Influential Authors in Fantasy, Appendix 2 – Reading List!

The following is a reading list of works by the authors I’ve put forward as among the most influential in the shaping of the Fantasy genre. These books are not necessarily the best books by those authors, for two reasons – first, my own ignorance, which has sometimes left me unable to confidentally select the most famous, most accomplished or most influential work by a certain author, and, second, the way that some authors are better known for works farther from the Fantasy genre. Not every book here is Fantasy – some predate the genre, others are from sister-genres – but I’ve endeavoured to give some works by the authors more relevant to the genre, rather than the best or most famous novels. So, for instance, I include H.G. Wells’ urban fantasy, The Wonderful Visit, rather than a more famous but less overtly fantastical book like The Time Traveller or The Shape of Things to Come.

The number of books for each author is not strictly an indication of their influence. Rather, it reflects my ability to sum up their influence in a single book. Sometimes, I felt that giving several books better reflected their significance (as, for instance, in the case of William Morris), but more often I have listed multiple books only when the books seemed distinct in their influence, and where listing only one would fail, I thought, to encapsulate the spirit of the author. This is not always proportional to significance – so, for instance, while many would argue that Asimov should not be on this list at all, I have given him two works, reflecting two different sides of his authorship, whereas C.S. Lewis, a far more directly influential figure, has been given only one (as I felt that mentioning the other Narnia books would add little, and that the Perelandra novels were not sufficiently innovative or popular to be worth mentioning on their own).

Above all, the motivating force behind my choices has primarily been whimsy. Like the list of authors itself, this in no way sets out to be definitive, objective, or scholarly. This is as much a list for my own benefit, to remind me to read or re-read certain works, as it is for the benefit of anybody else – and, accordingly, my own interests, curiosities and whimsies have guided my hand here and there.

There is also, of course, some dubiousness as to what constitutes a work. For series, I have generally given only the first volume, but with some exceptions where the series was written as a single book and can be found as one (The Lord of the Rings) or where the individual books are so short that an omnibus edition is still not a weighty tome (The Foundation Trilogy). For short stories, sometimes I have given fix-ups and collections, generally where the collection is put together by the author themselves not long after the initial publication of the stories; elsewhere I have just listed some stories, which you may or may not be able to find collected in a single volume.

Finally, two words should be said about names. Regarding the names of books, it was common at one time for all works to carry a subtitle indicating the genre of the book – so, for instance, The Mysteries of Udolpho was published as The Mysteries of Udolpho, A Romance. I haven’t included these subtitles – they are generally bland, they appear to have changed sometimes between editions at the whim of the editor, and should be thought of as advertising descriptions rather than parts of the title. I have also not included fraudulent authorship or provenance information, given to a work either by mistake or as false advertising by the publisher (as with The Vampyre), or for intentional artistic purposes by the author (as with The Castle of Otranto). I don’t think this should really be considered part of the title, although admittedly this is debateable in the case of The Castle of Otranto, A Story. Translated by William Marshal, Gent. From the Original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, Canon of the Church of St. Nicholas at Otranto.

I have, however, included subtitles that offer alternative or explanatory names, and genre descriptions for books after 1850 – I judged that MacDonald and Cabell both intentionally gave their books these genre descriptions against the general trend of novels at the time, for artistic reasons.

The second thing is the names of authors. Again, whimsy has interfered with me. I decided that rather than give initials or middle names or titles or diminutives or whatever, I would just give a very plain and factual version of the author’s name: their personal first name, and their surname, both as given by their parents at birth (I have, however, allowed Byron to have three names, judging his surname to be “Gordon Byron”). There’s no real justification for this – it was a simple formatting decision at first, which I refused to back down from purely on grounds of whimsy. This has sometimes given forms quite distinct from those the author generally goes by. I hope that authors and their estates won’t take offence at this. Where the given name is obviously close to the name an author goes by, I have let this go without mention, but when the given name (either personal name or the entire name) is unguessably different from the popular name, I have given the popular name in brackets.

A statistical randomness: the best name to be born with in order to become an author who influences the Fantasy genre is clearly ‘William’ – there are 5, and one Wilhelm. Runners up, all with three,  are ‘George’ (plus two more if you count Georg and Jorge), ‘Terence’, and ‘John’, both with three. ‘Stephen’, ‘Robert’, ‘James’ and ‘Howard’ are close behind with 2 each, and ‘Joseph’ deserves special mention – 2 authors on this list were christened ‘Joseph’, yet neither is known by that name, nor any derivative of it.

Anyway, the books. Chronologically.

 

Before 1837

1: The Castle of Otranto (1764) – Horace Walpole
The original gothic novel

2: Vathek (1786) – William Beckford
A gothic tale of the decadent orient

3: The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) – Anne Radcliffe
The most famous novel by the most succesful (critically and commercially) of the gothic novelists, and more explicitly supernatural than its forebears. Now rather less well-known, however, than its parody, Northanger Abbey

4: Hymns to the Night (1800) – Georg von Hardenberg (“Novalis”)
A meditation on life and death often considered the pinnacle of Romanticism, and the spark that birthed a long-lived worldview (and later translated by MacDonald himself)

5: Heinrich von Ofterdingen (author died 1802) – Georg von Hardenberg (“Novalis”)
Novalis’ novel-fragment gives Romanticism its most potent symbol

6: The Four Zoas: the Torments of Love & Jealousy in the Death and Judgment of Albion the Ancient Man (abandoned c. 1807) – William Blake
Blake’s bizarre Silmarillion, that seeks to unify and set plain his mythology. An earlier version was completed but never published, under the title Vala, or The Death and Judgement of the Eternal Man: A Dream of Nine Nights

