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Some fantasy novels I have enjoyed

I haven’t been reading much lately (only six books this month so far), and have been suffering from selective writer’s block as well – I have something like six half-written reviews on the go and can’t bring myself to finish them, but find it perfectly easy to write short essays. To keep the blog going, here is a list of book recommendations I wrote ages ago but never published until now:

First I have to say that my explorations into fantasy literature have not taken me far into the world of series fantasy. The reason is that I have too often discovered that the book I was reading was part of a series where the story was so interwoven with previous books that it was impossible to enjoy it without having read those first, or that the story actually started X books ago, and/or would not end for another X books. I have nothing against series, but each book must be readable as an independent story with a solid beginning and end to interest me. This goes for any genre. The only exception is when I can be sure of getting all the books in the series to read in chronological order. Reading them in order allows me to enjoy character development and to detect when the series starts going downhill.

Oldies and Classics:

Gulliver’s Travels - Jonathan Swift. Satire, adventure, alternative reality.
Wonderfully imaginative adventure and scathing social and political satire combine to make this a great story. Many readers will only be familiar with the first two books of this masterpiece, about Gulliver and the Lilliputians and Gulliver and the Brobdingnagians, but there are two more which have received less attention. Swift would not have called it fantasy – to him it was social satire, using fantastic elements to draw out the ridiculousness of certain people and institutions – but most modern readers read it more as a fantasy than as a satire.

Phantastes - George MacDonald. Adventure, fairy tale fantasy.
Here is an author who influenced both Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and was instrumental in having Lewis Carroll submit Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for publication. Yet he seems little regarded today, except by serious fantasy fans who are interested in the origins of the genre. I challenge any serious fan of fairy tale fantasy to read Phantastes - you will not regret it. There is a development of themes in it that can be seen in later works by other authors, and a clever reworking of old fairy tales and myths.

Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien. High fantasy.
Although LOTR was far from being the first fantasy novel, it was among first that showed the precision and attention to background detail that made the world it depicted seem real to its readers. Many readers criticise it for all the detail, which they feel bogs down the story, but don’t realise that without all this background, it would just be another good vs. bad saga that might already be forgotten.

The Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis. Adventure.
When I was young enough not to detect the religious content I found this series absolutely wonderful. I have not read any of the books since I was in my teens, but remember them with fondness.

Peter Pan - James M. Barrie. Adventure.
This story fascinated me when I was a child. I saw the Disney movie when I was quite young, and later, when I read the book, it became one of my favourites. To be able to fly like Peter Pan was a childhood dream. I have not been able to bring myself to read it after I grew up, out of feat that it will be spoilt by reading it through critical, adult eyes.

The newer ones:

The Discworld series – Terry Pratchett. Humorous fantasy.
Pratchett has created a world that seems very real, although I wouldn’t want to live in it (a short visit would be nice). The early books are lighter and more laugh out loud funny, while the newer books are darker and give you things to think about, while still being funny, although often in a tragicomic way.

The Harry Potter books – JK Rowling. Magic, alternative reality.
It seems to be fashionable in some circles to criticise the Harry Potter books for nothing more than being popular. The fact is, though, that the Harry Potter books are well written, well plotted, good reads (with one exception, and even that had some merits), that are written to grow with young readers. Unfortunately The Order of the Phoenix nearly put me off the series, and while I want to know how it all ends, I think I will wait until I can borrow the next book rather than buy it.

American Gods - Neil Gaiman. Dark, mythological fantasy, alternative reality.
Dark fantasy mingled with horror and interwoven with mythology. About a war between the old gods and the new gods, and a human who gets mixed up in it.

Sandman by Neil Gaiman and various graphic artists. Alternative reality, mythological fantasy.
Completely captivating graphic novels.

The Chronicles of Pern – Anne MacCaffrey. High fantasy that changes into science fantasy.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading those, even when the same story was repeated up to three times from different viewpoints. I lost interest when MacCaffrey turned the fantasy/science fantasy (quite unnecessarily) into science fiction. The last book I read in the series was Dragonsdawn, which, while a credible explanation of the origins of the dragons, was a letdown because it rationalised something that didn’t need to be rationalised.

The Neverending Story and Momo – Michael Ende. Adventure.
Ende was a genius when it came to writing fantasy that appeals to all ages and these two deserve status as classics of the genre.

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart. Mythological fantasy.
I was quite young when I first read this, and found it fascinating. It’s the story of Merlin and his involvement with King Arthur, told by Merlin himself. For a long time I thought it was a standalone book and found the ending rather abrupt, but later I discovered that there are three more books, which I have been trying to get hold of.


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