My Top Eight Favorite Fantasy Authors of All Time

I love fantasy stories. I had to make a choice early in my life as to whether I’d be a sci-fi buff or a fantasy geek, and Conan the Barbarian beat Star Wars for the primacy of my heart (sorry, Christian). I do love sci-fi as well, but I think most people lean a bit one way or the other, and I for one lean towards the Ian McKellan in a wizard hat versus the Patrick Stewart in a onesie. My own writing has generally geared towards fantasy (the other times it’s horror, or a mashup like Troius – one day I’ll do this post about horror writers), so I decided I would list my favorite fantasy authors of all time, those folks who have been influential and aspirational to me not only as a writer but as a human being.

1. J.R.R. Tolkien

Was there ever any doubt?

Was there ever any doubt?

The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales

I mean, this is probably not a surprise to anyone who has ever engaged me in conversation or read anything I have to say. I have broached Tolkien a time or two on this here blog. He will likely never be topped on my list, even though I don’t really use him as an inspiration for my own works (I tend to prefer a bit more grey than Good v Evil, since the idea that everyone thinks they’re the good guy in their own story is one that appeals to my cynical nature), but the world that he built, the beauty and elegance and intricate details and history and theology and the rest, is something that in my mind may never be topped. Other authors may be more exciting, or grimdark, or action oriented, or whatever, but for my money no one will ever replace Tolkien as the most beloved fantasy author of all time. I have a lot of problems with the movies (especially the Hobbit), but they are still beautiful and tell a wonderful story, and the best parts of them are when the scenes and story hew close to the source material. Even though the Hero’s Journey is one often dismissed as a cliche, and Manwe knows a million Tolkien imitators have beaten it into the ground, there remains the fact that Frodo, the hero who makes it all the way to Mount Doom, fails his quest in the end, and the world is delivered from evil not by the hand of the Chosen One but by a villain. Put that in your cliche pipe and smoke it.

Oh, and Michael Moorcock? Shut the fuck up. When Elric is a cultural touchstone for nearly a century and has films making eleventy-billion dollars, go ahead and talk about over-rated Tolkien is. Asshat.

(Also, Michael Moorcock almost made this list because he’s pretty damn good too. But fuck him in the ear anyway.)

2. Steven Erikson

The final book in the series. And someone didn't have to finish it for him.

The final book in the series. And someone didn’t have to finish it for him.

The Malazan Book of the Fallen, The Bauchelain and Korbal Broach novellas

Take Tolkien’s ability to build a world, add George R R Martin’s political intrigue, throw in some of Glen Cook’s military fantasy excellence, swirl it with a dash of humor, and you end up with Steven Erikson. As a former anthropologist, he brings an unmatched level of realism and plausibility to the races and nations of the world, giving the place a vibrancy and believability that is really second to no one I’ve ever read.

And unlike some others I could mention but won’t because it would be rude (George R R Martin and Robert Jordan), HE FINISHED HIS FUCKING SERIES IN A REASONABLE AMOUNT OF TIME. His first was published in 1999, and the tenth and last was published in 2011. Compare that to Jordan (14 novels, 1990 to 2013 and he fucking DIED before finishing it) and Martin (5 novels, 1996 to ETERNITY since they will never ever be done). Seriously, Erikson fucking produced. There was no filler, no multi-page stories of feasts, no sipping tea and adjusting skirts, no bullshit. Just ten self-contained books that all happen to converge and create one epic fucking storyline. If Steven Erikson never wrote anything again, his Malazan series is the fucking mic drop. That doesn’t even go into the brilliance of the novellas. Seriously, go fucking read him.

3. P.C. Hodgell

Why, yes, a giant frog god figures prominently in one of the stories. Basic fantasy stuff.

Why, yes, a giant frog god figures prominently in one of the stories. Basic fantasy stuff.