7: Faust Part One (1808) – Johann Goethe
A dark folk tale becomes one of the classics of German literature (part two, however, is notoriously difficult and little read)

8: The Lady of the Lake (1810) – Walter Scott
Scott’s narrative poem of the Scottish clans sparked (along with the work of Macpherson) the Highland Revival that presaged later mediaeval revivalism

9: Children’s and Household Tales (1812) – Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Centuries of dark of and bloody supernatural folk tales collected and made more suitable for children

10: Manfred (1817) – George Gordon Byron
Byron’s incest-inspired poem-play of guilt, despair, bereavement, black magic, and a brooding proto-Nietzschean tragic hero who defies authorities mundane and supernatural, and in the process begets two centuries of imitations

11: Frankenstein;  or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) – Mary Shelley
A seminal work of science horror, and a rare Gothic work in which the new could be as frightening as the old. Written under the influence of a rainy weekend, considerable quantities of laudanum, and a copy of Vathek

12: The Vampyre (1819) – John Polidori
Byron becomes immortal

13: Ivanhoe (1819) – Walter Scott
Perhaps the single most influential novel in birthing mediaeval revivalism, and helped establish its author as a byword for literary brilliance for a century

14: Don Juan (author died 1824, unfinished) – George Gordon Byron
Byron’s controversial magnum opus, a dashing epic of heroism with a heavy tincture of oriental decadence

15: [assorted short stories including “The Fall of the House of Usher”,  “The Pit and the Pendulum”,  “The Island of the Fay”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, and “The Masque of the Red Death”] (1832-1849) – Edgar Poe
Famous tales by one of the founders of supernatural horror

16: Fairy Tales Told for Children (1835-1837) – Hans Anderson
Contains the bulk of Anderson’s most famous stories, both updated folk tales and his own imitations – the most succesful follower of the Grimms.

 

 

1837-1901

17: Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women (1858) – George MacDonald
MacDonald’s symbolic allegory is perhaps the first stirring of the modern Fantasy genre

18: The Lake Regions of Central Africa (1860) – Richard Burton
The great colonial explorer’s most famous adventure, to discover the source of the Nile – told by a man determined to discredit his former companion and then rival, Speke. Not actually fiction, let alone fantasy fiction, but still a huge influence on the genre!

19: Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864) – Jules Verne
Intended at first as a reasonably scientific adventure, the progress of science has left this a classic tale of fantasy, and the father (if not the ultimate progenitor) of an entire genre of hollow earth fantasy

20: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) – Jules Verne
The earth’s own oceans become a fantastical world to be explored

21: In a Glass Darkly (1872) – Joseph (“Sheridan”) Le Fanu
Five of Le Fanu’s stories, including the novella “Carmilla”, the mother of the modern vampire story

22: The Princess and the Goblin (1872) – George MacDonald
MacDonald’s second great fantasy moves away from the philosophical to the more approachable and familiar – this is the book that inspired writers like Tolkien and Lewis

23: Idylls of the King (1859-1885) – Alfred Tennyson
King Arthur (via Malory and the Mabinogian) retold for Victorians in an elegaic song-cycle. Beyond repopularising the myths of Arthur and his knights, Tennyson’s poems were at the forefront of the reawakening of interest in chivalric ideals, courtly love, and firey magical celts

24: The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night  (1885) – Richard Burton
The hyperflorid, sex-obsessed and idiosyncratic translation that made the ‘Arabian Nights’ famous once more in the English-speaking world, and cemented ideas of oriental vice, and oriental magic

25: King Solomon’s Mines (1885) – Henry (“Rider”) Haggard
The African adventures of big game hunter Allen Quartermain begin, and the Lost World genre with them. Considered one of the greatest adventure writers ever, Haggard and his fame helped launch the pulp magazines

26: She: A History of Adventure (1887) – Henry (“Rider”) Haggard
One of the best-selling novels of all time, with a more overtly supernatural element than in King Solomon’s Mines; renowned also for its racism (on the other hand, Haggard could be unusually multicultural at times, being one of the few bestselling writers of his time to write novels with entirely African casts).

27: The Wood Beyond the World (1894) – William Morris
Reputedly the first pure secondary world fantasy ever published

28: The Jungle Book (1894) – Joseph (“Rudyard”) Kipling
Kipling presents his English readers with a doubly fantastical setting – first by telling tales of India, and then by making the animals of India his characters, not merely to tell fables, but as the heroes and villains of serious and dramatic tales

29: The Wonderful Visit (1895) – Herbert Wells
A now-little-remembered early urban fantasy novel from Wells in which a violin-playing “angel” (not of a religious kind) from the Land of Dreams inexplicably finds itself in Victorian England

30: The Well at the World’s End – William Morris
The second of Morris’ two famous romances is arguably the more directly influential

31: The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) – Herbert Wells
Again Wells shows that his earlier work leans more to the fantastical, with this classic tale of bioengineering

32: Dracula (1897) – Abraham Stoker
Possibly the most famous supernatural novel of all time

33: [assorted stories, including “The Great God Pan”, “The White People”, and “The Terror”] (1894-1917) – Arthur Machen
The stories of the progenitor of 20th century supernatural horror, and Lovecraft’s predecessor

34: The Invisible Man (1897) – Herbert Wells
Wells updates Plato for the Victorian age, though this time the magic ring is disguised in chemistry

