For a while here at Heroes and Heartbreakers I was the romance virgin—someone who hadn't ever picked up a romance book, nor knew just how disturbing words like “quivering” or “throbbing" could be. But, I also wouldn't have been one of the few people in the theatre that knew exactly what Loki meant when he called Black Widow a “mewling quim,” in The Avengers, so you take the good with the bad.
If you are a site regular, you may or may not have picked up on the fact that I am a bit of a Fantasy Freak in my natural habitat. Odds are if a story has Magic, Elves, Orcs, or some sort of mischievous god, I'll read it. I'd thought I'd share my passion with the wonderful readers at Heroes and Heartbreakers as they have shared theirs with me. So here are my ten absolute must-reads when it comes to Fantasy Literature.
1. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Why? With a sentence scribbled onto the back of a student's test, which then became a story told to his children, Tolkien defined a genre. While lacking in romance, and stuffed to bursting with walking, the book is critical in establishing what modern fantasy is while also featuring a decidedly European/Non-American style of hero. The book is best experienced while read aloud, so you can do the voices just right, and preferably to a child or three.
2. Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian
Why? Okay, it's less one giant novel and more a collection of short stories, but Howard gave fantasy the term Sword and Sorcery. He created the fantastic adventure story filled with rescued princess, evil wizards, and noble savages. Howard is critical to understanding the more American style of Fantasy along with really getting into what is best in life.
3. H.P. Lovecraft's The Cthulhu Mythos
Why? Besides being the man solely responsible for keeping words like “Eldritch” and “Arcane” alive in modern language, Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos has a hand in almost any story involving “Old Gods” or know-it-all academics that get taken down more than one or two pegs. If you read his short stories, you realize just how extensive the reach of Howard Phillip is. Not to mention that he did for Rhode Island what Stephen King does for Maine.
4. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Why? There is a story about Le Guin. She was sitting watching or reading a Sci-Fi story, can't remember which, when her father asked her why there weren't any people of color in the stories she liked. She replied that there just weren't. He asked why, and the world was changed. Not only does Le Guin introduce us to the now standard tropes of True Naming and Wizard's School, she gave us fantasy heroes who aren't white and showed us that sometimes the scariest villain is ourselves.
5. The Black Company by Glenn Cook
Why? Fantasy isn't always happy. Sometimes to really appreciate the real world you have to get your hands dirty. Very dirty. Fantasy is no different, and no one does realistic, grim-dark fantasy quite as good as Glen Cooke, no not even George R.R. Martin. His Black Company is a company of mercenaries that have no problem with Rape or Murder as long as they get paid. I tell people that it reads like Vietnam War fiction, but with more flying whales. Really not for the faint of heart. Just remember, soldiers live and wonder why.
6. Name of the Wind by Patrick Routhfuss
Why? When people talk writing, there are certain rules you have to meet to get published, especially when it comes to your first book. There are just certain targets you have to hit, things such as word count, tropes to avoid, don't tell your story in the past, etc. Patrick Routhfuss looked at these rules and said “No.” The result is a beautifully written, trope filled story of an orphan that is good at everything, and it is easily one of the best fantasy books I've read.
7. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Why? Fantasy isn't always Ren Fairs and Elves, Wizards and Orcs. No one shows us this better than Neil Gaiman. American Gods is one of the best Contemporary Fantasies of our time. He takes the world's pantheon of gods and through it shows us a whole new depth of what America is. It is exactly what a good fantasy story should be, using the fantastic to open the reader's eyes wider to the real world.
8. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Why? Clarke introduces us to the tea-room fantasy and it is glorious. If Jane Austen wrote about a pair of wizards, this would be the result. Few people manage to seamlessly blend history and fantasy and make it as enjoyable.
9. The Eye of The World by Robert Jordan
Why? This isn't THE beginning of fantasy, but it is A beginning. If Fellowship of the Ring was written in the early 90s instead of in the 50s, it would look a whole lot like The Eye of the World. Jordan looked at Tolkien's legacy and simply wanted more. What he came back with was a book series that kept me as invested in women's clothing and romantic relationships as I was the fate of the world.
10. Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
Why? Besides the fact that everyone needs a great laugh now and then, Terry Pratchett is a master of allegory. Through Hogfather's protagonist, DEATH, we see someone desperately cling to what holidays should be, what fantasy means to humanity, and how sometimes all you need to beat back a monster (who certainly isn't a lame skeleton in a black robe) is a nice solid piece of iron. Odds are you will take equal turns laughing, crying, and thinking very deep, sobering thoughts about life.