November 29, 2009

"What are the Greatest Fantasy Novels of All Time?"

Via i09.com, a link to The Magicians author Lev Grossman reveals that he has an article on The Week about the Greatest Fantasy Novels of All Time

He admits its an impossible question, but gives it a go anyway...

I will leave you to look at his article to find out why. Here, I want to talk about it and think out loud about what I think of the impossible question.

His list is as follows:
-- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
-- The Once and Future King by T.H. White
-- Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories
-- The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
-- Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
-- Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

I can hear the groans already. But yes, its an impossible question. Grossman admits this.

So let's build a list from me, working from this.

Tolkien has to be on this list. Even if you believe that Moorcock "Epic Pooh" nonsense about Tolkien (and I *don't*), Tolkien is so seminal to the genre, that he has to be on a list of six.

Leiber's stories aren't a novel. Theoretically if I wanted to nitpick, Grossman is cheating a bit by including them. But I think they belong on here, too. Young whippersnappers who read Chris Evans or Richard Morgan or Enge or Erikson don't realize how much of a debt *they* owe to Leiber. So put Leiber on my list, too.

I am chucking White off of my list. I wasn't as swept away by it as Grossman was. I don't deny its fine work, but I wouldn't put it on my six.

What instead?

No hesitation. I will put on The Dying Earth, by Jack Vance. Vance is only now really being appreciated, even at the end of his career. The DE was a strong influence on Dungeons and Dragons (which in turn influenced many writers), and is a crackling good read. Songs of the Dying Earth, the anthology I read and reviewed some time ago, shows that a swath of authors have taken notes from Vance's work. So he gets on my List of Six.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

I didn't like this book as much as I thought I would. It might be a taste thing. I don't deny the craft and art, it just didn't work for me as well as I wish it would.

Instead, maybe because its her birthday, I am going to go with the Science Fantasy classic "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle. I know there are sequels I have never read, but I've always thought this one was full, complete and wonderful.

Magic for Beginners, Kelly Link

I haven't read this, to be honest. I can't really say if its worthy or not. Clearly, Grossman was looking for something recent and urban in tone for this slot.

As my friend Scott would say. "FINE!"

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I can hear your groans already. But this is the one that won the Hugo, this is where some of the awkwardness of the first novel or two falls away and she shows just why she's a billionaire. Sure, I know lots of other authors have mined this territory and you might even argue they do it better. But here, Rowling shows the talent she has in full.

Last from Grossman's list:
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Well, this is not a bad choice. If I was lazy, I could say "Yes" and just go with it. I am going to decline to do that on the basis that two Inklings is one too many for this list, and in a contest between Lewis and Tolkien, Tolkien wins.

So we need one more book. Tricky.

Okay, I am doomed no matter what I pick. And I could pick so many authors. John Crowley? Steven Erikson? Terry Pratchett? Guy Gavriel Kay? Robert Holdstock? Julian May? Judith Tarr?

I will pick the Morgaine stories of C J Cherryh. Science Fantasy again, like L'Engle, and its arguably science fiction, but Morgaine feels like fantasy to me. The novels concern a time-traveling heroine, Morgaine, and her loyal companion Nhi Vanye i Chya. Her mission is to close gates between worlds which are too dangerous to be allowed to be kept open. In addition to Vanye, her constant companion is Changeling, a device in the shape of a sword that has a wormhole on its tip and can kill friend as easily as foe.


So My list, overall is as follows:

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, Fritz Leiber
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Dying Earth, Jack Vance
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L'Engle
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling
The Tales of Morgaine, C J Cherryh

Lankhmar Book 1: Swords And Deviltry

The Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary, One Vol. Edition

Tales of the Dying Earth

A Wrinkle in Time

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)

The Morgaine Saga (Daw Book Collectors)

I am extremely interested in what you think of Grossman's list, and of mine.

Posted by Jvstin at November 29, 2009 7:51 AM
Comments

Given the fact that you are going to include the works of Leiber and Tolkien as Greatest Fantasy Novels then it is my opinion a crying shame that the magnum opus of the late great R. Zelazy isn't included.

Posted by: Greg"Sneakel"Weimer at November 30, 2009 8:50 AM
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