35: Kim (1901) – Joseph (“Rudyard”) Kipling
Kipling provides arguably the pinnacle of orientalist literature, suffusing his India with the (to English readers) alien depth and complexity only a child of India could provide

 

 

1901-1939

36: Five Children and It (1902) – Edith Nesbit
The ancient story concept of the wish-giving fairy is updated for a contemporary young audience by marrying magic with realism

37: The Gods of Pegāna (1905) – Edward Plunkett (“Lord Dunsany”)
Dunsany one-ups Morris by creating an entire fantastical pantheon to go with his secondary world

38: [assorted stories, including “The Metamorphosis”, “Investigations of a Dog”, “Josephine the Singer, or The Mouse Folk” and “The Burrow”] (1908-1924) – Franz Kafka
Much of Kafka’s most famous work is far from fantasy, but at other times he does come close. These four stories are examples of the fantastic – a transmogrification and three non-human protagonists

39: The Ball and the Cross (1909) – Gilbert Chesterton
Less famous and probably less influential than his two earlier novels (The Man Who Was Thursday and The Napoleon of Notting Hill), but one of the most fantastical – a surreal and sometimes allegorical adventure about what happens when a Jacobite and an atheist agree to duel to the death

40: The Ballad of the White Horse (1911) – Gilbert Chesterton
For once, Chesterton abandons his trademark wit and surrealism, and instead crafts an epic poem about King Alfred’s war against the Danes, distilling much of the essence of heroic romance. One of the few works to equally influence both Tolkien (in its melancholy mythic grandeur) and Howard (in its psychological dissection of sword-swinging heroism)

41: The Night Land (1912) – William Hodgson
A bereaved 17th century man beholds the earth millions of years in the future, after the Sun has gone out.

42: The Book of Wonder (1912) – Edward Plunkett (“Lord Dunsany”)
Dunsany pre-empts criticism of his verbose and important style by authoring a new collection of fantastic tales in which he politely mocks himself

43: A Princess of Mars (1912) – Edgar Burroughs
The first John Carter novel takes the Haggardian novel to the stars, or at least to the planets, and creates the planetary romance genre

44: At The Earth’s Core (1914) – Edgar Burroughs
As an encore to 1912’s Carter novel, and the first Tarzan novel (published the same year), Burroughs delivers one of the classic hollow earth novels. Determined not to outdo the mere dinosaurs of other authors, Burroughs has mind-controlling pterodactyls.

45: Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice (1919) – James Cabell
Arthurian legend and Dante are parodied in one of the first classics of comic fantasy, as Jurgen travels through dimensions in search of courtly love. Alastair Crowley called it one of the epoch-making masterpieces of philosophy.

46: The King of Elfland’s Daughter (1924) – Edward Plunkett (“Lord Dunsany”)
Dunsany brings his fantasy into a longer format, and combines fairy tale with high romance
47: [assorted stories, including “The Call of Cthulhu”, At the Mountains of Madness, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and The Shadow over Innsmouth]  (1926-1931) – Howard Lovecraft
The seminal writer of cosmic horror

48: [assorted stories, chiefly regarding Conan, Kull and Solomon Kane] (1928-1936) – Robert Howard
The seminal writer of sword and sorcery

49: The Hobbit, or There and Back Again (1937) – John Tolkien
Tolkien takes a break from working on his private mythology to tell a light-hearted fairy tale to his children. Of course, he can’t quite avoid a few darker moments and allusions…

50: The Once and Future King (1938-1958) – Terence White
White updates Arthur for a more cynical age, complete with metatextual irony and a witty narrator – as well as a great deal of tragedy

 

 

1939-1976

51: [the Lankhmar short stories] (1939-1988) – Fritz Leiber
Leiber may not have begun Sword and Sorcery, even if he did give it its name – but his Lankhmar tales of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser may be the archetypal examples of the genre

52: Fictions (1941-1956) – Jorge Borges
A collection of some of Borges’ most innovative and distinctive short stories

53: [assorted stories, including The Last Question, Nightfall, Blind Alley, The Ugly Little Boy, and Living Space] (1941-1958) – Isaac Asimov
By chance (or perhaps not), Asimov was often at his best when his stories strayed furthest from conventional ‘science fiction’

54: The Foundation Trilogy (1941-1953) – Isaac Asimov
Asimov’s magnum opus (arguably) is an epic of prophecies, of mystic artifacts, and magical mind-bending powers – all dressed up as respectable science fiction – as well as a key turn from the physical to the sociological

55: Titus Groan (1946) – Mervyn Peake
Peake’s one-man gothic revival may have little if any overt fantasy content, but that hasn’t stopped it from inspiring many with its baroque oddity

56: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) – Clive Lewis
The first, if not the best, of the Narnia novels was, I believe, briefly the most succesful fantasy ever published, and remains a mainstay of modern childhood

57: Tales of the Dying Earth (1950) – John Vance
Vance’s short stories merge fantasy with science fiction in the Earth of the far distant future

58: The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955) – John Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings.

59: The Stealer of Souls (1963) – Michael Moorcock
A collection of the first Elric stories – Moorcock’s Byronic, parodic, Sword and Sorcery riposte to Tolkien

60: Rocannon’s World (1966) – Ursula Le Guin
Le Guin’s first novel may not have the fame of her later SF works, but it bridges genres even more completely – a novel of faster-than-light travel, interstellar warfare, and sword-wielding elves.

