The Canon of Fantasy Literature (An Impossiblog) is an impossible blog–an impossiblog, if you will. I have been thinking a lot about the literary canon lately. We have a pretty good sense of who to read to capture the breadth of literary fiction in the West (see the list here). But who can list what are the essential fantasy texts to read?

Well, Locus Magazine can. NPR too. And the 2015 World Fantasy Conference. And me, if you don’t mind the impertinence.

I was inspired to do this blog by two things: my bulletin board, and my friend Matthew Rettino’s blog, “World Fantasy Convention 2015, Part III: Challenging the Canon.” Matthew tells us a bit about the 2015 World Fantasy Convention (which I would have sold all my neighbour’s cats to attend), and does some thinking about what we mean by a canon. In a superstar panel, the guests were challenged to add to the canon of fantastic literature. This is the list that came out of the session:

World Fantasy Conference 2015 New Canon

This is an excellent list–I have added it to my bulletin board–but still a bit eclectic. Even expanding the work of Wolfe, L’Engle, Le Guin, and Peake to the series, and we don’t have the breadth of the most important work.

hugo libraryFor a couple of years I have been using the Locus Magazine list. Not the updated list that I’ll talk about in a moment, but the one from 1987. 1987 is a good time to freeze the 20th century in place. The 1987 list is not yet swept up by works influenced by the Dying Earth subgenre that dominated the late 70s and 80s, yet Jack Vance and Gene Wolfe are there. Vampyre fiction is not yet the bomb, and urban fantasy had not yet blended fairy forests with concrete jungles. The British trinity of Gaiman, Pratchett, and Adams have not had their say yet. J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin have not begun to revolutionize the entire world of fantasy writing. And the satiric films of the late 20th century have not yet turned all genres upside down.

William Morris’ The Well at the World’s End is missing (what Lin Carter calls the first fantasy book), and I’m not sure we would choose those two Stephen King books from the period. I would extend the work of Le Guin, White, Zelazny, and Wolfe into the series in which the books stand, and I would add Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry. We are also missing people who were influential to fantasy fiction, like H.G. Wells, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (see the SF list below). But note how representative of imaginative fantasy this 1987 LocusMag list is:

  1. The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien (1955)
  2. The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien (1937)
  3. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin (1968)
  4. The Shadow of the Torturer, Gene Wolfe (1980)
  5. The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle (1968)
  6. The Once and Future King, H. White (1958)
  7. Nine Princes in Amber, Roger Zelazny (1970)
  8. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson (1977)
  9. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey (1968)
  10. Little, Big, John Crowley (1981)
  11. Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (1865)
  12. The Gormenghast Trilogy, Mervyn Peake (1950)
  13. The Riddlemaster of Hed, Patricia A. McKillip (1976)
  14. The Incompleat Enchanter, Fletcher Pratt & L. Sprague de Camp (1941)
  15. Watership Down, Richard Adams (1972)
  16. The Dying Earth, Jack Vance (1950)
  17. Glory Road, Robert A. Heinlein (1963)
  18. A Spell for Chameleon, Piers Anthony (1977)
  19. Dracula, Bram Stoker (1897)
  20. The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum (1900)
  21. Silverlock, John Myers Myers (1949)
  22. Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury (1962)
  23. The White Dragon, Anne McCaffrey (1978)
    The Stand, Stephen King (1978)
  24. Lord Valentine’s Castle, Robert Silverberg (1980)
  25. The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis (1950)
  26. The Shining, Stephen King (1977)
  27. Conjure Wife, Fritz Leiber (1953)
  28. Deryni Rising, Katherine Kurtz (1970)
    The Worm Ouroboros, E. R. Eddison (1922)
  29. Witch World, Andre Norton (1963)
  30. Salem’s Lot, Stephen King (1975)
  31. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle (1962)

I am working my way steadily through this top 33 list. I have added to it a number of lists:

These lists don’t mean I am skipping everything new. Locus Magazine has kept updating their lists based on reader response. They use a voting system to tabulate the results in four categories:

  • 20th Century SF Novels
  • 20th Century Fantasy Novels
  • 21st Century SF Novels
  • 21st Century Fantasy Novels

This is a fantastic resource (if you can excuse the pun). We can see in the top 50 of the 20th c. fantasy (below) how very influential certain figures are: Rowling, Tolkien, Lewis, Martin, Le Guin, Zelazny, Bradbury, King, Pratchett and Gaiman. I suspect we will see Mists of Avalon tumble down the lists, and Terry Pratchett’s work make its way up. The Martin-Tolkien-Rowling-King domination is key, and shows the strength of their fictional worlds as well as the power of film to draw readers into the book world. Le Guin, L’Engle, Lewis, Gaiman, Pratchett, Guy Kay, and the Arthurian writers have never really had very good adaptations.

