Seriously, if you don’t know what’s going on by now I can’t help you. Ok, fine, yes I can.
One note about this last part of the Listyness: I had a few runners-up that I couldn’t go without at least mentioning, so I tacked them on at the end. No big rambly paragraphs, just a little note about why I thought they should fall somewhere in your genre-reading schedule. Because lists are hard. Well, keeping lists short is hard. I have a list problem.
Here we go, the grand finale:
The Colour of Magic – Terry Pratchett (1983)
It’s all about the worldbuilding here. And monstrously huge series (this is the first of forty, but I haven’t read them all so I just put the first one on the list). Pratchett has masterfully created a fun, quirky universe with the Discworld books. And he’s funny as hell. Pratchett is to fantasy as Adams is to scifi, basically, and stands as the one overtly hilarious writer in this part of the list. Because variety is the spice of life? Or some other such boring cliché. But so much fantasy writing is gloom and doom and death and destruction and slaying with big shiny swords or spells and shit. It’s refreshing to get your otherworldly fix and your giggle fix simultaneously.
Others to try by Terry Pratchett:
Good Omens (with Neil Gaiman)
(both of these are non-Discworld books)
Imajica – Clive Barker (1991)
Epic epicness. And while I feel that word has been grossly overused of late, here I use it completely in earnest. Um, twice. Barker is another incredible worldbuilder, but he does it with such flair and finesse, without any pandering to the reader or unwieldy exposition. Plus, he’s a badass horror writer so his stuff always has a bit of a twist towards the dark. A little kink. And this book is so complex, I can’t even begin to summarize it here where I don’t have the room to ramble. Suffice to say it is a book that can change your whole idea of what books can be. Or, as my personal Tyler Durden said: “It was all other worlds and dimensions and creatures and shit.”
Others to try by Clive Barker:
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll (1865)
Yeah, yeah. I know I said no kids’ books, but I lied. I’m a writer. It’s what we do. And Alice in Wonderland is arguably inappropriate for modern children. Consider the fact that when it was published there really was little to no distinction between literature for young people and that for adults. And it could also be argued that this book has no place on a list of fantasy books and belongs more squarely in the absurdist literature category. Which is probably accurate, but I’m including it here more for its influence than for its content. It’s important to the genre because it ripples and echoes through the minds of fantasy writers probably more than any other group of people. Excepting perhaps those of us who have taken too much acid.
Others to try by Lewis Carroll:
Through the Looking Glass
A Tangled Tale
American Gods – Neil Gaiman (2001)
How many times do I have to tell you to go read some Neil Gaiman? Seriously. I honestly think that Neverwhere fits more cleanly into the fantasy category, but I chose American Gods for the list because A) it’s fucking awesome and B) it fills the religiosity gap. Gods and myths are a huge part of the fantasy genre and I feel as though I’ve failed to adequately represent them here. American Gods is also a really interesting look at Americanism on a religious/mythological level. We’re so vocal here about our beliefs, and yet so often we fail to think about what it is that we actually worship. Takes an Englishman to point it out. (On a related note, the dying-god theme is also really fabulously explored by Tom Robbins in Jitterbug Perfume. It’s not fantasy but I’m sneaking in an extra recommendation here. Don’t tell anyone.)
Others to try by Neil Gaiman:
The Graveyard Book
Arthurian Legends – Various (1000 AD – present)
Ok, this might be a cop-out, but there’s really no way around it. There would be no fantasy genre without Arthurian legend. Yeah, there would still be kings and queens and knights and all that chivalric blah blah. But the key term here is “legend.” The man (if he actually existed) has been made into mythology and is the standard by which all heroic figures are judged. These stories are so embedded in our literary and cultural consciousness that we take them for granted and don’t even notice that they’re there. And while I may not have one particular source to point you to, I cannot stress enough how massively important these nine centuries’ worth of stories are. Look it up, I guess. And go watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail again.
Fiction recommendations for Arthurian-legend-based stuff (from my sister, because she’s obsessed and I asked for her input – thanks, Sister!)
The Once and Future King – T.H. White
The Pendragon Series – Stephen Lawhead
In-betweeny ones and runners-up (briefly, I promise):
World War Z – Max Brooks: Because…well, because zombies.
1984 – George Orwell: Terrifying political takey-overness.
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley: For the gross science bits. Super fun.
Grimms’ Fairy Tales: Because they’re cautionary/morality tales couched in escapism.
Abhorsen – Garth Nix: A fantastic look at death.
The Neverending Story – Michael Ende: A story about a story about a story.
Robin Hood – Howard Pyle: Best non-stinky medieval characters ever.
Beowulf: Because Grendel = Gollum and I just wanted to throw that theory out there.
The Baroque Cycle – Neal Stephenson: Using real scientists in their heyday as characters in a mysterious plot? Awesome.
The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi: Reverse steampunk.
The Unincorporated Man – the Kallin brothers: Because corporations are fucking scary.
Woohoo! The end of Listy Goodness. That was fun, right? I thought so. But I wasn’t really here. I was off being ungodly busy. Maybe next year we’ll do scifi/fantasy movies during October. Thoughts?