61: One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) – Gabriel García Márquez
The standard-bearer for ‘magic realism’

62: Dragonflight (1968) – Anne McCaffrey
Apparently this is science fiction. Readers confronted with telepathic bonds between humans and teleporting dragons in a mediaeval society might not have read it that way

63: A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) – Ursula Le Guin
Le Guin turns to straight Fantasy, in an epic that serves both as a counterweight to, and a spiritual successor of, The Lord of the Rings

64: Salem’s Lot (1975) – Stephen King
The vampires are back – like Stoker before him, King transplants an ancient evil into contemporary society to create an urban fantasy horror

65: Interview with the Vampire (1976) – Howard O’Brien (“Anne Rice”)
Vampires were clearly in the air in the mid-70s. One year after King, Rice takes the vampire myth in a very different direction

1977 and after

66: The Silmarillion (1977) – John Tolkien
A posthumously-published summary of Tolkien’s private mythology

67: Our Lady of Darkness (1977) – Fritz Leiber
One of the founding novels of urban fantasy – Leiber not only brings magic into the city, but creates a form of magic founded on the nature of the modern city

68: The Sword of Shannara (1977) – Terence Brooks
In showing that the surface of Tolkien was all that anyone needed in order to be a commercial success, Brooks opened the door for a commercial explosion in the genre

69: Lord Foul’s Bane (1977) – Stephen Donaldson
The Thomas Covenant novels experimented with a thoroughly unlikeable anti-hero and a baroque, peculiar vocabulary, yet still managed to be a success

70: Gloriana, or the Unfulfill’d Queen(1978) – Michael Moorcock
Moorcock’s own mediaevalist romance, set in a pseudo-Elizabethan world

71: The Stand (1978) – Stephen King
A post-apocalyptic epic that sets out to translate The Lord of the Rings into modern America

72: The Gunslinger (1982) – Stephen King
King’s own world-walking epic fantasy saga begins here

73: Pawn of Prophecy (1982) – David Eddings
The first of ten wildly popular fantasy novels following the farm boy Garion, invested heavily and consciously with fantasy tropes and cliches

74: The Colour of Magic (1983) – Terence Pratchett
The first Discworld novel suggests little of what is to come, but is an exuberant and uncontrollable skewering of the Fantasy of its day

75: The Black Company (1984) – Glen Cook
Cook’s grey-compassed military fantasy has been a great influence on later authors, even if it was not the greatest commercial success

76: Dragons of Autumn Twilight (1984) – Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
The first of the TSR Dungeons and Dragons novels

77: Mythago Wood (1984) – Robert Holdstock
The founding text of modern mythic fantasy

78: Neuromancer (1984) – William Gibson
A gritty, freakish, eyeball-kick of a near-future SF novel that has resonated far beyond its genre

79: It (1987) – Stephen King
Another of King’s most succesful urban fantasies

80: Guards! Guards! (1989) – Terence Pratchett
This early Discworld novel is notable for turning Ankh-Morpork from a passing background setting into what would become the most developed urban setting in modern fantasy

81: The Difference Engine (1990) – William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
Steampunk is born

82: The Eye of the World (1990) – James Rigney (“Robert Jordan”)
The ‘Wheel of Time’ cycle is by far the most popular epic fantasy since Tolkien. As in twice as many copies sold as of any rival

83: Small Gods (1992) – Terence Pratchett
Often considered the best of the Discworld novels, Small Gods shows how much fantasy, even comic fantasy, can say about the real world

84: A Game of Thrones (1996) – George Martin
Epic, grey, bloody, complicated, psychological, and (at least at first) a low-magic setting very close to historical fantasy – ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ redefined what was expected of mainstream fantasy

85:  Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997) – Joanne Rowling
Has sold more copies than Tolkien, and to an audience that largely doesn’t read Fantasy

86: Heroes Die (1998) – Matthew Stover
A blend of SF and fantasy that outdoes Martin in grittyness, resurrects and modernises a Sword and Sorcery approach to Fantasy, and sets the foundation for writers like Abercrombie and Lynch

87: Perdido Street Station (2000) – China Miéville
It’s quite strange

Influential Figures in Fantasy, 11

New Turns

JK Rowling (1965-)
China Mieville (1972-)
Matthew Stover (1962-)

You’ve probably noticed that I’m sounding more and more of an idiot as I go through these authors – my level of ignorance is holding steady, while your level of knowledge is probably increasing as we get to the more recent authors. So I’m not going to say too much about these last three authors, none of whom I’ve actually read. Yet they really ought to be mentioned nonetheless.

JK Rowling is the best-selling fantasy author of all time, probably (or possibly second to Tolkien according to some – Tolkien’s total global sales are impossible to accurately measure). It’s hard to point to anything particularly original or noteworthy about her novels themselves, but her popularity – and in particular her popularity with a generation of children (and a generation of parents) who otherwise might not have read fantasy at all is not to be sneered at. Rowling has helped open the door to new authors by showing the potential of the genre – and doubtless she will turn out to have inspired a whole generation of new authors in future. In more concrete terms, her influence can be seen already in the growing genre of secret histories – fantasies in which the magical is present in the real world behind a veil of conspiracy or supernatural concealment. Rowling is certainly not the originator of this subgenre, nor of the magic-school subtype (which I grew up reading…), nor arguably even the original source of its modern popularity (which is probably largely ported over from horror, with the novels of Anne Rice and the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer key moments (oh, there’s a point – should I have included Joss Whedon in this list? No, probably not – but I should at least have thought about writers for film and TV. Oh well, never mind)) – but she’s certainly helped to encourage the subgenre, and to legitimise the genre as a whole. [If you’re seeing a trend here – yes, Fantasy probably does have to be ‘legitimised’ anew each generation – there seems a default assumption that Fantasy is old Fantasy and cannot meet modern demands or deal with modern topics, and it takes author after author to show that it is not just for children and nostalgics]

