Oz, L. Frank Baum — isn’t that an interesting choice?
18. The Silver Chair, CS Lewis — Not sure I would have chosen this one — I’m more a Voyage of the Dawn Treader sort of reader — but Tansy’s comments on why she chose The Silver Chair are really interesting.
19. The Immortals, Tamora Pierce.
20. The Tough Guide to Fantasy Land, Diana Wynne Jones — fascinating choice, but it’s not a novel, so I hereby disqualify it from my personal epic fantasy list.
21. Incarnations of Immortality, Piers Anthony
22. Medea, Kerry Greenwood
23. Blood and Honour, Simon R Green
24. Sometimes The Magic Works, Terry Brooks — Tansy makes very interesting comments about this set of essays, which, I don’t know, is it fair to include nonfiction about epic fantasy in a list like this?
25. Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
So I’ve read 15 of these 25. Now let’s compare that to Justin at Staffer’s Book Review:
Justin’s list, which was a LOT more chronological —
1. Epic of Gilgamesh
2. Iliad by Homer
3. Aeneid by Virgil
4. The Bible by Prophets — “So here’s the thing,” adds Jusin, “I’m not saying the Bible is fake, but it is pretty fantastical.” Okay, I guess I’ll let that pass.
6. Paradise Lost by John Milton
7. Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero by Henryk Sienkiewicz — Justin’s description here is really something. He says rather plaintively, “I’m not really selling this, am I?” No, I have to admit, you’re really not. At least I’m not planning to rush right out.
8. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
9. The Once and Future King by T.H. White
10. The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
11. Dune by Frank Herbert
12. Watership Down by Richard Adams
13. The Faded Sun Trilogy by CJ Cherryh — Now HERE is an interesting choice. Would anybody else like to agree or disagree that this is fantasy? Science fantasy? Science fiction? To me, this one seems like pretty straight SF (sociological SF), but yes, there are swords.
14. Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker by George Lucas — Justin suggests that this universe eventually becomes a parody of itself, which sounds plausible. Never read any Star Wars ties myself.
15. A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony
16. The Stand by Stephen King
17. The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe (1980) — Oh, I hated the first hundred pages and quit, but I know it’s an important work.
18. The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks
19. The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman
20. Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook
21. Legend by David Gemmell
22. Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings – Justin notes, “I think this book kind of sucks, but it’s really a key text in the 1980′s farm boy fantasy. It’s one of the ‘faces’ that launched a thousand ships.”
23. The Empire Trilogy by Raymond Fiest and Janny Wurts
24. The Icewind Dale Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore
25. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Again, I’ve personally read 15 of the books on this list. Well, not the Bible straight through. And probably not the entire work for most of those classical works, either, like the Aeneid. Interesting to compare this list to Tansy’s. It’s so much more a “scholar’s list” than a “reader’s list,” don’t you think?
Moving on: Here’s Jared at Pornokitsch.
1. Homer’s Odyssey.
2. Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur
3. Wu Cheng’en’s A Journey to the West — Well, doesn’t this sound interesting. Never heard of it.
4. The King James Bible
5. Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter
6. H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” — I never saw the appeal of Lovecraft.
7. Robert Graves’ I, Claudius
8. C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joey stories
9. C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia
10. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings — the funniest comment EVER, as Jared says, “Odd that the light-hearted story of a gardener’s voyage to see an elephant has been so badly misinterpreted over the years.”
11. Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth — A wonderful story, especially if you enjoyed The Girl Who by Cat Valente; I think The Phantom Tollbooth is better.
12. Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn
13. M. John Harrison’s Viriconium
14. 4Michael Moorcock’s Elric — Oh, I *loathed* my first Elric book and that was it for me. But, competing for HILARIOUS COMMENT OF THE DAY, Jared says of this series, “I subscribe to the theory that Elric began as an over-the-top pastiche of epic fantasy – and more interesting because of it. This demonstrates a self-awareness that won’t be seen in again in the field until, well, not for a while at least. (I also think Elric eventually jumped the shark. Then he made love to the shark. Then he killed the shark. Then he wrote poetry about the shark. Then he stared into the void, cursing the universe for a while.)”
14. Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence — I have to say, this is a wonderful series that blew me away when I was a kid. I expect it would really stand up to the test of time, and now that I see it on here, I feel an urge to re-read it.
16. Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea
17. Richard Adams’ Watership Down
18. Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax’s Dungeons and Dragons
19. Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall trilogy
20. Dave Sims’ Cerebus
21. Tanith Lee’s Tales from the Flat Earth sequence
22. Lyndon Hardy’s Master of the Five Magics
23. John Milius and Oliver Stone’s “Conan the Barbarian”
24. David Eddings’ Belgariad
25. Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series — Another one I’ve tried but simply detested. And I used to more or less like a lot of Stephen King. Less these days, because I find him transparently manipulative.
Once again, by some strange coincidence, I’ve read 15 of these.
And now — Liz Bourke’s list!
1. Homer, The Odyssey.
2. Plato, The Republic — Liz points out something interesting, that “Plato’s ideal city is utopianist and dystopian at the same time.” Huh. I never thought of it that way.
3. Ovid, Metamorphoses.
4. Lucian of Samosata, The True History.
5. The Táin.
6. The Mabinogion.
7. Marie de France, Lais.
8. Snorri Sturlason, The Poetic Eddas.
9. Geoffrey of Monmouth, A History of the Kings of Britain — of this one, Liz comments, “History? Well, maybe. There’s some Arthuriana here.”
10. Margaret Cavendish, Duchess Newcastle, The Blazing World.
11. Poul Anderson, The Broken Sword.
12. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.
13. Frank Herbert, Dune.
14. Barbara Hambly, The Darwath Chronicles.
15. P.C. Hodgell, Godstalker Chronicles.
16. Tamora Pierce, Tortall.
17. John M. Ford, The Dragon Waiting.
18. Elizabeth Moon, The Deed of Paksenarrion. — Oh, yeah, I’d definitely include this one, the first time we’ve seen it on these lists.
19. Robert Jordan, The Wheel of Time.
20. Janny Wurts, The Wars of Light and Shadow.
21. Terry Goodkind, The Sword of Truth. Liz comments, “…although now I can’t see what I ever saw worth reading in his first six books, at the time I first encountered them they contained elements that delighted me…” Fair enough.
22. Melanie Rawn, Exiles.
23. George R.R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire. — How odd that no one else included this. Or is that because the series isn’t finished?
24. Michelle West, The Sun Sword.
25. Joe Abercrombie, The First Law.
And of these, I’ve read 14 — mostly on the later ones; Liz is clearly better read than I am in the old stuff. (Not hard.)
All the comments on all these lists are worth reading. I would never ever read a book (much less a huge thing like the Wheel of Time) just because it’s important. But I do think it’s true that mediocre or even quite awful work can indeed be important to the development of the genre. I think I would like to attend a panel where these four argue about what was most seminal for the development of modern epic fantasy, and why. That would be really interesting!