In the pub earlier, we were discussing Classic Fantasy: or, if we gave you £50 to spend on “the best” fantasy, what would you get?
I’m steadfastly against the notion of a canon, or at least of one core canon. Everyone brings different things to the genre, and everyone takes different things from it. So what I’m doing here is making a list of books that exemplify what I think fantasy is about. It will, of course, be a partial and a biased list, and I want to see other peoples’. I’ll do a parallel list for SF (qua SF) soon, too.
Lord of the Rings
This one’s an unquestioned pick for me. I’m not too fond of the hierarchies, the questionable racial stuff, and the inbuilt sexism, but the themes resonate far too strongly with me not to include.
Again, no possibility I could leave this off the list. It’s about identity, and place, and love, and pain, and the struggle to find yourself when the world denies you. (I did a set of re-read posts a while ago.)
The Curse of Chalion
Lois McMaster Bujold’s story of a curse, a series of betrayals, fidelity beyond death or all reason (the death is the easy part…), self-realization, the struggle to trust in the gods, and the reward of a home unlooked-for.
Pamela Dean’s retelling of the Child Ballad, set in an American university in the 1970s. Scholarship, feminism, love, and friendship, in a novel which loves literature.
Bridge of Birds
Barry Hughart’s classic fantasy of a Middle Kingdom that never was. It’s quixotic, joyful, and life-affirming, with thrills, spills, and adventure galore.
I can think of a half-dozen others that might deserve a slot, and often for very good reasons—but I think those come more under personal touchstones, the books that shaped my perceptions of the genre, than classics.