Saturday, October 10, 2020

Top Three Writers (sans Tolkien)

So,  recently I found out about an interesting poll conducted by Dimitra Fimi back in the spring asking people to name their three favorite fantasy writers aside from Tolkien. Here's her blogpost writing up the results:

Also of note is David Bratman's post commenting on this and giving his own favorites and the reasons behind his choices:*

I'm curious what others think and so would like to ask the question again, in a slightly different way: 

Who are your three favorite fantasy authors (excluding Tolkien)? 

Or, if it's easier to choose, what are your three favorite fantasy books (again excluding Tolkien)? 

--John R.

*this is actually where I learned about Dimitra's original post, which I had missed at the time.


Carolyn Priest-Dorman said...

I thought about this for a long time after I read calimac's blog entry and Dmitra Fimi's twitter thread.

1. Homer
2. Neil Gaiman
3. Nora Jemisin

Mykhailo Nazarenko said...

Little, Big by John Crowley
Watership Down by Richard Adams
City Watch series by Terry Pratchett

insurrbution said...

I've always thought of it this way:

The Lord of the Rings is the best fantasy NOVEL (remember, it's not a trilogy or a series), while Ursula K. Le Guin's 6-book Earthsea Cycle is the best fantasy SERIES.

My top 3 (aside from Tolkien) are:

- Ursula K. Le Guin
- Guy Gavriel Kay
- Lloyd Alexander

Honourable mention goes to Robert Jordan for creating the best fantasy, in the traditional sense that Tolkien established, since The Lord of the Rings.

THOMAS said...

1. William Hope Hodgson “The Night Land”
2. H. Rider Haggard “She” etc.
3. Beowulf

Others I like, Howard, Lovecraft, Smith, C. S. Lewis, Homer, Arthurian Myths, certain Icelandic Sagas. Not a massive fan of modern stuff, I.e., stuff published since the 60s, as I find it mostly in bad taste, imbecilic, etc. Modern criticisms of the earlier stuff reflect the myopia of our current times.

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Carolyn

Thank for the comment.
Interestingly wide range of authors, one ancient and two contemporary.

I've not read much Jemisin, only HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS, which didn't do much for me. Are there any of her works you'd particularly recommend?

I do note that she's one of the new authors added in to the latest (FIfth Edition) D&D 'Inspirational Reading' list.
--John R.

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Petro
I must admit that I've never read LITTLE BIG, despite having heard good things about it; the only Crowley I've read being STRANGE DEVICES.
WATERSHIP DOWN was the first first-rate fantasy I found after Tolkien and remains one of my very favorite fantasies to this day (I just re-read it yet again a few months ago). A real classic.
As for DISCWORLD: The City Watch series, I was an early adaptor when it came to Pratchett, discovering his work back when there were only two novels in the series (thanks to a recommendation by Richard West) and having read all but three or four of them. And I agree that CITY WATCH is one of the best (along with SMALL GODS). As time passes people seem to forget how indebted Pratchett was to Douglas Adams; I'm one of those lucky people who can enjoy both.
--John R,

Carolyn Priest-Dorman said...

Hi, John,

Homer was my gateway to fantasy; I read an illustrated kids' Iliad/Odyssey when I was small and sick with the mumps that probably affected the course of my life more than any other single work of fiction. He and Tollers are my two favorites, no competition.

As far as Jemisin, it really depends on what you like to read. I sampled The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms at the suggestion of a friend in the SFWA but had a hard time getting into it and eventually abandoned it. (I don't usually care for dynastic struggle fiction.) But then I decided to try her Dreamblood duology, which is based in an analogue of ancient Egypt. Those two, The Killing Moon and its sequel The Shadowed Sun, really knocked my socks off. After that I have devoured every book she's written (including the one I had a problem with at first) and am working on the short stories. The new book, The City We Became, is a contemporary urban fantasy, part Lovecraft and part love song to New York City, and if you have a soft spot for Noo Yawk like I do you might enjoy that. But the Broken Earth trilogy is something like Dune in its overwhelmingly alien, environmentally challenging worldbuilding.

My family and I did a lot of complaining about being limited to only three while we were all discussing this question!


