Maybe it’s just my age. Maybe I’m a dinosaur, out of touch with younger authors, or authors who come from a literary background totally different than my own. But I just can’t imagine any author who writes fantasy not having read or at least tried to read JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings. Nor can I imagine anyone having discovered Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian thru Marvel Comics, and not having read or gone back to read the original stories in paperback form or hardcover. But I think I understand. I try to. It’s all about when we grew up, how we grew up, and often the environment in which we grew up. It’s about what reading material or type of publications we were first exposed to: pulp magazines, comic books, or hardcover and paperback books.
I read quite a few classic children’s books long before I ever read a “superhero” comic book: books such as Babar the Elephant, The Wind in the Willows, Peter Rabbit, The Wizard of Oz, Tom Swift, and so many others. Then I discovered Classics Illustrated, which was a great series of novels like Frankenstein, The Time Machine, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Journey to the Center of the Earth turned into comic book form. And these led me to reading the novels upon which they were based. Thanks to a fantastic grade school library, I found these books, as well as books on Greek and Norse mythology, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and even a hardcover of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.
When I was a kid in the 1950s and 1960s, my generation was still very close to the “old school,” and many of us grew up reading pulp magazines and books from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. We even read many a novel from the 19th century. There were hundreds of brick and mortar book stores back then, and many of were dedicated to specific genres, like science fiction, fantasy, and horror. And the market for, and the publishing of those particular genres in those days was much smaller than it is today. So we could pretty well keep up with the comic books, magazines, anthologies, and novels that were published each month. So, having “come up” when I did, the authors and novels that inspired me to write were all written and published roughly before 1975, let’s say, just to pick a particular year. This was before the Big Boom in Heroic Fantasy was heard ‘round the world. So I’m going to share with you some of those novels, which for me really began with The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. And many of the novels I’m going to mention were published by Ballantine Books, in their Adult Fantasy series, which nowadays has somewhat of a different connotation to it. There were many other “houses” out there publishing fantasy and science fiction, like Ace Books, Lancer Paperbacks, Berkley, and Dell Books, for example. And for Sword & Sorcery, there was Esteban Moroto’s excellent Dax the Warrior (aka Dax the Damned) published in the pages of the classic horror comic, Eerie.
While Fritz Leiber’s The Swords of Lankhmar, and L. Sprague de Camp’s The Tritonian Ring, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Adventurer were the first three Sword & Sorcery novels I ever read, I soon discovered others: John Jakes’ Brak the Barbarian, Gardner Fox’s Kothar the Barbarian, Lin Carter’s Thongor of Lemuria, Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné, Prince Corum, and Dorian Hawkmoon, and Henry Kuttner’s Elak of Atlantis, for example — many of which are still quite popular today. And naturally I was and still am a big fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs, a writer of near limitless imagination and inventiveness. But it’s the novels published by Ballantine Books’ Adult Fantasy series that I’d like to give props to today . . . a list of books and authors I read back in the day when The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings became pop and cultural phenomena, and right before Terry Brook’s The Sword of Shannara, and Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant changed the face of Heroic Fantasy, and even the publishing industry. Some of books I’m going to mention were written and published long before even I was born, in a different time and place, and thus may be slow or difficult reading for some people. Many of these novels are or were considered literary classics, although they’re not as popular in today’s world. But for me, they were well worth the read, and very enriching and rewarding, and I recommend you give them a try. In no particular order they are:
The Worm Ouroboros, Mistress of Mistresses, A Fish Dinner in Memison, and The Mezentian Gate, by E. R. Eddison
Titus Groan, Gormenghast, and Titus Alone, by Mervyn Peake
A Voyage to Arcturus, by David Lindsay
The King of Elfland’s Daughter, At the Edge of the World, Beyond the Fields We Know, The Charwoman’s Shadow, and Over the Hills and Far Away, by Lord Dunsany
The Wood Beyond the World; The Well at the World's End, Vol. 1; The Well at the World's End, Vol. 2; The Water of the Wondrous Isles, and The Sundering Flood, by William Morris
The Silver Stallion, Figures of Earth, and The High Place, by James Branch Cabell
Lilith, George MacDonald
The Lost Continent, C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne
The Island of the Mighty, The Children of Llyr, The Song of Rhiannon, and Prince of Annwn, by Evangeline Walton
The Broken Sword, and Hrolf Kraki’s Saga, by Poul Anderson
This list is far from complete, and does not include many of the fantasy books I’ve read from Ballantine and other publishers, or the fantastic works of such modern-day authors as: Tanith Lee, Joy Chant, Katherine Kurtz, David Eddings, Guy Gavriel Kay, Karl Edward Wagner, T. C. Rypel, and Janet and Chris Morris.
I also highly recommend the works of two legendary writers: Talbot Mundy, whose wonderful Tros of Samothrace novels, while not really Heroic Fantasy, are definitely in the realms of heroic, historical, and adventure fiction. And the great H. R. Haggard, whose The Saga of Eric Brighteyes is a must-read for anyone interested in reading and writing Heroic Fantasy.
My Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/Joe-Bonadonna/e/B009I1KYIK
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