Wednesday, April 08, 2009

So It's Come To This (Part 3)

Okay, here's my attempt to come up with a list of essential fantasy and horror books, and this is where I definitely need some help. I read pretty widely in my formative years (the list contains my desert island book - not the Lieber, above, although that does contain one of my favourite short stories, 'Smoke Ghost'), but there are definite gaps in my education, especially regarding ‘high fantasy’. At the moment, the list stands at 44 titles; I need six more to complete it. What am I missing? What books by people like Andre Norton, Knutter and Moore, Tanith Lee, Dianne Wynne Jones, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Abraham Merrit, Robert Bloch, Terry Brooks, Poul Anderson, L. Sprague de Camp (amongst others) should I include? Am I right to leave out Edgar Rice Burroughs? If not, is Tarzan the Ape-Man a better bet than A Warlord of Mars?

Same rules as before: only one book per author, not-quite-arbitrary cut-off date of 1984. And remember that this is associated with teaching creative writing in SF and fantasy, and an attempt to give some kind of thematic perspective to the genres. Which is why both lists begin with the same book:

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus MARY SHELLEY 1818
Tales of Mystery and Imagination EDGAR ALLAN POE 1838
A Christmas Carol CHARLES DICKENS 1843
The Hunting of the Snark LEWIS CARROLL 1876
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON 1886
The Well At The World’s End WILLIAM MORRIS 1896
Dracula BRAM STOKER 1897
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary MR JAMES 1904
Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things LAFCADIO HEARN 1904
The Wind in the Willows KENNETH GRAHAME 1908
A Voyage to Arcturus DAVID LINDSAY 1920
The King of Elfland’s Daughter LORD DUNSANY 1924
The Trial FRANZ KAFKA 1925
Lud-in-the-Mist HOPE MIRRLEES 1926
The Outsider and Others HP LOVECRAFT 1939
Gormenghast MERVYN PEAKE 1946
Night’s Black Agents FRITZ LEIBER JR 1947
The Sword of Rhiannon LEIGH BRACKETT 1953
Conan the Barbarian ROBERT E HOWARD collected 1954
The Lord of the Rings JRR TOLKEIN 1954-5
The Once and Future King TH WHITE 1958
The Haunting of Hill House SHIRLEY JACKSON 1959
The Wierdstone of Brinsingamen ALAN GARNER 1960
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase JOAN AIKEN 1962
Something Wicked This Way Comes RAY BRADBURY 1963
The Book of Imaginary Beings JORGE LUIS BORGES 1967
Ice ANA CAVAN 1967
One Hundred Years of Solitude GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ 1967
Earthsea URSULA LE GUIN 1968-1972
Jirel of Joiry CL MOORE collected 1969
Grendel JOHN GARDNER 1971
The Pastel City M JOHN HARRISON 1971
Carrie STEPHEN KING 1974
Peace GENE WOLFE 1975
Gloriana, or the Unfulfill’d Queen MICHAEL MOORCOCK 1978
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories ANGELA CARTER 1979
Little, Big JOHN CROWLEY 1981
The Anubis Gates TIM POWERS 1983
The Colour of Magic TERRY PRATCHETT 1983
Mythago Wood ROBERT HOLDSTOCK 1984


Blogger Ian Sales said...

Is The Sword of Rhiannon fantasy, or is planetary romance considered a sub-genre of sf? While Gollancz published Brackett's Sea-Kings of Mars in their Fantasy Masterwork series, the stories are little different to ERB's Barsoom stories, which are usually considered sf.

April 08, 2009 12:03 pm  
Blogger Paul Weimer said...


Well of the Unicorn?

The Incomplete Enchanter?

Either Three Hearts and Three Lions or a Midsummer Tempest from Anderson.

April 08, 2009 12:14 pm  
Anonymous Keith Talent said...

Interesting list.

If you've got Garcia Marquez for magical realism how about Rushdie's 'Midnight's Children'? Or even something by Richard Brautigan, such as 'Watermelon Sugar'.

Mikhail Bulgakov's 'The Master and The Margarita'.

Possibly not essential insofar as it's not well known but it should be - 'The Tenant' by Roland Topor, at least as Kafkaesque as Kafka, and literary.

'The Magus' by John Fowles?

Since you've got Angela Carter's collection it might be nice to have some classical rendering of those stories, most obviously versions by the brothers Grimm I guess.

Does 'Animal Farm' count as fantasy?

Adding The Old Testament or similar would just be inflammatory, I suggest you avoid that.

April 08, 2009 12:56 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Ian - the question about planetary romance is a tangled one. If the setting is used as a springboard for what are essentially sword and scorcery stories (with exotic monsters) then I think there's a good case for saying they are fantasy (I put the Barsoom stories in there - Carter doesn't arrive by rocket. And I'm hoping someone can point to a definite Zimmer Bradley book too). But I'm open to persuasion otherwise (which is why I think this might have some small use as a teaching aid).

Jvstin - I considered both of those Anderson titles, but I haven't read them. So thanks for the recommendation (doesn't one of these involve aliens (not that it rules it out as being fantasy - see above?)). The Incomplete Enchanter is another definitely maybe...