China Mièville is the posterboy for an entirely different movement in fantasy, a movement that has more in common with Peake, Moorcock, Vance, and Gibson than with Rowling, or with Tolkien. The ‘New Weird’ movement (of which he is of course not the only representative) may not have had the same commercial success – may not even have lived up to critical expectations, with no other author rising to the level of critical or commercial success that Mièville occupies, but it has certainly helped to open up and diversify a fantasy genre that was at risk of becoming stale on a diet of derivative heroic epics. [Though, as a Planescape fanboy, I feel obliged to note that in terms of weird urban settings D&D got there first, and weirder…]

Last of all, Matthew Stover may be most famous as the author of a number of unusually well-regarded Star Wars tie-in novels, but he is also the writer of a critically acclaimed series about the adventures of Caine, a violent adventurer in a fantasy world. The Caine novels combine science fiction (‘Caine’ is actually a character played by an actor in a future form of entertainment) with a revitalisation and modernisation of the old sword and sorcery genre that had fallen into obscurity for several decades. As such, Stover is often cited as a forerunner of such S&S-influenced new authors as Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch.

And there I’ll leave it, with 2000’s Perdido Street Station. I don’t think there’s much sense in trying to talk about ‘influential’ writers of the last decade – we don’t know who will turn out to be influential yet. Already with these three turn-of-the-millenium authors I suspect the real extent of their influence has yet to be seen.

…and now you can shout at me for not including Zelazny, Norton, Kipling, L’Engle, Beagle, Caroll, Baum, and half a dozen others too. Like I said at the beginning, this was only ever meant to be a first wild stab.

 

Additions In Hindsight, and a Round Number

I think that makes a total of 57 authors. Wouldn’t 60 be better? Well, coincidentally, I’ve decided to edit in three more authors that I didn’t originally mention.

First, there’s Anne Radcliffe. Radcliffe (1764-1823) was one of the leading lights of the gothic literary movement, specialising in intense psychological horror (rather than the gorey terror of some other authors of the day). She’s an important figure in the history of Fantasy, however, not only because she was perhaps the greatest populariser of the gothic, but also because she was unusual in emphasising the supernatural and the uncanny elements of the genre, breaking the trail for later writers like Shelley and Poe. She is also apparently responsible for the popularity of lengthy landscape descriptions and detailed descriptions of travelling, two things the Fantasy genre has certainly not failed in seeking to provide…

Second, there’s one of those writers following in the footsteps of Radcliffe and the other early gothic writers: John Polidori (1795-1821). Polidori was barely a writer at all (two books, some poems), and his chief profession was as a physician. In that capacity, he was employed by Byron to accompany him on holiday in Italy, and was present on the rainy evening when Byron challenged the company (Percy and Mary Shelley, Byron himself, and Claire Clairmont) to each write their own ghost story. These were only fragments and sketches, but Mary Shelley continued to work on hers until finally publishing it – as Frankenstein. Polidori, meanwhile, enjoyed Byron’s tale (later published simply as ‘Fragment of a Novel’), and on returning to England reworked and expanded it into the novel that earns him a place in this list: The Vampyre. Polidori’s significance is not in quality, nor in his immediate influence (the story was popular and a few more vampire stories were written over the years, but it was not until Carmilla, and then Dracula that the subgenre took root), but in one brilliant conceit: his vampire, rather than the shambling undead of most folk tales, was Lord Byron himself (given a pseudonym already associated with Byron in the public mind). It was this dashing, handsome, seductive, arrogant, amoral and in some ways tragic image that has continued to form the lynchpin of the public conception of vampires ever since.

And third, there’s Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936). Kipling was an influence in two ways. First, his tales of Imperial India, told from the point of view of a resident rather than a gallivanting explorer like Burton, formed the apex of the orientalist genre, topping writers like Haggard both in literary quality and depth and colour. Not only did this continue to demonstrate the power of exotic settings to enthrall the public – from the most discerning critics (Kipling remains the youngest ever Nobel Laureate for Literature) down to the common man – but in presenting such a real and vivid image of the world outside Europe, he forced writers to go further afield to compete. After Kim, writers like Burroughs had to take their adventurers to the stars, or to the centre of the world.

So, that’s 60. I’ll re-iterate one more time: this is not a definitive list. Man of these 60 writers could fairly be omitted and replaced with some other author; and there are many other authors who might fairly be included in such a list. But this is my own first wild stab at compiling such a list, and others can think for themselves what alterations they might make to it.