The Kencyr novels

There is a legitimate shortage of good fantasy stories featuring strong women characters, which is a shame because that limits the potential audience for an entire genre and denies half the human race of representation through this particular art. P.C. Hodgell is one of the few that I’ve read that tells a rip-roaring fantasy tale that just so happens to have a female protagonist and makes it seem like it’s no big deal. Her world is chaotic and strange and very atypical in a genre of Middle Earth 5.0s, the action is fun and wild and grim and savage and delightful all at once. Jamethiel, the main character is as wild and unpredictable as the world she’s in, and while the first couple of volumes have a very Fritz Leiber feel to them (which is not an insult: see entry #6 on this list), after that the stories become very much unlike everything else in the genre. Read them, I beg you.

And one more hint of my love for Hodgell: my most prized possession is my rapier, which is named, of course, Jamethiel.

4. Glen Cook

81VEXHUdwTL

The Black Company series, The Garrett, P.I. novels

Glen Cook was the first fantasy author I read that used modern vernacular in fantasy works, and I still think he is one of the finest at making a fantasy world sound and feel like someplace outside my own door, provided there were immortal sorcerers and demons and other cool shit on the other side. He also was the first military fantasy author I read and reading about the campaigns and reading about bitching soldiers and the grind, not glory, of war was a revelation to me. His Garrett P.I. stories are just as good, a mashup of detective noir and fantasy that makes me feel good about having done a mashup of fantasy and horror except without the, whaddaya call it, success.

5. Steven Brust

The Three Musketeers, but with elves. And magic. And floating castles. And... you get the idea.

The Three Musketeers, but with elves. And magic. And floating castles. And… you get the idea.

The Vlad Taltos series, the Khaavren Romances, To Reign in Hell

Man, it’s hard to imagine Steven Brust all the way down at number 5. Like Cook, he uses modern vernacular and a noirish feel for the Taltos series, about a human assassin living in a world dominated by, for all intents and purposes, elves, and weaves such amazing self-contained stories (published out of order, which makes for a fun ride) that I get angry about how easy he makes it seem. The Khaavren Romances, on the other hand, are stories in the same world written in the style of Dumas – complete with forewards from the fictional author of the romances – that are so fucking funny and exciting and delightful that I actually like them more than the Vlad books – which is a hell of a lot. Plus he’s written my favorite book about Christian mythology ever, To Reign in Hell, which tells the story of the Biblical Fall from the Devil’s point of view and is utterly spectacular.

6. Fritz Leiber

A trope's gotta start somewhere.

A trope’s gotta start somewhere.

The Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, Conjure Wife

One of the original sci-fi fantasy horror juggernauts. It makes me sad that this man, whose work forms the underpinnings of so many great fantasy works that came after – even including a profound influence on Dungeons and Dragons – is not better known and loved. His books can be hard to find, but any story about lovable fantasy rogues at least deserve a tip of the cap to Leiber. Do yourself a favor, if you have not done so before, and catch up with his work.

7. Sir Thomas Malory

'Tis a silly - yeah I'll show myself out.

‘Tis a silly – yeah I’ll show myself out.

Le Morte d’Arthur

No, he didn’t invent King Arthur. He didn’t even make up most of the stories, if he made up any at all. But he did do one thing, and that was take all the tales and try to make them roughly coherent and package them in one work, which wasn’t easy considering it was the FIRST major work of English language prose and he was in prison at the time. The fact that he was actually a knight and brigand and then put together one of the most enduring works of fiction only makes him that much cooler. The doomed hero, the prophesy of his return, the Golden Age left behind due to violence and betrayal – the story has a resonance that carries it forward for millenia, and I’m grateful that Malory helped keep it alive for us to enjoy.

8. George R. R. Martin

Yeah, I deserve this.

Yeah, I deserve this.

The Never-Ending Story of a Song of Ice and Fire

Oh, George. At one time he was #2 on this list. His grey outlook and violent penchant for killing off characters made me adore him. A fantastic world, great characters, a gripping story – it seemed like there was no way he could do wrong.
Well, he figured out a way.

