Epic Fantasy’s Hall of Fame

Being new to the wonderful world of fantasy, I am published in political and transformation fiction, I am greatly in debt to Castle Fiction for a list of past and present masters. The comments after the names are mainly from the Castle Fiction, but I would love to hear which you have read and how you felt about them.

Past Major Fantasy Authors:

William Morris I admit that I have never heard of William Morris and understand that this is a hole in my education. I consider Tolkien to be the father of modern-day epic fantasy but apparently this is incorrect. “It all started with the publication in 1892 of the William Morris novel The Well at the World’s End. This is an outstanding piece of Epic Fantasy and it is considered to be the first epic fantasy work of the modern era. The same applies for another Morris novel titled “The Wood Beyond the World.”

Edith Nesbitt A prolific author at the end of the 19th century she created a genre of children’s fantasy literature. It often had normal contemporary children who engaged in magical adventures and discovered magical objects. She set the genre for many contemporary writers including J.K. Rowling. Some of her notable books are Five Children and It and The Story of the Amulet.

J.R.R. Tolkien A master of the craft that created the complete world of Middle Earth which included maps, languages and much more. Most notable works is the Lord of the Rings Series.

Tolkien - Middle Earth Master

Edgar Rice Burroughs Early twentieth century writer that created memorable characters and explored different worlds. His most memorable character is Tarzan. And his most popular series of books include the Barsoom series which takes place on Mars. The Venus series and the Pellucidar series which takes place within the hollow earth.

Robert E. Howard Mid 20th century writer who was a heavy contributor to the pulp fiction magazines. He is generally credited with creating the swords & sorcery genre. His most notable character is Conan.

T.H. White Mid 20th century writer who penned several books in the King Arthur tradition. The most notable of which is The Sword in the Stone which ushered in the modern Arthurian novel. Of note was a posthumous publication of his novel The Book of Merlyn

E.R.R. Eddison Considered to be the father of High Fantasy he wrote several books that influenced authors to come such as Lewis and Tolkien. Of his highly imaginative worlds The Worm Ouroboros is one of the most famous.

C.S. Lewis He was a scholar of medieval literature and mythology penning many works in a variety of genres including fiction, religious fiction and science fiction. His most notable works are the epic fantasy Chronicles of Narnia.


Present Major Authors:

Terry Brooks In the late 70’s Brooks published the novel The Sword of Shannara. It climbed to the top of best seller lists and stood there for years. Heavily drawing on Tolkien this book reintroduced the epic fantasy to the general public. Brooks continued the Shannara series with several more books. He has gone on to pen even more series.

Scene from Sword of Shannara

Terry Goodkind Writer of the Sword of Truth series which began with Wizards First Rule This is a solid series that takes a more serious approach to epic fantasy. The books explore philosophical questions. The series became a TV series – Legend of the Seeker – which lasted for two seasons.

Robert Jordan Is the writer of the enormously successful Wheel of Time series which is currently eleven volumes. He has also written many works based on the Robert E. Howard Conan character.

Stephen Donaldson Creator of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series of books which now number seven volumes and is most notable for its use of the anti-hero in which the main character maintains a reluctance to actually take on the mantle of the hero. He has written several other series in the genre.

Marion Zimmer Bradley Editor of the famous sword and sorcery series Bradley is also a prolific writer. Most notable among her writings is the Arthurian Avalon series which begun with The Mists of Avalon.

David Eddings Writer of sword & sorcery and epic fantasy series he is most famous for the Belgariad and the Mallorean series.

Raymond Feist Many of his works are set in the connected worlds of Midkemia and Kelewan. This is called the Riftwar series and the novels range over various geographic locations and span centuries. He began his writing with the first novel in the Riftwar series called Magician: Apprentice. Another series of note is the Krondor series.

Robin Hobb Is the author of several popular trilogies including The Farseer Trilogy, The Liveship Traders Trilogy and The Tawny Man Trilogy

Stephen King Although considered to be the master of horror King has published an enormous body of work in the fantasy genre. He crosses genre at will and breaks all the rules but notable is his Dark Tower Trilogy and The Eyes of the Dragon which is classic fantasy.

L.E. Modesitt Author of several series most notable are The Corean Chronicles
Set on the world of Corus (or Acorus), where strange and dangerous beasts roam and people with magical Talent can commit astonishing feats. Also is The Spellsong Cycle and The Timegod’s World which draws heavily on Norse legend.

George R.R. Martin Most notable for his Song of Ice and Fire series which was begun with A Game of Thrones in 1996.