Keith - Bulgakov - can't think why I didn't include it - read it a couple of years and it blew me away. Brautigan is good but a bit, well, slight (pains me to say this - I'm a fan, especially of Trout Fishing In America). I also considered the Bros Grimm (Random House just put out a very nice omnibus) but structurally they predate Frankenstein. Isn't Animal Farm a political allegory without fantastical elements once you strip away the talking animals? Rushdie - I'm horribly ignorant of the great man's works (all I've read is Grimus). I'd rather include Calvino if more magical realism were needed.

Double top recommendations so far...

April 08, 2009 1:54 pm  
Blogger Michael said...

Karl Edward Wagner - Darkness Weaves for preferrence.

April 08, 2009 2:35 pm  
Blogger Keith Ferrell said...

Poul Anderson -- The Broken Sword (the reprint, from a few years back, of the 1954 text.)

Harlan Ellison -- Deathbird Stories (1975)

Thomas Pynchon -- V (1963)

April 08, 2009 2:58 pm  
Anonymous Keith Talent said...

Isn't 'The Wind in the Willows' just a political allegory about the folly and ugliness of fatcat capitalism once you strip away the talking animals? No, probably not. There's quite a lot of allegorical stuff in the list, but I suppose it's not quite as straightforward a process to translate away the fantastical without affecting the story as it is in Animal Farm.

April 08, 2009 3:40 pm  
Blogger ArabiaTerra said...

There's no Michael Moorcock on the list. I would suggest either "Stormbringer", or "The War Hound and the World's Pain", or both.

April 08, 2009 4:28 pm  
Blogger Ed Ecclesbert said...

Jack Williamson-Darker than You Think
Anderson-The Broken Sword
definitive Zimmer Bradley-The Mists of Avalon

April 08, 2009 6:36 pm  
Blogger Ed Ecclesbert said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

April 08, 2009 6:37 pm  
Blogger Ed Ecclesbert said...

Jack Williamson-Darker than You Think
Anderson-The Broken Sword
definitive Zimmer Bradley-The Mists of Avalon

April 08, 2009 6:38 pm  
Blogger Ed Ecclesbert said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

April 08, 2009 6:39 pm  
Blogger Ed Ecclesbert said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

April 08, 2009 6:40 pm  
Blogger Ed Ecclesbert said...

Sorry,hit keyboard too many times.
Why no Jack Vance?

April 08, 2009 7:16 pm  
Anonymous Sergey said...

Roger Zelazny. Nine princes in Amber. (Lord of Light is included in prevoius list, but Zelazny is more close to fantasy field)
By the way, his Creatures of Light and Darkness - great forgotten novel.

Poul Anderson. Broken Sword.
or Three Hearts...

And Gene Wolfe - Why not Shadow of the Torturer?

George R.R. Martin. A Game of Thrones.

P.J. Farmer. The Maker of the Universes.

Michael Swanwick. The Iron Dragon's Daughter.

And if Bulgakov is included, please pay your attention to Gogol(not in this list, but in your reading), because many things in writing by Bulgakov were strongly influenced by Gogol. As example to such story as "Viy" (1838)

April 08, 2009 8:36 pm  
Anonymous Sergey said...

P.S. Wow!
And what about British classic - Henry Rider Haggard "She" (as example)?

April 08, 2009 8:45 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good list. Aside from the suggestions already made, I'd put forward these two:

The Worm Ouroboros - Eric Rucker Eddison
Peter Pan - J.M. Barrie

April 08, 2009 9:34 pm  
Blogger Tim Walters said...

Another great list. But of course I have some suggestions...

For Alan Garner, either The Owl Service or Red Shift would be a much better choice than Weirdstone.

I assume by Gormenghast you mean the trilogy, or at least the first two, rather than the second volume. If not, that might be a bit awkward.

The King of Elfland's Daughter has become the canonical Dunsany for some reason, but I strongly prefer his short fiction, or The Charwoman's Shadow.

Some omissions I find surprising:

Lewis Carroll: Alice In Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass
L. Frank Baum: The Wizard of Oz
E.R. Eddison: The Worm Ouroboros
Fletcher Pratt: The Well of the Unicorn (not as well-known as the three above, but second only to LOTR, which it predates, as an influence on modern genre fantasy)

Some possible additions:

Richard Adams: Watership Down
Robert Aickman: The Wine-Dark Sea
Brian Aldiss: The Malacia Tapestry
Poul Anderson: either The Broken Sword or Three Hearts and Three Lions, both highly influential (but not the less important, and IMHO mediocre, Midsummer Tempest. The one with knights and aliens is The High Crusade.)
J.G. Ballard: The Unlimited Dream Company
John Barth: Giles Goat-Boy
Donald Barthelme: The Dead Father
Peter Beagle: The Last Unicorn
William Beckford: Vathek (would spoil your plan of starting with Frankenstein, I guess)
G.K. Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday
John Collier: Fancies and Goodnights
Thomas M. Disch: The Businessman
John Fowles: Mantissa (or The Magus, which is more important but less fantastic)
Tanith Lee: Red As Blood
Rhoda Lerman: The Book of the Night (more obscure than most of these, but an amazing magic-realist work, and squeaks in with a pub date of 1984)
Jeremy Leven: Satan (His Psychotherapy and Cure)
C.S. Lewis: Till We Choose Faces (his best by far)
A. Merritt: Dwellers In The Mirage
John Myers Myers: Silverlock
Vladimir Nabokov: Ada
Flann O'Brien; The Third Policeman
Jack Vance: The Dying Earth (I know you had it on your SF list, but, IMO, it's way more on the fantasy side of science fantasy)

April 09, 2009 7:39 am  
Anonymous Sergey said...