Influential Figures in Fantasy, 10

The Big Boom III

Robert Jordan (1948-2007)
George R.R. Martin (1948-)
Terry Pratchett (1948-)

In the 1990’s, Fantasy (at least pure ‘secondary world’ Fantasy) just got bigger and bigger. The greatest representative of this era is probably its most commercially succesful writer, Robert Jordan, whose later books regularly hit the top spot on the New York Times sales lists (the paper acclaimed him as the heir to Tolkien – ‘in attention earned if not achievement’). Along with writers like Terry Goodkind and Tad Williams, Jordan took Fantasy to the next level of commercial success, largely by amplifying the Brooksian formula, making his battles bigger, his magic more explosive, and his stories much, much, much much longer. Jordan ended up writing eleven gargantuan volumes of his ‘Wheel of Time’ epic series (plus one prequel), leaving the final three novels to an author (Brandon Sanderson) selected by his estate after his death; Goodkind’s ‘Sword of Truth’ lasted a mere 11 gigantic installments, plus one prequel and one (and counting) sequel. It’s hard to really comprehend the sheer enormity of these series (and there were plenty more). As one comparison: “The Wheel of Time” is longer than one hundred copies of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe all back to back. Any two volumes of it put together would be about the length of War and Peace, with thirteen more volumes still to spare…

Jordan, though, was perhaps the end of a certain phase in fantasy. Later in the nineties, the tone changed, moving away somewhat from the big-magic adventure-epics of Jordan (and to a lesser extent Brooks, Eddings, and the TSR writers) and toward a more character-focused, ‘historical’ form of fantasy. Robin Hobb might be worth mentioning here, but by far the more prominent writer of the movement was George R.R. Martin, whose A Song of Ice and Fire came closest of this next generation to challenging Jordan. Martin, of course, was approximately the same age as Jordan, and gained fame earlier, but only as the writer of short stories (mostly SF) and a few standalone novels. It was in the late 1990s that A Game of Thrones came out, and the height of his popularity was not reached for another decade, until his books were made into a succesful TV series. A Song of Ice and Fire helped reconfigure the landscape of fantasy, coming at it almost from another direction entirely – his series reads less like a classically ‘fantastical’ story and more like a historical fiction novel that happens to be set on another world with some magical elements, and the emphasis on the story shifts from the epic confrontation between good and evil to the quotidian conflict between variously morally grey rivals – painting the colours, as it were, of S&S onto the form of epic fantasy.

Meanwhile, something even bigger was happening in Britain. Terry Pratchett begin his career as a novellist in the ‘70s, but he achieved the height of his powers and fame in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, primarily with his Discworld series, but also with his Johnny Maxwell and Bromeliad trilogies. Pratchett represents a revival of Chestertonian ideologies, with his humour, distinctive (and distinctively English) narrative voice and Romantic, anti-materialist didacticism (Death’s famous line at the end of Hogfather, which I won’t spoil for those who haven’t read it, may well be the most Chestertonian thing ever written by anyone not named Chesterton). His ability to speak to both adults and children, to genre fans and to a mainstream audience, in both drama and comedy and one and the same time, and with a narrative voice that combined extraordinary wit, erudition and literary awareness with a simple, popular touch that let readers feel elevated and flattered rather than spoken down to, lead to nearly unprecedented popularity. Pratchett became the best-selling author in the UK (at one point comprising over 4% of total hardback fiction sales in the country), and garnered at least five honorary doctorates, a knighthood, blockbuster theatrical adaptations by the Royal National Theatre, many adaptations for TV, and a range of commemorative stamps from the Royal Mail. After Rowling, the 50’s pair of Tolkien and Lewis, and the fantasy horror pair of King and Rice, Pratchett became the biggest-selling fantasy author of all, and helped to make fantasy respectable with a far broader market.

P.S. since writing this, Adam over at the always fascinating thewertzone.blogspot.com has updated his estimates of the best-selling SFF authors of all time. He calculates that Stephanie Meyer has overtaken Pratchett (and even Rice), and he puts Jordan slightly ahead of Pratchett, but the margins of error are probably large.

Influential Figures in Fantasy… 9?

The Big Boom II

David Eddings (1931-2009)
Glen Cook (1944-)
Margaret Weiss (1948-) and Tracy Hickman (1955-)
Robert Holdstock (1948-2009)
William Gibson (1948-)

 

If Terry Brooks taught the lesson that, in attracting the new generations of Fantasy fans perennially looking for ‘the next Tolkien’, superficial tropes were far more important than soul, then one of the first and most succesful authors to learn that lesson was David Eddings. Eddings was considerably older than his peers – he was not a lifelong fantasy fan determined to follow in the footsteps of Tolkien, Lewis or Vance, but rather a more-or-less-failed minor novelist who (as he said himself) one day observed the tremendous success of Tolkien, Donaldson and Brooks, and, browsing through their work, realised that this ‘Fantasy’ business seemed very easy to do, and potentially very lucrative. A series of succesful novels followed. Eddings goes further, and more intentionally, than Brooks in mass-marketing his work – his protagonist in the Belgariad, for instance, is even younger than Brooks’, a common farm boy onto whom every child reader can project their aspirations. His stories strip out the wondrous even more than Brooks’ do, intentionally creating thin worlds of stereotypical cultures and archetypical characters and plots (Eddings himself observed that for a certain type of reader these archetypal elements worked like powerful addictive drugs, overriding their better judgement and forcing them to buy more of his books), but all delivered in a mundane and hence accessible style – in sharp contrast to Tolkien or Donaldson, both his narrative voice and his characters would not be in the least out of place in any other mass-marketed genre.

