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Author Topic: Nine Best Fantasy Books Ever?  (Read 6684 times)
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JulianPerez
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« on: September 24, 2005, 10:06:48 AM »

I posted a vastly different version of this post in the Fantastic Planets forum.


I love Fantasy novels, and everybody has their own personal favorite somewhere. Here are my top nine favorites (why NINE, you ask? 'Cause it's fantasy!)

9) THE CIRCUS OF DOCTOR LAO by Charles G. Finney - Possibly the most extraordinary thing about CIRCUS is the distinctly melancholic way that it treats its magical creatures, from Sphinxes to fortune telling ancient Greeks, a sense that what is seen now will never be seen again. It contrasts the strangeness of a dog made entirely out of plants to the silliness of town flirts and redneck sheriffs, and is to my knowledge, the only time the "average modern world meets fantasy elements" plot has been carried successfully. Clearly the inspiration for Beagle's LAST UNICORN.

8) THE MOON POOL by A. Merritt -
Want horror with your action? Want action with your horror? A. Merritt's got your back like nobody else; the Edgar Rice Burroughs esque worldbuilding he indulges in is suddenly made all the sharper by one quirk: put in some horror! Combine this with something we have honestly, legitimately never seen before (amorphous blobs that rise from their crypts to kill people during the full moon), and the South Seas strangeness of it instantly arouses curiosity.

7) THE HOBBIT, by Tolkien - a charming adventure book, it wasn't the pastoral, glacially paced work that LORD OF THE RINGS was. Some things succeed by following formula and some things fail by formula. This one succeeds by formula. It had everything you'd expect from this sort of story except a pretty girl. It had a grand old treasure hunt and a dragon at the end. Sure, we've seen it all before, but it was done with such honesty that it was amazingly refreshing.

6) THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS by Poul Anderson - blends immaculately researched folklore with a streetwise Brooklyn sense of humor; it's fantasy if Stan Lee wrote Fantasy. I am seriously disappointed that Ray Harryhausen, before his untimely death, never made a film version of this book. It's weird creature after weird creature - Giant after Swanmay after water-dwelling Naiad; most extraordinary of all, they feel fresh and new as if we've never seen them before. For instance, the Giant when he appears, asks riddles instead of usual Giantish things. The Trolls seen in this novel are hardly hackable lackeys of the main villain, and are possibly the most terrifying trolls ever seen. Special mention should be made of the phenomenal attitude of explaining myth in terms of actual science, a perspective that shows why science fiction writers should write Fantasy but not vice versa. Combine this with a truly immersing, chivalrous medieval historical sensibility (instead of the vague, colorless D&D-style past that many fantasy novels are set in).

5) THE SWORDS TRILOGY by Michael Moorcock - The Ancient Celts are the lamest culture in world history. Maybe that wasn't true, once, but they've been so ridiculously co-opted by the most unsavory subcultures that all the coolness they once had has been totally sucked out. Leave it to Moorcock, arguably the greatest fantasy novelist that ever lived, to create something innovative out of the banal detritus worse writers have created. Here's a guy that got what Fantasy was all about: Corwin's world featured bears with horns, giants who farm the sea searching for their souls, journeys to other dimensions to steal the Heart of a God kept in a tower, artificial eyes that only see into the Land of the Dead...

4) GODS OF PEGANA by Lord Dusany - Ancient people believed that lightning was caused by the gods' bowling. Just take this surreal, ascientific sense of physics (time and aging is caused by an invisible monster, death caused by a deity making a sign) and you get a counterfeit mythology from a made-up island that is many times more interesting than lots of real world mythologies.

3) LEGENDS OF THE DEAD EARTH by Jack Vance - I'm partial to short story collections with a theme than I am over longer narratives. Probably it's because of my Attention Deficit. But also because short stories - not novels, are often the best way for writers to showcase their imagination. I for one, have always preferred Bradbury's ILLUSTRATED MAN to his MARTIAN CHRONICLES; while he told a definite story in the latter, in the former he created various individual little worlds with individually developed concepts, from a hologram crib, to a sunsphere. If Vance had been limited to telling a story with a beginning, middle and end and a single protagonist, we would not have seen all the things LEGENDS OF THE DEAD EARTH had to offer. My personal favorite is the wizard who creates synthetic humans, or the man that was shrunk to tiny size and placed into a giant crystal maze. Don't forget the antigravity aircars! Kudos to you, Jack Vance, for this achievement!

2) SWORDS AGAINST ICE MAGIC by Fritz Leiber - Yeeehah, now this is more like it! Fantasy with a wonderful sense of humor. If fiction is music and Fantasy is opera, then Fritz Leiber would be opera by Gilbert and Sullivan. There is something about Fantasy that makes it ripe for parody because everything in it is taken so very, very seriously: the battle to save the world from the Dark Lord or whatever the hell is deep, serious stuff all the time and nobody is ever allowed to crack wise. Not the tales of that roguish duo, Fafhrd and the Gray Mauser. They have a swashbuckling idiom that is more like Errol Flynn than like Tolkien, with bar none, the most astonishing visceral, acrobatic swordfights ever penned, written by a man who is himself a sword enthusiast.

