By October 24, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

The Many Faces of Fantasy

Tomorrow, I’m giving a talk at the annual Virginia Library Association conference called “The Many Faces of Fantasy.” It’s a talk I’ve given in a previous form to the Connecticut Library Association as well.

Fantasy is a complex genre with enough different kinds of books to both please and annoy any individual reader. It’s not, as some mistakenly believe, a genre written only for the purpose of escape. In fact, the fantasy context is often a great place for writers to explore big concepts: love, revenge, the costs of war, bigotry, obsession, addiction, the battle between duty and desire and so on, all in a milieu that avoids treading on certain cultural senstivities. It’s also a genre that in its best instances blends many elements of good fiction writing: strong characters, detailed settings, intricate plotting, and elegant language. As a librarian, a reader, or a book group leader, it’s important to sort out differences between the subsets of the genre so you can pick the right books for the audience and get full enjoyment from your fantasy reading.

I don’t have space here to define the sixteen categories into which I divide the genre, but I thought it might be fun and useful to at least share part of my talk: the sixteen categories and three works–two familiar (to genre fans, at least) and one newer title or series–deserving your attention. In each case, I’ll list the newer work last. Any of these titles (or first books in the series listed) would make a good choice for a book group:

EPIC HIGH FANTASY

  • J. R. R. Tolkien  The Lord of the Rings 
  • Guy Gavriel Kay   Tigana
  • Patrick Rothfuss   The Name of the Wind

COMING-OF-AGE FANTASY

  • J. K. Rowling   Harry Potter series
  • David Eddings   The Belgariad
  • Michael Scott   Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series

POLITICAL FANTASY

  • Lois McMaster Bujold   The Curse of Chalion
  • Robin Hobb   The Farseer Trilogy
  • Daniel Abraham   The Long Price Quartet

ALTERNATE HISTORICAL FANTASY

“REALISTIC” EPIC FANTASY

  • George R. R. Martin    A Song of Ice and Fire series
  • K. J. Parker   The Engineer Trilogy
  • David Anthony Durham   Acacia

HEROIC FANTASY

  • Fritz Leiber   Lankhmar series
  • Robert E. Howard  Conan series
  • David (and Stella) Gemmell   Troy series

PARANORMAL ADVENTURE

  • Jim Butcher   Dresden Files series
  • Rachel Caine   Weather Warden series
  • Rob Thurman  Cal Leandros series

DARK FANTASY

  • H. P. Lovecraft   Cthulhu mythos
  • Clive Barker   Weaveworld
  • Christopher Golden  The Veil series

FANTASTIC ROMANCE

  • Sherrilyn Kenyon   Dark-Hunter series
  • Mary Janice Davidson   Undead (Queen Betsy) series
  • Lois McMaster Bujold  The Sharing Knife series

ROMANTIC FANTASY

  • Jacqueline Carey   Kushiel series
  • Juliet Marillier   Sevenwaters series
  • Maria V. Snyder  Yelena (Study) series

HUMOROUS FANTASY

LITERARY FANTASY

  • John Crowley   Little, Big
  • Mark Helprin   A Winter’s Tale
  • Keith Donohue   The Stolen Child

NEW WEIRD OR SLIPSTREAM

  • China Mieville   New Crobuzon novels
  • Gene Wolfe   Book of the New Sun
  • Jennifer Stevenson   Trash Sex Magic

FABLES

  • Robin McKinley   Beauty
  • Ellen Datlow & Terry Windling   most story anthologies
  • Shannon Hale   The Book of a Thousand Days

MYTHIC EXPLORATIONS

  • Charles de Lint   Newford series
  • Neil Gaiman   American Gods
  • Catherynne M. Valente  The Orphan’s Tales series

SCIENCE FANTASY

  • Anne McCaffrey  Dragonriders of Pern series
  • Robert Silverberg   Majipoor series
  • S. M. Stirling   Emberverse series

If you need help sorting out the books in any of the series listed and their sequence, Fantastic Fiction, http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk is a good resource.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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