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The Best Fantasy Books

By Scott West

This past October, Time magazine released its list of the 100 best fantasy books of all time. This list is sure to be controversial, even upsetting, to many people. What is considered a fantasy book is another topic of discussion. 

Regardless, the University Libraries has access to many of the books on this list. Which have you read? Perhaps you are looking for something to start. Why not start with the best?

Take a look

  • The Arabian Nights — we have Sir Richard Burton’s edition for the 19th century. I worked my way through this multivolume collection a few years ago. Yes, it must be approached critically — it was edited by well-meaning Englishman — but it is a pretty amazing picture of medieval Islam.
  • Le Morte d’Arthur — Sir Thomas Malory. Written in the 15th century, Malory’s Arthur story is arguably the fundamental version of the myth. 
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland  and Through the Looking Glass — Lewis Carroll. Both of Carroll’s Wonderland stories remain just as trippy today as they were at their original publication in 1865 and 1871.
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — C.S. Lewis. Easily one of the most influential pieces of fantasy literature ever written. This and The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien) were among my earliest exposures to fantasy literature.
  • The Palm-Wine Drinkard — Amos Tutuola.
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader — C.S. Lewis. This was probably my favorite volume of the Chronicles of Narnia.
  • The Lord of the Rings (all three volumes) — J.R.R. Tolkien. If you are reading fantasy literature, you are already reading versions of this series. It is an understatement to consider it influential. If there is a numerical ranking, ranking this series as anything other than No. 1 is nonsense.
  • A Hero Born — Jin Yong. Jin Yong is often compared to J.R.R. Tolkien. The story is great fun.
  • The Once and Future King — T.H. White. I loved this book! I still have my copy from 40+ years ago.
  • James and the Giant Peach — Roald Dahl. I read this as a boy in Wales. Much later, I was thrilled to see my children enjoy the animated film as well.
  • A Wrinkle in Time — Madeleine L’Engle. We have prose versions at the Curriculum Materials Center. I read the graphic novel.
  • Dragonflight — Anne McCaffrey. McCaffrey provided a truly unique perspective on dragon stories. More science fiction than fantasy (the line is often blurry), but a great story.
  • The Crystal Cave — Mary Stewart. This book is the first volume of my favorite adaptation of the Arthur myth. A very human Merlin is the main character, and he wields a much subtler form of magic.
  • The Tombs of Atuan — Ursula K. Le Guin.
  • The Princess Bride — William Goldman. I know most people are familiar with the movie (“Inconceivable!”), but the book is awesome too. I acquired mine using a five-finger discount in my younger days.
  • Tuck Everlasting — Natalie Babbitt.
  • The Bloody Chamber — Angela Carter.
  • Howl’s Moving Castle — Diana Wynne Jones.
  • The Eye of the World — Robert Jordan.
  • Good Omens — Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. This collaboration created one of my favorite books about the rise of the Antichrist. The Amazon series is good but it is hard to do this book justice.
  • Outlander — Diana Gabaldon. This one can be found on the Kindles, and there is a series on Starz and Netflix.
  • The Golden Compass — Philip Pullman. This title, the first book of the His Dark Materials series, is extraordinary and probably the best of the lot. 
  • Neverwhere — Neil Gaiman.
  • Ella Enchanted — Gail Carson Levine. This is a sentimental book as it was a favorite of my daughter. I hope her daughter will love it too.
  • The Subtle Knife — Philip Pullman. This was my least favorite book in the His Dark Materials series. Clearly, many others disagree.
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — J.K. Rowling. I refused to read any of these immensely popular books when the title of the first book was changed from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Please do not pander to the culturally illiterate.
  • Spindle’s End — Robin McKinley.
  • A Storm of Swords — George R.R. Martin.
  • The Wee Free Men — Terry Pratchett.
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince — J.K. Rowling.
  • Mistborn: The Final Empire — Brandon Sanderson.
  • The Name of the Wind — Patrick Rothfuss.
  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon — Grace Lin.
  • The Night Circus — Erin Morgenstern. I read this book without knowing much about it except that my daughter liked it. It was a pleasant surprise and an excellent piece of Gothic romance. A film adaptation is in production.
  • The Song of Achilles — Madeline Miller. I just finished this book, and it was wonderful. 
  • The Buried Giant — Kazuo Ishiguro.
  • All the Birds in the Sky — Charlie Jane Anders.
  • Black Leopard, Red Wolf — Marlon James.
  • Children of Virtue and Vengeance — Tomi Adeyemi.
  • Elatsoe — Darcie Little Badger.

Remember, these are just the titles we have at Roesch Library — plus my 2 cents’ worth where applicable. You can request any of the titles using OhioLINK, SearchOhio, or interlibrary loan. The entire list is available here.

— Scott N. West is an information resources specialist in the University Libraries and an adjunct professor in the Department of History.

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