5 novels in 19 years. And the last two were so bloated and sedentary that they made George look healthy. I’m sure the fact that he is on the verge of falling off this list entirely ala Robert Jordan keeps him up at night, forcing him to bathe in his hoard of platinum coins to calm himself. Added to the fact that HBO is actually doing a better job telling his story for him and ole George is clinging to this list by his Littlefinger.

His Tuf Voyages stories are pretty fucking great though.

Other Author Rankings:

19. Robert Jordan

I am vowing to make myself HARDER THAN STEEL while I mope and sulkily allow my three girlfriends who are all totally cool with the fact that I’m in love with all of them and who all kinda in love with each other too to chase me around and trick me into bed with them. Also, I will dabble my fingers in my tea while smoothing my skirts because I am sweeter than honey.

Congratulations, you have now read the Wheel of Time.

1767. Your Three-Year-Old Niece

1768. David Eddings.

Fuck you, Sparhawk.

About Alan Edwards

An indie writer who does accounting full-time on the side.

Posted on March 26, 2015, in Kerfluffle and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. You’ve left out Robert E Howard. He’s my number one, and you have votes for Moorcock possible but no mention? And one that is recent and really very good, is R. Scott Bakker with his The Warrior Prophet, The Darkness that Comes Before, and The Thousand Fold Thought. For Strong Female Protagonists The Kushiel’s Scion trilogy by Jaquelyn Carey needs mentioning. And not a word about Eddings, and Thomas Covenant the Asshole leper?

    • I mentioned Moorcock but didn’t list him (he’s probably number 10). I was futzing with the poll and could have included write-in candidates but didn’t. Howard is a juggernaut in the Leiber sense himself, but I never much got into him, something I should rectify. I’ll have to check out Bakker as well. Never read the Covenant series – I know, I know – but I did list Eddings. He’s my least favorite fantasy author of all time. So no poll representation.

  2. He’s got Eddings at the bottom. He’s still clearly recovering from the trauma.

    Alan, at least you didn’t read the Mallorean before you read the Belgariad.

    Your list is missing Butcher, and Edwards. 🙂

    • I need to read Butcher as well. I keep meaning to. I remember the Belgariad vaguely but the Diamond Throne series is the one I disliked a lot. Like, actively hated.

  3. I’m specifically referring to Dresden with Butcher, but I also expect his new series to be good. I had trouble starting the straight fantasy series, but will go back. It starts out with a kid who doesn’t have a magical fairy even though almost everyone else does. He’s sad about this and his life is harder. I had trouble feeling bad for him, since I, also, am lacking a magical fairy and I get by. However, from what I’m told the series is actually really amazing.

    The trick to enjoying Butcher is to not talk to Kyle about it. He’s got some sort of deep seated personal issue there.

    I think Jordan is probably a more tolerable read, now, with wikipedia in place. I made it through book 8, was thus caught up, and I had to wait a few months for book 9 to come out. Reading it was hard, because I couldn’t remember half of the plot or roster of characters. I also had trouble with the black/white theme he ran on EVERYTHING. Yes, I get that saidin and saidar are opposite parts of the weave and I get that this sort of reality will carry into socio-economical groupings, sometimes, but not in every group. White Ajah, black ajah – okay. However, I remember throwing the book down when the evil seanchan showed up. It was annoying enough when I got to the evil aiel. These groups didn’t exist because the world was on a yin-yang balance, these groups existed because the book series was, and that was a little too evident.

    • I definitely am glad that Wikipedia exists strictly for the Wheel of Time. I read the synopsis…synopsises… synopsi…. whatever of every book from The Path of Daggers on and felt OK walking away and never reading one again. Of course, I don’t remember how it ends now but I have no regrets from just leaving that abusive relationship.

      • Synopsidoodle is the plural.

        I also did that. Every so often I get a desire to figure out how everyone dies.

        Did the same with GoT, asking, “should I emotionally invest in this stark?”

  4. Andrew Stirling MacDonald

    Brandon Sanderson is my favorite. The Mistborn series, Warbreaker, The Stormlight Archives and Elantris.

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