John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Insurrbution

It's interesting that polls of this type tend to have Le Guin in the number two spot, decisively behind Tolkien but well ahead of the next contender. That pattern goes all the way back to the first such list, which appeared in LOCUS back in 1987. They repeat the poll years later and got the same result so far as Le G was concerned -- and Dimitra's poll earlier this year shows the same.

I personally don't rate Le Guin quite that high, good as she is, but her position seems secure.

Kay I admire for not doing the same old same old, having his own quite distinct approach to avoid repeating himself. Is it fair to say he's the James Mitchner of fantasy novelists?

Alexander is great, but I wish I'd discovered him before I first read Tolkien.

Jordan I'm afraid is just too wordy for me. I read the first book, which seemed to have a bad case of plot by artifice. That is, the author kept making the characters make uncharacteristically bad decisions in order to keep the page count up. I'm glad to know there are rewards for the people who do enjoy these books, but I'm sorry to say I'm not among their number

Thanks for sharing.
--John R.

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Thomas
Thanks for the comments.

It warms the cockles of my fantasy scholar heart to see Hope Hodgson's THE NIGHT LAND on your list. I've been championing this for years; it's on my own top ten list.

Haggard I enjoy but don't rate so highly. It was certainly a big influence on Tolkien*.

BEOWULF is of course a classic, but I don't consider it fantasy. The same applies to Arthurian romance, the sagas, and Homer. I'd better go back and polish up my definition of fantasy from years back.

Back when I had a monthly online column (CLASSICS OF FANTASY) Lovecraft and Smith were both the subject of an essay each, and Howard wd have been the next one in the series had the column lasted another two or three months.

re. the moderns, there's always been a lot of generic sludge, but there's also a lot out there that's first rate: Hughart (BRIDGE OF BIRDS) and Adams (WATERSHIP DOWN), McKillip (FORGOTTEN BEASTS OF ELD) and Jonathan Howard (JOHANNES CABAL, DETECTIVE), Pullman (THE GOLDEN COMPASS) and Gaiman, Clarke and Collins, O'Mally and Aaronovitch.

--John R.

*or so I argued in my essay 'SHE and Tolkien', one of my first pieces of Tolkien scholarship to get published

Paul W said...

You said favorite, not best. So these are my favorites, and rather personal. I wouldn't include them as 'best' necessarily.

1. Susan Cooper
2. Mary Stewart
3. David Eddings
3. Lloyd Alexander

I know, I cheated, and had a tie for 3rd. Honestly, there are a lot of authors whose work I love... Ursula k. Le Guin, Lynn Abbey, CJ Cherryh, Janet Morris, Andrew Offut, Jim Butcher, JK Rowling, Alexandre Dumas, Mary Renault, Elaine Cunningham, Jeff Grubb...

For three favorite novels...

1. The Belgariad (its one novel, not a seires, IMO)
2. The Grey King by Susan Cooper
3. The High King by Lloyd Alexander

As for series, that's very different again. And still, 'favorite' is the key.These are based on my taste, not on quality.

1. Thieves' World series
2. The Dark is Rising series
2. The Merlin trilogy

Honorable mentions to The Prydain series, the Earthsea series, the D'Artagnan romances (ma not quite be fantasy, I know...), & the Song & Swords series of Forgotten Realmns novels.

Wurmbrand said...

Rather than agonize about it, I will fire off this list of three favorites other than Tolkien:

George MacDonald
William Morris

---Dale Nelson

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Paul W.

Thanks for the favorite writers, favorite novels, and favorite series.

Question: if the Belegariad is a single story, shdn't the Mallorean be included, expanding it out to ten books?


John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Wurmbrand

Thanks for the short, direct response. It's hard for lots of us, including me, to stay within the bounds when it comes to something we love.


Paul W said...

I think the Belgariad is one novel, and the Mallorean another. Together, along with the single volume novels Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress, they are a series. That series is absolutely in my top 10, but i was trying to keep the lists to 3... and while the Belgariad as a single fantasy novel is one of my top three, the series isn't in top three... but really, it is so hard to pick... I'd left out Leiber, for example and so many other authors whose work is sublime.

If you will forgive the plug, I've posted on my blog about this as well: