Genre Essentials: Fantasy — 10 Fantasy Books You Must Read

August 15th, 2012 by

When you are writing an original screenplay within a specific genre, you really should know the heart, soul and guts of that genre. This will inform every step of your creative and writing process: concept, character development, brainstorming, plotting, tone, style, atmosphere, voice, pace, and so on. There are certain attributes common to each genre, and you need to know as much about them as possible, if you want to follow, reverse or break those conventions.

Obviously you can’t read and watch everything, but isn’t there a way to cover the essentials?

Which led me to a new GITS series: Genre Essentials.

This week: Fantasy.

Today: 10 Fantasy Scripts You Must Analyze.

Please post your suggestions in comments. Tomorrow and the rest of the week, let’s do our best to generate quality suggestions for the other categories.

To read your suggestions for 10 Fantasy Movies You Must See and add to the list of suggestions, go here.

To read your suggestions for 10 Fantasy Scripts You Must Analyze and add to the list, go here.

Next week: Horror.

I’m happy to announce that Shaula Evans, who as I’m sure you have noticed has been an active presence in this series and others, has agreed to oversee the flow of resource suggestions for Genre Essentials. My current thinking is whittle down the choices to something on the order of 20 titles [where we have that many], then put them up to a vote of the GITS community to end up with 10 top choices. Meanwhile thanks, Shaula, for the help!

UPDATE: The votes are in for Action, Comedy, and Drama. I’m working through them and will be posting Genre Essential lists for these three soon. Thanks to everyone for participating with their suggestions and votes.

13 thoughts on “Genre Essentials: Fantasy — 10 Fantasy Books You Must Read

  1. Scott says:

    “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien
    “The Golden Compass” by Phillip Pullman

  2. scotty1time says:

    “The Curse of Chalion” by Lois McMaster Bujold

  3. This may be cheating, but I’m including entire series rather than picking individual books to hit ten books.

    1. LORD OF THE RINGS series (including THE HOBBIT) – JRR Tolkien
    2. AMERICAN GODS – Neil Gaiman
    3. HARRY POTTER series – JK Rowling
    4. BOOK OF THE NEW SUN series – Gene Wolfe
    5. CHRONICLES OF NARNIA series – CS Lewis
    6. NEVERWHERE – Neil Gaiman
    7. SANDMAN series (graphic novels) – Neil Gaiman
    8. THE MISTS OF AVALON – Marion Zimmer Bradley (there’s a series here, but you could get away with reading this one book)
    9. THE COMPLETE BROTHERS GRIMM – Brothers Grimm
    10. THE ODYSSEY – Homer (I like the Robert Fitzgerald translation)

  4. David Joyner says:

    “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass” by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll)

    As a teenager, I loved Robert E. Howard’s series involving Conan the Barbarian.

    Clive Barker is known for horror but has written fantasy, for example Weaveworld.

    China Miéville has written lots of fantasy, for example, I enjoyed Perdido Street Station.

    Others on this list: World Fantasy Award winners, but sad to say I’ve read so few of them I can’t pick out which are great ones.

  5. iwelsh says:

    1) Lord of the Rings including the Silmarillion. The Silmarillion is where you see the worldbuilding. Without that world building, the LoTR would be far less interesting.

    2) She, H. Rider Haggard. Hugely influential on Robert Howard, Lovecraft and various other early to mid 20th century authors.

    3) Conan Series by Howard. This is the archetypal sword and sandal. Read Howard’s shorts, not the stories by other authors, including deCamp. Notice that Conan is actually very smart, wears armor, etc…

    4) A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs. Sword and Sandal fantasy adventure, again massively influential. Also read the original Tarzan. Notice that it is a real novel, not a pulp.

    5) Chronicles of Narnia. ‘Nough said.

    6) Brothers Grimm: read the non-sanitized version, not for kiddies. Have you brains blown.

    7) 1001 Nights. Still wondrous.

    8) Andre Norton: Witch World & The Crystal Gryphon. These aren’t the best novels, but Norton was vastly influential in the mid century. Every kid read her.

    9) Read a bunch of the Call of Cthulhu stories.

    10) God Stalk by P.C. Hodgell. Not a big seller, but a book (and series) other fantasy authors love, and for good reason. Really appealing heroine, very well put together world.

  6. iwelsh says:

    Oh, and 11th. Fritz Lieber. Read one of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. I actually don’t like them, but again, vastly influential.

  7. Shaula Evans says:

    Thank you everybody for the great suggestions so far.

    I feel like this genre is tricky because it has a strong, established, genre-savvy fan base. So we’re really talking about two lists here:
    1. The outsider list, to cover the essentials of the genre as it’s perceived by Hollywood / by story-tellers / aspiring writers outside the fantasy world; and
    2. The insider list, of the essentials of the genre cannon as perceived by people working / reading *inside* that cannon.

    (I have asked some friends who I consider genre insiders, including fantasy writers, to contribute to the list and I hope they will. On that note, thanks, iwelsh!)

    A few more suggestions:

    Anne McCaffrey – The Dragon Riders of Pern series
    Octavia E. Butler
    Ursula K. Le Guin – The Left Hand of Darkness
    Wen Spencer – A Brother’s Price
    Barbara Hambly – her oeuvre is broad and varied; I’d suggest starting with The Ladies of Mandrigyn, the first book of The Sunwolf & Starhawk series

    I don’t pretend to have a thorough enough understanding of this genre to weigh in on whether these are canonical/iconic or not, but I put them forward as books and authors that are a pleasure to read and should prove helpful to anyone looking for tropes of this genre or examples of masterful stories in this genre.

    And here’s a business thought: there’s a great tendency in fantasy literature for writers to write series of books, rather than one-off books, possibly to take advantage of the huge effort of building unique worlds. Given the emphasis in Hollywood right now on A) adapting properties with pre-existing fan bases and B) franchies, I wonder if we won’t / shouldn’t see more fantasy classics adapted to the screen. Any thoughts?

  8. David Joyner says:

    > I feel like this genre is tricky because it has a strong,
    > established, genre-savvy fan base. So we’re really talking > about two lists here …

    IMHO a very insightful comment.
    This is another huge (and very “hot”) genre, with lots of subgenres. The fantasy conventions (not that I attend them but I know people that do) are very well attended. These “hot” genres should not be ignored. Steampunk seems strong, as does “vampire/young adult horror”). What is great now, may not be what sells tomorrow…

    1. Shaula Evans says:

      Thanks, David.

      And if you look at the suggestions above, they cover fantasy-in-general well, but anyone setting out to write fantasy would want to dig into pertinent subgenres: swords-and-sandals, dragons, fairy-tale, etc. I think I’d file steampunk under sci fi more than fantasy (although it would depend on the specifics of the story).

      Can anyone think of subgenres we haven’t covered here yet that you feel are an important part of the genre?

      And speaking of cons, if we have any con attendees here, I hope you’ll speak up and recommend your favourites when the “other resources” list goes up tomorrow.

  9. Any books or short stories by Lord Dunsany
    Discworld series from Terry Pratchett
    Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson)
    Earthsea Saga by Ursula Le Guin
    The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
    The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
    Watership Down by Richard Adams
    Redwall by Brian Jacques
    The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
    Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind
    The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
    Magic Kingdom for Sale – SOLD by Terry Brooks
    Peter Pan and Wendy by JM Barre
    The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
    Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

  10. Shaula Evans says:

    More fiction book recommendations from swinefever:

    > If you want some (fairly) recent fantasy novels to read then I’d go with any of:
    The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
    The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie
    Shadows of the Apt series by Adrian Tchaikovsky
    A Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin

  11. Shaula Evans says:

    More suggestions from Marina Sandoval:

    A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
    The Passage by Justin Cronin
    The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
    Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
    Coraline by Neil Gaiman
    The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien
    The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
    Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
    Through a Glass, Darkly by Jostein Gaarder
    The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder
    Perrault’s Fairy Tales by Charles Perrault, Gustave Doré
    The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
    Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

    I was going to recommend the books of Licia Troisi, she is an Italian author, but I couldn’t find it in English. It is a shame because she is very good. I think these are the languages that you can find her books: Italian, German, French, Dutch, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese. If you want to know more about her: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Licia_Troisi

    Dylan Dog by Tiziano Sclavi is another one that is very good.

  12. Shaula Evans says:

    The list so far:

    (Any books or short stories) by Lord Dunsany
    (anything by) Octavia E. Butler
    1001 Nights. Still wondrous.
    A Brother’s Price by Wen Spencer
    A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
    A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs. (Sword and Sandal fantasy adventure, again massively influential. Also read the original Tarzan. Notice that it is a real novel, not a pulp.)
    A Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin
    Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll)
    American Gods by Neil Gaiman
    Book Of The New Sun Series by Gene Wolfe
    Coraline by Neil Gaiman
    Discworld series from Terry Pratchett
    Dylan Dog by Tiziano Sclav
    Earthsea Saga by Ursula Le Guin
    Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser Fritz Lieber. (Vastly influential.)
    God Stalk by P.C. Hodgell. (Not a big seller, but a book (and series) other fantasy authors love, and for good reason. Really appealing heroine, very well put together world.)
    Magic Kingdom for Sale – SOLD by Terry Brooks
    Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
    Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
    Perrault’s Fairy Tales by Charles Perrault, Gustave Doré
    Peter Pan and Wendy by JM Barre
    Redwall by Brian Jacques
    Sandman Series (Graphic Novels) by Neil Gaiman
    Shadows of the Apt series by Adrian Tchaikovsky
    She by H. Rider Haggard. (Hugely influential on Robert Howard, Lovecraft and various other early to mid 20th century authors.)
    Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
    The books of Licia Troisi
    The Call of Cthulhu stories by H.P. Lovecraft
    The Chronicles Of Narnia Series by C.S .Lewis
    The Complete Brothers Grimm by the Brothers Grimm (read the non-sanitized version, not for kiddies. Have you brains blown.)
    The Conan series by Robert E. Howard. (This is the archetypal sword and sandal. Read Howard’s shorts, not the stories by other authors, including deCamp. Notice that Conan is actually very smart, wears armor, etc.)
    The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
    The Dragon Riders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey
    The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie
    The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
    The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
    The Ladies of Mandrigyn, the first book of The Sunwolf & Starhawk series by Barbara Hambly
    The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
    The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
    The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
    The Lord Of The Rings Series (including The Hobbit and the Silmarillion) by JRR Tolkien (The Silmarillion is where you see the world-building, without which the LoTR would be far less interesting.)
    The Mists Of Avalon by Marion Zimmer
    The Odyssey by Homer (Robert Fitzgerald translation)
    The Passage by Justin Cronin
    The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder
    The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
    The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
    The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
    Through a Glass, Darkly by Jostein Gaarder
    Through the Looking-Glass by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll)
    Time of the Dark series by Barbara Hambly (There is nothing in her later fantasy novels which is not in that trilogy in one form or another. And the “earth people dropped into fantasy world” is a big trope.)
    Watership Down by Richard Adams
    Weaveworld by Clive Barker
    Witch World & The Crystal Gryphon by Andre Norton. (These aren’t the best novels, but Norton was vastly influential in the mid century. Every kid read her.)
    Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind

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