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets libraryI have attached the Top 50 in both the 20th c. SF and Fantasy categories. With notable exceptions, it is interesting that common names from the late 20th century dominate the top of the early 21st c. Fantasy list, but the top of the SF list has a lot of new names. I think this should be a comment on the publisher-locked world of contemporary fantasy–a world shattered in SF by the incredible success of The Martian. As far as SciFi goes, I do not know yet if it means that the last great SF age has passed, or if we are seeing new energy for the genre. Only time will tell, but I suspect the next decade of SciFi books will a creative move past the post-apocalyptic lock.

Top 50 20th Century Fantasy

  1. Tolkien, J.R.R., The Lord of the Rings(1955)
  2. Martin, George R.R., A Game of Thrones(1996)
  3. Tolkien, J.R.R., The Hobbit (1937)
  4. Le Guin, Ursula K., A Wizard of Earthsea(1968)
  5. Zelazny, Roger, Nine Princes in Amber(1970)
  6. Mieville, China, Perdido Street Station(2000)
  7. Lewis, C.S., The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe(1950)
  8. Gaiman/Pratchett, Good Omens(1990)
  9. Rowling, J.K., Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone(1997)
  10. Crowley, John, Little, Big(1981)
  11. Adams, Richard, Watership Down(1972)
  12. Martin, George R.R., A Storm of Swords(2000)
  13. Goldman, William, The Princess Bride(1973)
  14. Beagle, Peter S., The Last Unicorn(1968)
  15. White, T.H., The Once and Future King(1958)
  16. Kay, Guy Gavriel, Tigana(1990)
  17. Gaiman, Neil, Neverwhere(1996)
  18. Wolfe, Gene, The Book of the New Sun(1983)
  19. Vance, Jack, The Dying Earth(1950)
  20. Bulgakov, Mikhail, The Master and Margarita(1967)
  21. Rowling, J.K., Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire(2000)
  22. Tolkien, J.R.R., The Silmarillion(1977)
  23. Leiber, Fritz, The Swords of Lankhmar(1968)
  24. Jordan, Robert, The Eye of the World(1990)
  25. Rowling, J.K., Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban(1999)
  26. Donaldson, Stephen R., Lord Foul’s Bane(1977)
  27. Bradbury, Ray, Something Wicked This Way Comes(1962)
  28. Peake, Mervyn, Gormenghast(1950)
  29. Powers, Tim, The Anubis Gates(1983)
  30. Martin, George R.R., A Clash of Kings(1998)
  31. Bradley, Marion Zimmer, The Mists of Avalon(1983)
  32. Hobb, Robin, Assassin’s Apprentice(1995)
  33. Pratchett, Terry, The Colour of Magic(1983)
  34. Holdstock, Robert, Mythago Wood(1984)
  35. King, Stephen, The Stand(1978)
  36. L’Engle, Madeleine, A Wrinkle in Time(1962)
  37. Pratchett, Terry, Small Gods(1992)
  38. Howard, Robert E., Conan the Barbarian(1950)
  39. Ende, Michael, The Neverending Story (1983)
  40. Peake, Mervyn, Titus Groan(1946)
  41. McCaffrey, Anne, Dragonflight(1968)
  42. Feist, Raymond E., Magician(1982)
  43. Orwell, George, Animal Farm(1945)
  44. Silverberg, Robert, Lord Valentine’s Castle(1980)
  45. Lovecraft, H.P., At the Mountains of Madness(1936)
  46. Swanwick, Michael, The Iron Dragon’s Daughter(1993)
  47. King, Stephen, The Shining(1977)
  48. Garcia Marquez, Gabriel, One Hundred Years of Solitude(1970)
  49. Saint-Exupery, Antoine de, The Little Prince(1943)
  50. Hughart, Barry, Bridge of Birds(1984)
  51. Rice, Anne, Interview with the Vampire(1976)
  52. King, Stephen, It(1986)

sf sectionTop 50 20th Century SF (LocusMag)