1) The Elric Saga, especially STORMBRINGER by Michael Moorcock - Ever wanted to know what it's like to do acid, but worried you'll be menaced by gnomes the rest of your days? Pick up Moorcock's Elric Saga and I guarantee you won't know the difference. For instance: in one scene in STORMBRINGER, after fighting through hordes of amorphous beasts to challenge the evil Gods of Chaos, Elric and his sidekick, Moonglum, suddenly were surrounded by hundreds of gigantic, fifteen foot half Vulture, half-lions. How do they get out of it? With a summoning spell, Elric calls on dozens on dozens of floating, flying black swords that by themselves, start hacking on the Vulture Lions. Like I said: ACID! My God, these books are fantastic! It's what Fantasy ought to be: swashbuckling plots involving pirates, original monsters with bizarre properties, fearful magic, strong characters and a definite mood and theme that taints the entire books from beginning to end. The mood of Elric is palpable and doomed and sour and dark; if C.S. Lewis is the Beatles, than Elric is Black Sabbath. Rock on, you heavy metal dudes!

There are some books I wouldn't include these days, which I would have years ago. For instance, I used to absolutely adore EMPIRE OF THE EAST by Fred Saberhagen, until I read it recently and realized how boring it really was, how stale the characters were. LORD OF THE RINGS was far more wonderful on screen than in written form; Peter Jackson was very, very kind to Tolkien, whose droning, pastoral text and cardboard characters are only vibrant when they have something to do, as they did in HOBBIT, but just kind of wander around in the second work. And finally, I could not list in good conscience anything by Robert Jordan (with the possible exception of his Conan books, which were interesting), in the fear that someone might actually BUY the books and realize, five books in, that nothing has really happened yet and he's wasting our time.

These are mine; what are yours?
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Lee Semmens
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« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2005, 12:07:54 PM »

Quote
Ray Harryhausen, before his untimely death...


I am sure this must be news to the very much living Ray Harryhausen.

Check him out here:
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0366063/
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TELLE
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« Reply #2 on: September 25, 2005, 04:02:50 AM »

Yeah, he was just in Montreal, shilling a new video.

I can't read fantasy novels* --they remind me of my painful adolescence, so many years ago.

Don't ask me why I still read comics.






(*not entirely true --I read a Lovecraft collection awhile ago, and a few Lovecraftian stories by Robert E Howard.  I also read the Club Dumas, about book-collecting Satanists ...)
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MatterEaterLad
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« Reply #3 on: September 25, 2005, 07:05:02 PM »

I never really read a lot of fantasy books "meself"...I did make it to "Children of Dune" back in the late 70s and early 80s...

I am a huge stop motion animation fan though...and I'll even give Peter Jackson a shot on his "King Kong" remake because he wants to remain true to the period piece...
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Bregh
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« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2005, 07:48:56 PM »

Pretty good selection, JP!

I might personally drop Finney's Lao and Moorcock's Swords in favour of HPL's Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath and REH's Hour of the Dragon (as a synthesis tale of several other Conan stories, though People of the Black Circle is probably the single best Conan yarn of them all...) and rearrange the order of a few, but I like where you're coming from!

(Oh, and Elric works fine with the collection in The Stealer of Souls with The Vanishing Tower tacked on.)
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #5 on: September 26, 2005, 10:47:23 AM »

Thanks.

I must say, I deliberately avoided the Howards because of how popular they are; they've got so many people giving them props these days that they don't need any from me.

Quote from: "Lee Semmens"
I am sure this must be news to the very much living Ray Harryhausen.


Wow, so he's still alive? Dang.

Put him in the same category as people I sort of figured are dead, along with Pam Dauber and Winnie from the Wonder Years.

Quote from: "MatterEaterLad"
I never really read a lot of fantasy books "meself"...I did make it to "Children of Dune" back in the late 70s and early 80s...  


One of these days, I'm going to choose between being a science fiction fan and being a fantasy fan. It's like being a Yankees or Mets fan; you can never be a fan of both. Eventually, you have to pick one or the other. As it stands, though, I'm on the side of science fiction. The crap to gold ratio is far higher on the side of the terrible in Fantasy than most genres, unfortunately, and climbing; if Leiber and Moorcock weren't such incredible geniuses I would have given up on the genre altogether.

It's funny: I expected people to cry about me leaving LORD OF THE RINGS off; wasn't it declared Book of the Century in some magazine poll a while ago? But what happened was, generally the reaction of people I showed the list to was pretty much agreement with me. A typical response is something to the effect of "...yeah, now that you mention it, I did have trouble reading through LotR; it was so slow-moving. It's like the guy that wrote it and the guy that wrote THE HOBBIT are two different people."
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« Reply #6 on: September 26, 2005, 02:55:53 PM »

I'll take SF. Did my fantasy as sort of a spin off of ERB and REH in my 'wonder'years like ME Lad.

With the exception of Leiber's Fafjhrd & Mouser, its all blurred in my head.

And ERB is a genre unto itself that at best is "romantic SF" and "pure adventure"
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TELLE
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« Reply #7 on: September 27, 2005, 02:28:24 AM »

I would say ERB is fantasy.  No magic, mostly, but lots of "fantastic".
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