Tad Williams Writer of several fantasy series the most notable of which Memory, Sorrow, & Thorn which was begun with The Dragonbone Chair

J.K. Rowling Creator of the enormously popular Harry Potter series which began with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. These books have also been transformed into successful movies.

David Farlane – The Author of the Acclaimed Runelords series. The fifth book has just been published and the first book is being made into a major motion picture.

What are your favorite authors of High or Epic Fantasy? Do you agree with the comments added above?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first will enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#elfwriter).

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Why Fantasy? Another Perspective

Last weekend, I shared some comments from adults explaining why they read fantasy. A friend sent me this article by Lev Grossman, author of “The Magicians” and the recently released “The Magician King.”

The Magicians - Lev Grossman

In the article, Grossman talks about the excitement generated by the release of George R.R. Martin’s “A Dance With Dragons.”

“The book has brought with it, along with the feverish excitement of fans like myself, a whiff of burning insulation. There’s a cultural short circuit happening somewhere in the system.”

What I believe is creating the stir is the fact that while Mr. Martin’s work is clearly fantasy, it does not adhere to the formulas of such leaders as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Martin includes a fair helping of blood and sex in his continent of Westeros than the Pevensie children ever saw in Narnia. Something has changed.

Grossman shares his frustration at the perception that fantasy is for children and adults who are in denial that they are adults and seeking some escapism. “I see it all the time. I’ll be at a dinner party, and the person next to me asks me what I do. I’m a novelist, I’ll say, and a little light of hopeful interest kindles in their eyes. What kind of novels do you write? the dinner guest asks. And I reply: fantasy novels. And just like that, the little light of hopeful interest dies away.”

This story really resonates with me. Every week at the Berkeley Writers Group, I meet new people and introduce myself as an author of political fiction. Then when I prepare to read my weekly offering, I apologetically explain that I wrote a fantasy novel with my eldest son. All true of course, but I am conscious that I feel the need to justify. Why is this?

Lev Grossman

Grossman goes on to say: “It hasn’t always been this way. There was a time when adults read fantasy with impunity. The classical literature of Greece and Rome is so fantastical that you can’t swing a cat without hitting a god or a witch or a centaur, and chances are the cat will turn out to be somebody’s long-lost son-in-law in transfigured form.”

Right on! Stephen Wenster backs him up by asking where “would Shakespeare have been without fantasy—his spirits, his ghosts and the witches three of Macbeth?”

Apparently fantasy, without being labeled as a genre was prominent throughout literature history: “Where would Spenser’s “Faerie Queene” be without fairies? Where would Shakespeare have been without fantasy—his spirits, his ghosts, and his proto-Orc Caliban, the misshapen villain of “The Tempest”? You can’t have Macbeth without the witches three. Apart from everything else, who would have handled all that crucial exposition of the play’s plot?”

Absolutely!

Grossman, who holds a PhD in Comparative Literature, claims the downfall began around the time of Samuel Johnson. Perhaps this was the time that the advent of science meant they actually began to believe that ghosts and magic really didn’t exist.

Again, Lev Grossman: “A fascination with the here and the now and the real set in. This was the moment when the novel arose in the West, and it was an ideal medium to satisfy that fascination. Novels were about the way we live now. There was no Caliban on Robinson Crusoe’s island, just the eminently human Friday.

“In 1750, Samuel Johnson wrote an influential essay in praise of fiction that was about “life in its true state, diversified only by accidents that daily happen in the world.” As far as he was concerned, a good novel “can neither employ giants to snatch away a lady from the nuptial rites, nor knights to bring her back from captivity; it can neither bewilder its personages in deserts, nor lodge them in imaginary castles.” Thus admonished, ghosts and witches went off to live in fairy tales and allegories and gothic novels and other disreputable places.”

So history is against us, perhaps because people really did once believe in magic and ghosts. But I believe that in accepting there is nothing factual in elves, dwarfs etc. we can focus on allowing values to play a prominent role because, as Grossman say: “If anything, it is realist literature that pretends to be real. Fantasy doesn’t pretend.”

Fantasy is one of the few literary genres left where it is still considered okay to explore questions of moral judgment. But that’s not a bad thing. When the powerless and good become empowered and are able to change the destiny of their world, there is something that resonates in a world where so many feel alienated and disenfranchised. When coming-of-age can happen at any age, why would an adult still hoping to leave his/her mark on the world not be attracted to such novels?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first will enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#elfwriter).