Even more significant than Eddings, however, may be the authorial duet of Weiss and Hickman. Dragons of Autumn Twilight may not have been the first ever Dungeons and Dragons novel – improbably, that honour belongs to an André Norton novel set in Greyhawk – but it did launch (semi-accidentally) TSR’s programme of game-supporting in-house novel-writing. In the next fourteen years, until TSR’s bankruptcy, over 240 more fantasy novels followed from TSR alone, and many more from other companies following in their footsteps. A replacement to the pulps had been found. Few shared-world novels were ever interesting as literature, and only a handful of their authors achieved significant name-recognition (the most prominent being R.A. Salvatore), but D&D and its novels set the foundations of fantasy from that point on. In terms of plot, the genius of these novels was their ability to set S&S-style tales, with their immediacy and action, in a world with the grandeur of epic fantasy – Dragonlance perhaps is the greatest example, with a spine of fate-of-the-world epic fantasy novels supporting a vast hinterland of adventure stories following every minor character and every historical reference in those central books (albeit with lamentably poor continuity). The variety of worlds (made more accessible by shared and linked elements) and the sheer number of novels allowed some of these writers to explore more unusual, and often darker, directions (Dragonlance, for instance, included an entire subseries of biographical novels in which the protagonists were the villains of the main novels) – including at times (particularly in Spelljammer and Planescape, but also in Dark Sun and elsewhere) some very weird directions. More important, however, was the way that D&D codified many of the tropes that would later be taken for granted, such as the pseudo-Tolkienian array of sentient ‘races’, and (in order to tie in with their roleplaying games) developed the concept of a ‘magic system’, a series of mechanistic (game-like, of course) rules underlying the use of supernatural powers.

Donaldson, Brooks, Eddings and Weiss & Hickman (among others) turned Fantasy into a massively successful (and prolific) genre, while Rice and King were showing that it could be even more succesful if it pretended to be something else. But some of their contemporaries were trying to take the genre in other directions. Glen Cook’s ‘Black Company’ novels developed a strain of military epic fantasy that made the ‘heroes’ into hardbitten mercenaries and challenged the Chestertonian/Tolkienian clarity of good and evil, while combining fantastic subject matter with realistic, ‘gritty’ portrayal. They may not have had a great immediate impact on the Fantasy fiction of the ‘80s, but they would not be forgotten by later writers.  Robert Holdstock, likewise, achieved more influence than sales, his portal fantasy Mythago Wood and its sequels revivifying and updating a ‘mythic’ strain of fantasy that moved in exactly the opposite direction from the bestsellers of their day. Finally, William Gibson isn’t perhaps strictly a fantasy author at all, but his influence on a strain of fantasy shouldn’t be underestimated. Gibson’s most famous contribution was the cyberpunk genre, bringing a SF setting to the brink of fantasy through nightmarish and magical ‘science’, dazzling the reader with a brilliant weirdness of both setting and prose, and infusing the whole with the paranoia and cynicism of a noir mystery. As an encore, Gibson collaborated with Bruce Sterling to create the increasingly prominent ‘steampunk’ brand of neovictorian retrofuturist science fantasy.

Influential Figures in Fantasy, 7

Transitional Figures I
Fritz Leiber (1910-1992)
Mervyn Peake (1911-1968)
Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)

Transitional Figures II
Jack Vance (1916-)
Anne McCaffrey (1926-2011)
Gabriel García Márquez (1927-)
Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-)
Michael Moorcock (1939-)

So far, we’ve seen ‘Fantasy’ begin to take shape. MacDonald, Dunsany and Morris have achieved quiet success with what we might call ‘Romantic Fantasy’ (with a capital R – ironically, romance in the modern sense has rarely had much attention in Romantic fantasy…), while Burroughs and Howard have evolved the ‘Lost World’ genre in the direction of ‘Sword and Sorcery’, achieving commercial – if still niche – success. Machen, Hodgson, and Lovecraft have provided a darker, more horrific take on the genre. “Science Fiction” writers who stray perillously close to outright fantasy, like HG Wells, have received critical acclaim, and perhaps the most influential and respected author in pre-War England, GK Chesterton, has spoken out in support of the nascent genre.

But Fantasy is still a minor, niche product. So are Science Fiction and Horror, though they’re both a lot bigger than Fantasy. That’s why I’ve called this section ‘transitional figures’, as they all wrote between the establishment of Fantasy and its arrival as a significant genre, yet are distinct from the Chestertonian strand of writers I discussed above. I’ve divided them into two chronological sets: the first three (along with Lewis, Tolkien, White and Borges) wrote when Fantasy was still small and undirected; the second set had to write in a landscape dominated by The Lord of the Rings (published 1954-1955) and to a lesser extent Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia (published 1950-1956).

Of the first, Leiber represents the most succesful representative of the next generation of Sword and Sorcery, the genre that dominated fantasy until the 1980s (albeit without ever producing single works with the mainstream crossover appeal of Tolkien or Lewis). Leiber knew Howard and Lovecraft – indeed, he was, strictly speaking, of their generation, though his later start as against their precocious fame and untimely deaths puts him in the second wave of the genre rather than the first. Like the other pulp writers (though Leiber’s career long outlived the pulps that gave it birth), Leiber wrote voluminously and eclectically across SF and Fantasy as well as in realistic settings, but he is best known for his long series of S&S short stories – indeed, he is credited with coining the term ‘Sword and Sorcery’ to describe his genre. He was a pioneer in the yet-to-be-born genre of urban fantasy.

Mervyn Peake, unlike Leiber, did not continue any literary school. A painter, poet and illustrator, he was no doubt aware of Chesterton, Morris, Dunsany and so forth, but his own inspirations were Dickens and Stevenson, and the Gothic movement in general. In some ways, his Gormenghast novels might be seen as a sui generis strain of fantasy, resulting from an independent intensification and exaggeration of Gothicism, and in particular a fusion of the Gothic with the popular English comedy of manners (a tradition in which Chesterton sits alongside Wilde, Wodehouse, and in particular the macabre and mordant Saki). Indeed, though typically considered Fantasy, it shows few outright fantastical elements, and those that it does show are closer to SF than to conventional Fantasy.