  1. Herbert, Frank, Dune(1965)
  2. Card, Orson Scott, Ender’s Game(1985)
  3. Asimov, Isaac, The Foundation Trilogy (1953)
  4. Simmons, Dan, Hyperion(1989)
  5. Le Guin, Ursula K., The Left Hand of Darkness(1969)
  6. Adams, Douglas, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy(1979)
  7. Orwell, George, Nineteen Eighty-Four(1949)
  8. Gibson, William, Neuromancer(1984)
  9. Bester, Alfred, The Stars My Destination(1957)
  10. Bradbury, Ray, Fahrenheit 451(1953)
  11. Heinlein, Robert A., Stranger in a Strange Land(1961)
  12. Heinlein, Robert A., The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress(1966)
  13. Haldeman, Joe, The Forever War(1974)
  14. Clarke, Arthur C., Childhood’s End(1953)
  15. Niven, Larry, Ringworld(1970)
  16. Le Guin, Ursula K., The Dispossessed(1974)
  17. Bradbury, Ray, The Martian Chronicles(1950)
  18. Stephenson, Neal, Snow Crash(1992)
  19. Miller, Walter M., Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz(1959)
  20. Pohl, Frederik, Gateway(1977)
  21. Heinlein, Robert A., Starship Troopers(1959)
  22. Dick, Philip K., The Man in the High Castle(1962)
  23. Zelazny, Roger, Lord of Light(1967)
  24. Wolfe, Gene, The Book of the New Sun(1983)
  25. Lem, Stanislaw, Solaris(1970)
  26. Dick, Philip K., Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?(1968)
  27. Vinge, Vernor, A Fire Upon The Deep(1992)
  28. Clarke, Arthur C., Rendezvous with Rama(1973)
  29. Huxley, Aldous, Brave New World(1932)
  30. Clarke, Arthur C., 2001: A Space Odyssey(1968)
  31. Vonnegut, Kurt, Slaughterhouse-Five(1969)
  32. Strugatsky, Arkady & Boris, Roadside Picnic(1972)
  33. Card, Orson Scott, Speaker for the Dead(1986)
  34. Brunner, John, Stand on Zanzibar(1968)
  35. Robinson, Kim Stanley, Red Mars(1992)
  36. Niven, Larry (& Pournelle, Jerry), The Mote in God’s Eye(1974)
  37. Willis, Connie, Doomsday Book(1992)
  38. Atwood, Margaret, The Handmaid’s Tale(1985)
  39. Sturgeon, Theodore, More Than Human(1953)
  40. Simak, Clifford D., City(1952)
  41. Brin, David, Startide Rising(1983)
  42. Asimov, Isaac, Foundation(1950)
  43. Farmer, Philip Jose, To Your Scattered Bodies Go(1971)
  44. Dick, Philip K., Ubik(1969)
  45. Vonnegut, Kurt, Cat’s Cradle(1963)
  46. Vinge, Vernor, A Deepness in the Sky(1999)
  47. Simak, Clifford D., Way Station(1963)
  48. Wyndham, John, The Day of the Triffids(1951)
  49. Stephenson, Neal, Cryptonomicon(1999)
  50. Keyes, Daniel, Flowers for Algernon(1966)

Here is “A Guide to Navigating NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books. Click on the image to enlarge and enjoy the hunt! Please include your own fantasy and SF lists in the comments below.

NPR top 100 SF and Fantasy Infographic

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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65 Responses to The Canon of Fantasy Literature (An Impossiblog)

  1. Jared Lobdell says:

    Seems like considerable confusion exists on the difference between fantasy and sf (they aren’t after all the same thing). Suggest as an antidote the distinctions drawn by James Blish (William Atheling Jr.) according to Northrop Frye’s taxonomy. In my view (see my RISE OF TOLKIENIAN FANTASY) there is no genre of fantasy until Tolkien — and Tolkien actually created IN the (sub)genre of feigned history. We need to be careful not to assume all feigned history is fantasy. By Frye-Blish sf is irony/satire (mythos of the winter) and fantasy is romance (summer) or even comedy (spring). .


    • There is a confusion, and “Space Fantasy” probably blurs the line.
      Why wouldn’t, say, William Morris’ “Well at the World’s End” be in that genre? Lin Carter excludes Lewis Carroll, Geo. MacDonald, and E.R. Eddison because it is a dream escape of sorts (Eddison being on another planet too).


      • Jared Lobdell says:

        Why not The Well At The World’s End? See my remarks in RISE — “fantasy” as a genre is what came out of Tolkien’s feigned history that had the “quality” of fantasy. You might retroactively say that’s what W Morris was writing but I don’t think it would be useful. I’m thinking about trying to answer this at greater length. Meanwhile there are many outliers and few books of which it can be said certainly “this is A fantasy” though many with the quality of fantasy. Mythopoeia may be a more useful word, though that too has problems.. One of the principal problem areas in fantasy criticism (to me) is the conjoining of Lewis (who wrote satire) and Tolkien (who wrote romance): Lewis was not a serious fantasist : he was a voracious and retentive reader who set out to write a children’s story (seven books long eventually). And knights in armor are not fantasy per se — in fact they are historical and the genre is feigned history if it isn’t history. But we’ve fallen into inexact usage. Madeleine L’Engle is interesting because her spiritual (Inklings?) progenitor is not so much Tolkien or Lewis but Charles Williams, though of course sher read virtually everything Lewis wrote, including the 1929 letter in the TLS.


        • Thanks for the discussion. I have never pushed for super tight definitions. Was it Orson Scott Card who said that SF was rivets and Fantasy trees? I think we can experience the tonal differences between those genres even in the simplification–an oversimplification now that we have space fantasy, urban fantasy, post-apocalyptic realism, etc.
          I would agree that Tolkien does something new–not “new” as in out of the blue, but an integration of speculative writing heretofore unseen. Morris and Lewis are not doing what Tolkien did. But I wonder if we murder to dissect if we keep eliminating things to make LOTR the first fantasy book, excluding dream stories (as Carter does), supernatural thrillers, ghost stories, faerie, the Arthurian, and anything else with fantastic elements.
          I’ll simply have to read your book at some point. I’m not sure, though, that we can speak with exactness (exactitude?).
          CW–>L’Engle makes a nice set of mental games.


  2. S. Evelyn says:

    Continuing on the theme of genre confusion: Is A Wrinkle in Time really fantasy? I’ll grant you the Mrs. W’s as the three witches, but I’d still argue that at least in that one L’Engle is working within the vocabulary of sci-fi.

    Liked by 2 people

    • If Jared Lobdell was right, the genre of fantasy wasn’t one she could truly draw upon yet, being just a few years old when she wrote Wrinkle. I think she wants to be writing supernatural romances (adventures) in SF form. They have SF elements. Perhaps she is on the Fantasy list because she isn’t that Arthur C. Clarke attention-to-science kind of writer. Her speculative universes are not substantial, but tight and driven to the story.
      I kind of see L’Engle like Margaret Atwood. The larger category of “speculative fiction” is good fit.


  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I don’t have access to an OED, and so cannot properly browse attested historical uses at leisure, but not all satire is equally – “phantasical”? – but some is, Lucian, More’s Utopia, Cervantes, Cyrano, Swift’s Gulliver, Pope’s Dunciad.

    I’d be inclined to depart from the Locus lists in the direction of authors more than works – e g., I’m glad to see John Wyndham, but I’m not sure which-all of his books I’d choose, and what of H. Beam Piper (I’d say, Little Fuzzy, no matter what, but there’s so much of interest)?

    And where are (and how would one classify, and why) such varied folk as E. Nesbit and F. Anstey, and, darker, Machen and Blackwood? Are Kiplings ‘Puck’ books forerunners of fantasy “IN the (sub)genre of feigned history” (or not quite that, but, what, then)?

    A great ‘discovery’ and resource of my youth was Lovecraft’s “Supernatural Horror in Literature” (its Wikipedia article has a link to an online text). But its interest goes beyond ‘horror’.


    • Hi David, yes, I’m inclined to think of authors (and in Bloom’s list, my larger reading is that). In the case of the Locus lists, they are user votes. Will George RR Martin survive in time? I’m not sure. And I don’t know if Lewis would remain over time, despite still being read by children.
      I have the Lovecraft piece queued in my to-read, but haven’t gotten it yet.


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I have the handy Dover reprint with Index, which enables the Lovecraft essay to be a book-shopping aid for further reading of likely interest (in my youth and still today!).

        Liked by 1 person

  4. These lists are full of fun and wonderful memories. I still have the original printing of Frank Herbert’s Dune in its serial publication in Analog. Found it on a camp store checkout stand during a Michigan vacation when age 17 (1964). Good old John Schoenherr cover with the sand worms, alternate histories by Randall Garrett and H. Beam Piper. List encounters allow each to form canons of personal device, rare or otherwise.


  5. John Penn says:

    Had a weird dream about Brenton. We were in a college eatery somewhere and he was talking about the often overlooked “artistic density” of Out of the Silent Planet. Also the quasi-nihilism of the Psalms and their uniqueness among “psalmodic” literatures of the world because of the nature of the psalmists relationship with Jehovah. That’s it. Only know Brent from his quest blogs on The Oddest Inkling. And I never heard the word “psalmodic” till it showed up in my dream.

    But I think it can be explained without an appeal to the supernatural. I remember once discussing OotSP with a friend and saying how in it Lewis takes on the astronomical nihilism of his peers, and somehow the psalmodic bit got pulled in.

    This is a great blog! I will follow it from now on.


    • That’s about the strangest search engine I can think of: a dream! I’m glad to meet you over here at A Pilgrim in Narnia. Have I ever said words like “Psalmodic” or “anstronomical nihilism”? Not sure!


  6. Joe R. Christopher says:

    I’m not certain I accept Jared’s suggestion that fantasy begins with Tolkien as feigned history. Aren’t most of the medieval Arthurian romances “feigned history”? (I say “most” in order to avoid having to discuss “Culhwch and Olwen” and a few others.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jared Lobdell says:

      But were the authors consciously feigning? And I didn’t say (certainly didn’t mean to say) fantasy begins with Tolkien’s feigned history but that fantasy as a genre begins with what Tolkien wrote as feigned history (the argument is better made in my RISE OF TOLKIENIAN FANTASY). But I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Joe for his long service to Lewis studies in particular.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Joe R. Christopher says:

        Jared, I was thinking of the two references in Nennius’s _Historia Brittonum_ (early 9th century) and the full account in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s _Historia Regum Britaniae_ (ca. 1136). Geoffrey’s account becomes the basis of Wace’s _Roman de Brut_ and it, in turn, of Layamon’s _Brut_. Many of the Arthurian romances that follow make some bows toward Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “history.” _Sir Gawain and the Green Knight_ opens with a reference to the Trojan War being over, for example. “Feigned” is a difficult word when considered Geoffrey. Who knows what he believed? Who knows what those who read him believed?

        (Jared, don’t you go back as far as I do? You were writing Lewisian essays for _Orcrist_ in the early 1970s, and I haven’t check thoroughly for your work. My doctoral dissertation on Lewis was accepted in 1969; it was published by Dissertation Abstracts the next year.)

        Liked by 1 person

        • jaredlobdell says:

          Joe — My first paper on CSL was my (prep school) Junior Honors English paper (written at the Wooster School Danbury CT) May 1954 — but that was privately printed in an edition of a couple of copies (by the school). My first genuinely published paper was in the Milwaukee magazine RALLY in 1966 (I think: it might have been ’68) “Words That Sound Like Castles” — and in that same year of 1966 (I think it was) I had reviews of JRRT or CSL or both in Bill Buckley’s NATIONAL REVIEW. I agree with you that we don’t know exactly what Geoffrey believed was history — in fact, we can’t know if “historia” is “history” or simply “story.” — Jared

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Joe R. Christopher says:

    A second, unrelated comment. If we are trying to name the best books, not just the most popular, I’d suggest substituting _Till We Have Faces_ for “The Chronicles of Narnia” in the World Fantasy Conference selections and for _The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe_ in the _Locus_ list.


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Thinking out loud (in considerable ignorance) – have there been many – or any – attempts to start from an author (in genre) and give a ‘multi-pronged’ evaluation of works, such as, 1. Best 2. Most popular 3. Characteristic 4. Author’s personal favorite (if known) 5. Most ambitious, … (suggest further ‘prongs’ ad lib.)?