Yeah, agree about Malacia Tapestry by Aldiss.

April 09, 2009 7:52 am  
Blogger Tim Walters said...

I'm going to take a wild guess that your desert island book is Little, Big.

April 09, 2009 8:06 am  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Hi Tim,

Little, Big is a great book and Crowley is one of my favourite authors, but it isn't The Book I'd choose if I could choose only one.

Thanks to everyone else for their recommendations and comments - I'll respond a little later.

April 09, 2009 9:41 am  
Anonymous Keith Talent said...

Also (1/2 at least) of 'Lanark' by Alasdair Gray?

Interesting stuff on Tim's list- that G K Chesterton has gone on my wishlist in virtue of its title alone. I couldn't think of any Ballard that wasn't Sci-fi rather than fantasy/horror, (although maybe 'Concrete Island' fits into the latter category?), haven't read 'Unlimited Dream Company' so interested to hear that makes it into that category too.

I was thinking of a Nabokov too - but 'Bend Sinister' it's a dystopian novel, but it's more in the Kafka alienation tradition than sci-fi and would provide a good counterpoint to '1984' and 'We' which I notice you have on the sci-fi list.

April 09, 2009 9:58 am  
Blogger Paul Weimer said...

No, neither of the two Andersons involves Aliens. Both involve varieties of Faerie and Faerie worlds (Three Hearts involves the Matter of France, Midsummer Tempest revolves around Shakespeare and the English Civil War).

Both are classics and I highly recommend them.

April 09, 2009 12:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Big Sleep? I admit it's been a few years since I've read it but I don't recall any fantasy or horror elements.

April 09, 2009 2:54 pm  
Blogger Tim Walters said...

Keith: I've always thought of Lanark as half SF rather than half fantasy, if only because that's where dystopias tend to get shelved. But it needs to be on one of these lists, for sure!

Another possible Nabokov entry would be Invitation to a Beheading, which would be very interesting to compare to The Trial.

And one more genre fantasy recommendation: Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner.

April 09, 2009 4:13 pm  
Blogger PeteY said...

It's nice to see Borges on the list, but wouldn't it be better to choose the collection Labyrinths, which includes all the famous short stories: Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius; Funes the Memorious; the one about the library, etc? Just a thought.

April 09, 2009 5:41 pm  
Blogger Keith Ferrell said...

Nabokov's Transparent Things, that late pocket masterpiece, would also fit well.

April 09, 2009 11:08 pm  
Blogger mckie said...

Penguin publish a hardback of Borges's Collected Fiction (as well as one of the non-fiction)

April 10, 2009 11:51 am  
Blogger Michael Grosberg said...

Why is The Pastel City considered fantasy? I read it not long ago and it was clearly although I hear the sequels may be fantasy of some sort).

Also, you may want to consider adding Donaldson's Thomas Covenant books. Personally, I don't like them, and I don't think they are that good, but they are seminal in their deconstruction of the reluctant hero archetype and the creation of one of the most famous anti-heroes in fantasy.

April 10, 2009 5:28 pm  
Blogger Guy said...

If you want a Diana Wynne Jones book I'd suggest either the wonderful 'Fire and Hemlock' (probably her best) or my personal favourite, 'A Sudden Wild Magic' (about a kamikaze sex attack by British witches on a Buddhist-style Pirate universe causing Global Warming on Earth for Scientific research!).

April 16, 2009 11:14 am  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Thanks for all your comments. I'm going to think about this a little more - there are so many interesting picks here - but for what it's worth I reckon I'm definitely going to stick in Bulgakov and one of Poul Anderson's (I always had a soft spot for his SF but I know his fantasy less well)...

April 17, 2009 10:11 am  
Anonymous Thomas said...

Coming to this rather late

#Tim Walters: I disagree about the Alan Garner choice -- I would also have chosen 'Weirdstone'

I'm another vote for 'The Worm Ourobouros', and for 'Labyrinths' as the Borges book.

#Guy: The problem with 'Fire and Hemlock' is that so many DWJ fans (including me) don't like it, and that people who do like it often don't like her others. As a representative book for her writing and why it is popular/historically important I would have gone for 'Power of Three' or perhaps for 'Charmed Life' (for its own sake and for the sequels it produced).

April 25, 2009 4:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Other Side (1908) by Alfred Kubin is essential horror-fantasy. Easily one of the wildest books I have ever read.

May 03, 2009 7:23 am  

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