I am assuming that most of us out there are fantasy readers. It’s a popular genre and who doesn’t love elves, dwarves, and those things that spark nightmares. Or you may not, but for my purposes, let’s pretend that you do. Besides, I’m going with a gut feeling on this, so why not see if we can spark a little controversy. Or baring that, a debate.
Last night, I was staring at my bookcase, trying to decide what to read. When I decided on my book (it doesn’t matter which, but it is below for the record), I started talking to myself—as you do. Or maybe I’m just losing it. Dunno. But I did, and one of the things that I said was that the book I chose was one of the best fantasy series ever written. I didn’t need to justify it to myself, but I did all the same.
Which got me wondering, what are the best fantasy series? What is the best? Why?
So here are my thoughts. It’s not an easy list. Just because I love a series, doesn’t mean it belongs here. Just because it’s entertaining (while important), doesn’t mean it belongs there either. Yet, on the other hand, do I have some specific criteria to judge these stories on? No. It is purely subjective. But with that in mind, let’s give this a shot.
- J.R.R. Tolkien—Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit: These novels should really be on any top fantasy list. Not only are they entertaining in their own right (if you can get past all the singing), but they are arguably what brought fantasy out into its own genre and away from fairy tales set to warn kids of the dangers visiting houses made from gingerbread. Plus they have staying power, as can be seen by the Steve Jackson movies.
- Robert Jordan—The Wheel of Time: Probably one of the best fantasy series ever written, it is also one of the most popular that hasn’t been turned into a television series. The author, Robert Jordan, was so popular that George R.R. Martin (Yes, the Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin) credits a blurb from Jordan for A Song of Fire and Ice’s success. Jordan’s world contained countless individual and unique cultures that added a rich background to the tapestry of the story. Add on top of that a realistic understanding of the “fog of war” and how it applies to armies and politics, and you have a fantastic tale of good versus evil.
- Roger Zelazny—The Chronicles of Amber: This ten-part book series was written between 1970 and 1991, and is divided into two parts: The Corwin Cycle and The Merlin Cycle. The thing with the worlds of Amber is that it is one of the most fantastical journeys you’ll ever read. Tropes that we recognize originated with Zelazny’s work. Added to that is the fact that these books have been cited by many successful authors as inspiration for their own fantasy. At least two authors (Steven Brust and Neil Gaiman) have publicly stated that they’d love to write more stories of Amber, but won’t because Zelazny requested that no one else write in the world. I feel that is saying something. Zelazny’s writing style is something marvelous to behold and transmits exactly what he wants with the smallest strokes of the brush, yet you feel immersed in his world.
Are these the best descriptions of these series? No, definitely not. As I look back, frankly, I feel they do a poor job at best. But are they important? Yes. Now, I have also walked a fine line on what is exactly fantasy. For example, on the surface, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series appears to be fantasy, and it is incredibly influential. But only as you dig into the series do you realize that it is actually science fiction. So I ruled it out. Same goes with Terry Brooks, Jim Butcher, and J.K. Rowling (Rowling is a whole different post). No one can deny their successes, but in my opinion, they aren’t as influential or as important as those listed above.
But then again, that’s just what I think. What are your opinions? Please let me know and let’s see if we can start a discussion! I’d love to learn what you consider to be influential and fantastic fantasy series.