Isaac Asimov, on the other hand, is closer to Fantasy than most people consider him. Although famous for his ‘hard SF’, Asimov in fact incorporated many fantasy elements into his fiction – the Foundation novels, for instance, revolve around magical prophecies, and feature mind-controlling psychics, collective consciousness, and sorcerors able to destroy spaceships with their thoughts alone – but masked in a veneer of ‘scientific’ explanation. More importantly, however, Asimov led the movement for a shift toward ‘social science fiction’ – fiction, in other words, that explored not merely technology, but alternative social structures and their effects on psychology, blurring, in effect, the boundaries between fantasy and science fiction. His most famous ‘SF’ story, Nightfall, is notable for containing no science fiction elements whatsoever, instead choosing to explore a broadly 20th century human society (there is no attempt to disguise them as aliens) on a planet where the mutiple suns mean that nobody has ever experienced night. He is also notable for leading the way in designing genuinely alien aliens (most famously, The Gods Themselves takes a break from the economics of a new technology to spend its middle third exploring the society and sex lives of three-gendered aliens). [He also wrote a number of outright fantastical stories (he wrote virtually everything at some point in his career), though none are generally considered among his best work]

In this endeavour to soften sci-fi, one of his most prominent followers was Ursula Le Guin, who takes SF so far that it is hard to distinguish from Fantasy. Her The Left Hand of Darkness, for instance, takes place entirely on an alien world (with magical/mystical elements), and the only two real SF elements – a spaceship and an ansible radio – hang over the story like Chekhov’s gun, present in thought but not in body. Blending the genres even further, her Rocannon’s World may again feature relativistic space travel and an ansible, but also features sword-wielding heroes, castles, and ‘aliens’ suspiciously similar to elves and dwarves. Meanwhile, her outright Fantasy novels, A Wizard of Earthsea and its sequels, became the most popular books of the genre, after the works of Tolkien (and probably shaped the decision of later writers to concentrate on similar coming-of-age stories, rather than Lewis’ children or Tolkien’s middle-aged adults). The Earthsea novels in many ways continued the legacy of Tolkien, while challenging some elements of it (in particular, in seeking to de-Europeanise Fantasy).

Another writer on the borderland of Fantasy and Science Fiction at this time was Anne McCaffrey. A science fiction writer in origin – and always a science fiction writer in her own estimation – her most famous novels, the Pern series, were nonetheless (despite arguably being SF themselves) among the most popular and influential fantasy novels of the period, set in a broadly mediaeval world governed by a knightly class riding teleporting dragons. Her emphasis on character and relationships, and in particular her many female characters, allowed her to appeal to a broader audience than most genre writers of the day, as did her decision to orient several of the Pern novels toward younger readers. McCaffrey is, if not the originator, at least the populariser of many modern fantasy tropes, such as mystical human-animal pair-bonding and, of course, dragons themselves, who had played a surprisingly peripheral and largely villainous role up to this point.

Alongside Leiber, meanwhile, completing the triumvirate of Sword and Sorcery writers of the era, Jack Vance and Michael Moorcock (considerably younger than the other writers in this section, but more precocious) both tried to take the genre in new, more literary directions. Vance, a prolific author of Science Fiction, did not so much directly follow on from earlier Sword and Sorcery as take Planetary Romance in a similar ‘social science’ direction to that in which Asimov and others were taking hard SF: his adventurers became anthropologists and ethnographers, observing the baffling alien societies around them. In his ‘Dying Earth’ novels, Vance created a new subgenre by combining this sociological impulse with the adventure stories of Sword and Sorcery in a genre-blurring far-future ‘science fantasy’ setting. Meanwhile, as Vance tried to colour and deepen (and enstrangen) the settings through which his heroes/antiheroes moved, Moorcock turned his attention to the characters themselves, as well as to the genre as a whole; most of his stories fit into an overarching framework, the story of the ‘Eternal Champion’, in which a cast of fixed underlying characters are projected into various (intentionally only semi-realised) setting in order to pastiche other writers and subgenres; most famously, the melodramatic weltzschmerz of his Byron-inspired ‘Elric’ stories parodises earlier S&S, while itself being parodied by other Moorcock stories. Moorcock was a leading figure in introducing more ‘postmodern’ and self-consciously ‘literary’ elements into Fantasy, and in particular served as the leading voice of the opposition to Tolkien’s legacy, which he found childish, old-fashioned and politically reactionary.

Finally, Gabriel García Márquez was the foremost writer in a new subgenre of Fantasy that took place largely independent of contemporary English-language traditions, and that, through the cunning expedient of being written in a foreign language, was able to be considered serious literature at a time when English-language Fantasy was increasingly being exiled from the attention of ‘serious’ readers. This ‘magic realism’ (or ‘Fantasy written in Spanish’, as Gene Wolfe fans may call it) was inspired by (though as much to opposition as to devotion) Borges, and the influence remains clear, yet García largely rejected Borges’ elevated and artificial style and concerns, prefering more traditional story-telling and closeness to ‘reality’. As a result, his work is closer to Chesterton than to Borges, and much of the stylistic project of magic realism is very close to Chesterton’s own stylistic ideology – in particular the determination to describe the quotidian as though it were fantastical and wondrous, while describing the wondrous and fantastical as though it were ordinary and unexceptional, in order to impress upon the reader that, as García puts it, “reality isn’t limited to the price of tomatoes and eggs.”