      For example, I’m sure I’ve taken part in more than one exchange among commenters at The Oddest Inkling blog as to the novels of Charles Williams (and, here, assuming for a moment we can take them as having the same genre – whatever it is) over the distinctions of best and readers’ personal favorites – e.g., Descent into Hell is probably the better novel/’romance’, but I would much rather reread War in Heaven, while The Place of the Lion and The Greater Trumps are, as ‘orrery novels’*, equally ambitious – and arguably more ambitious than many of his others, but with distinctly varying appeal (‘popularity’?) between the two of them.

      *Stephen Medcalf somewhere discusses (some of) Wiliams’s fiction in terms of the ‘orrery’ image which I think someone first applied to (some of) Iris Murdoch’s – I think in a paper among those online in the Williams Society Newsletter/Quarterly archive.


    • I’m also inclined to wonder how we could judge the best books.
      Till We Have Faces is on the top 400 list, around #150 I think. Voters could change that.


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  9. marcelaubron says:

    I’ve always been wondering on the issues of canon and genre definitions (see Frye as a suggestion on how to go about it) but every time I think of the rivets/ tree analogy I just turn to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, where the internet, the steam train and many other things besides go hand in hand with his early sword & sorcery & parody books of the Rincewind ilk.

    But then, “defying the genre” might be a genre in itself 😉


    • Thanks! I do quite like your blog.
      I don’t think we can make the distinctions between SF and Fantasy after 1985. Sure, we can distinguish sub genres: vampyre fiction, steampunk, space SF, post-apocalyptic, dystopia, high fantasy, etc. But “space fantasy” and “urban fantasy” are hybrids, and you can have SF elements in any literature. Adams and Pratchett and the satirical film movement all make the genre’s edges fluid, I think. ““defying the genre” might be a genre in itself”–well done.
      I particularly like Brian Attebery, Strategies of Fantasy, around 1992. An excellent discussion of the features we talk about here. He also thinks (as does Jared Lobdell) that LOTR is a new kind of thing, a new genre.


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  11. Steve says:

    None of the lists seems to include Gulliver’s travels. It came a long time before The well at the world’s end.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jared Lobdell says:

      See my forthcoming (very soon) EIGHT CHILDREN IN NARNIA (Open Court), but GULLIVER is satire and therefore (by Frye’s definition) rather sf than fantasy. See also S. H. Cyrano de Bergerac, COMICALL HISTORIE OF THE STATES AND EMPIRES OF THE SUNNE AND THE MOONE (1655).

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think it is left off for that sort of reason. I think it must be viewed as a 20th-21st century list.
      It leaves open the need to “The Key Forbearers to Fantasy and SF Lit” list.


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  13. robstroud says:

    Recommend adding Alas Babylon, by Pat Frank (Harry Hart Frank). One of the first apocalyptic novels of the modern era.

    The other indispensable classic is Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague De Camp. It is the early alternative history set in Rome that inspired the career of the most successful of alternative historians, Harry Turtledove.


    • I haven’t heard of Frank, but that interests me. I haven’t made any of these lists, but what reader comments do is help other readers to make their own “to be read” lists. One of the problems with the canon conversations is that “might is right” is one of the underlying principles.


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  15. John Barach says:

    Another “canon” list would be the books published in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series ( These are the ones that Lin Carter edited and introduced. Though he himself was principally a writer of pastiche, he was a great enthusiast.

    Add to the list some chief representatives of the books Carter couldn’t publish but did mention in *Imaginary Worlds*. For instance, a canonical list of fantasy fiction ought to include Conan somewhere, probably the full-length original *Hour of the Dragon* (as opposed to the later edited versions).

    I suppose one might add some of the books that were reprinted in the Newcastle Forgotten Fantasy series (

    And then … what about short stories? I’m sure there’s some “canonical” (or at least: “If you’re going to claim you’re reading the greatest fantasy ever written you ought to be reading these things”) fantasy fiction that is less than novel length.


    • Lin Carter was a great enthusiast, and a curator of fantasy that might have been lost. The Ballantine list would make a great generation of reading. Well done.
      I didn’t know about the Newcastle series. Short stories are, like lyric poems, always in danger of loss. We get to keep the biggies, like Bradbury or Niven. Do the rest get anthologized? I would love to see a crowd-sourced best 10 anthologies.


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  39. hatrack4 says:

    Thank you for this review. My Christmas present this year was a reprint in paperback of Lewis’ Space Trilogy. I had at least the first two on my list of books to read this year. Now, they may be higher on the priority list.


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