The Beginner’s Guide To Fantasy Novels Part 3: 1970-1989
Here we are, the most prolific period in the fantasy genre. There are a lot of factors that make up why fantasy exploded the way it did. Lord Of The Rings becoming and Tolkien becoming part of the pop culture lexicon in the mid fifties, and being rediscovered by the counter-culture in the late sixties is a big part of what inspired many writers of the new era, but another juggernaut of geek culture would also spark the imagination of young men and women everywhere. That was, of coarse, the appearance in 1974 of role-playing game Dungeons And Dragons by TSR and Gary Gygax. Not only did it spark the imagination of young people everywhere, a lot of the writers I mention were hired to write adventure modules for the game, and eventually contracted to write their most famous works as tie in novels ( you’ll see heavy representation by at least three of them). In part three you’ll see: post modern looks at some of the seminal works of the Roots Of The Genre era, including Beowulf and Arthur. Women writers will be well represented here, standing as some of the best in the genre of their time. You’ll see the rise of the fantasy series, here I’ll name the first book in the series, then the series itself, and how long it ran. You’ll see names like Ende, Roberson, King, Weis & Hickman, and more. Without further ado, let’s begin.
Grendel by John Gardener (1971)
A novel written to explore the authors love hate relationship with the ideas of Jean-Paul Sartre, in particular his idea that “Existence precedes essence”, this is a novel based on Beowulf that focuses on one of the antagonists of the story. Grendel discovers the outside world one day in his youth and comes across a band of Danes, led by a young Hrothgar. When his attempts to communicate are perceived as a threat and he is attacked, it starts a years long love-hate relationship with the humans as he tries to find meaning in the world. His imagination is captured by a blind poet who uses Grendel in his songs along with heroic tales, and tries to capture the lovely Wealtheow. When he meets a dragon that tells him life is nothing more than a series of accidents, he starts to get a strange sense of foreboding.
There has been an opera made out of this story in 2006 composed by Elliot Goldenthal with libretto by Julie Taymor and J.D. McClatchy. It was also adapted in 1981 as Australia’s second ever full length animated feature staring Peter Ustinov.
The Forgotten Beasts Of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip (1974)
On a mountain in the land of Eldwold, a sixteen year old girl named Sybel lives with legendary animals summoned by her father to keep her company. There is Ter, the giant falcon, Cyrin, the boar who “Knows all riddles save one”, Gules Lyon, a giant black swan, and the huge black cat Moriah, who helps Sybel with spells and charms. One day a man named a man named Coren brings her a baby, claiming it is the son of the deceased queen Rianna, and asks her to raise it. Twelve years later she must give the child back, but is leery of Coren’s intentions with the child, but would returning him to King Drede be any better? And what of her search for the white swan Liralen?
A Midsummer Tempest by Poul Anderson (1974)
an alternate history where everything Shakespeare wrote about actually happened, including the existence of fairies, the plot involves Prince Rupert and a woman named Jennifer enlisting the help of Oberon and Titania, along with a few people from “our” 20th century, to find Prospero’s books and win the English Cival War for Charles I.
What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson (1978)
A moving novel of love conquering even death, this is a must read. Screenwriter Chris Neilson dies in a horrific car crash, and is taken after a long delay to a place called Summerland, a place (really a state of mind) that takes the form of wishes and desires, and afterlife. When he learns that his wife has committed suicide and has been sentenced to the “Lower Realm” for twenty-four years, Chris and his friend Albert attempt a daring rescue that will take Chris to the heart of hell. Can love conquer all, or will Chris be stuck there as well, destined to never reunite with his lost love?
There was a really good movie made out of this in 1998 starring Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding Jr., Max Von Sydow, and directed by Vincent Ward.
The Never Ending Story by Michael Ende (1979)
A novel that deals with the way children handle grief and also a nice meditation on the way stories affect us and how they become immortal. After being chased into an antique book store by bullies, Bastion Balthazar Bux steals a book with a strange symbol on it, called The Never Ending Story. Hiding in the his school’s attic, Bastion reads of a fantastical world of racing snails, Rock Biters, and Morla the giant turtle. He also reads of young hero Atreyu’s quest to save The Child-Like Empress from an entity called the Nothing, which is consuming all around it. When Balthazar realizes the key to saving the Empress is him, he is called into the world to help put things right. But in recreating the world, will he lose himself?
Most will know this from the Wolfgang Peterson film of 1984, one of the best fantasy movies of the eighties, and the only reason people remembered Limahl after he left Hajagoogoo.
The Brave Little Toaster by Thomas Disch
Mostly known for the exceedingly dark children’s movie, the novel is actually a very fun read.
What the hay, I’ll post the darkest part of the movie.
The Gunslinger by Stephen King (1982) (The Dark Tower Cycle 1982-2012)
Stephen King’s magnum opus, this novel starts a series that will connect most of his works as a level of The Dark Tower; the nexus of all worlds that, if you make it to the top, will grant you what you most desire. The opening novel deals with Roland Deschain, last of the cowboy knights known as the Gunslingers, wandering a desert tracking a wizard named Walter but known as the Man In Black (who would later be revealed as Randall Flagg of Eyes Of The Dragon and The Stand fame), who is responsible for the death of his father, the king.
The Mists Of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (1983)
A retelling of the Arthurian legend from the perspective of the women of the story. Specifically the novel follows a sympathetic Morgaine as she tries to keep the old ways of her religion in the face of the coming of Christianity. It also touches on others who influenced the Arthur and the Knights Of The Round Table, such as; Viviane, Lady Of The Lake (here more of a title), Elaine, wife of Lancelot, and Gwenhwyfar, Queen of Britain.
Dragons Of The Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (1984) (Dungeons And Dragons: Dragonlance series 1984-2009)
Tapped to write a module set in a new world for TSR, Weis and Hickman came up with the world of Krynn. The main characters are group of adventurers that parallel a balanced D&D party; Tanis Half-Elven, knight Sturm Brightblade, Cleric Goldmoon and her companion Riverwind, human tank Caramon, mage of the Red Robes Raistlin, Dwarf Flint Fireforge, and Tasselhoff, a kender that is the group thief. They must band together to stop the Dragon Highlords from taking over Krynn.
Shapechangers by Jennifer Roberson (1984) (Chronicles Of The Cheysulli series 1984-1990)
The tale of a girl named Alix who is courting the High Prince Of Homana. both are captured by the shape-changing people of the land, the Cheysuli. When Alix begins to read the thoughts of a wolf, she realizes she might be the daughter of a forbidden union between a Homanan princess and a Cheysuli warrior. She must now come to rerms with her place in an ancient prophecy.
Redwall by Brian Jacques (1986) (Redwall series 1986-2011)
A charming series about the land of Mossflower and it’s anthropomorphic animal inhabitants, and specifically Redwall Abbey. In the first book in the series, a quiet mouse who dreams of adventure named Mathias must help defend his Abbey from the deadly rat Cluny The Scurge by finding the sword of Martin The Warrior, one of the founders of Redwall.
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (1986)
Sophie Hatter is turned into an old crone by The Witch Of The Waste, and finds a job as a cleaning lady for famed wizard Howl. While at his castle she meets Calcifer, a fire-creature who says he can turn her back to her youthful self if she helps break the contract between him and Howl.
The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams (1988) (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn Trilogy 1988-1993)
Simon is ecstatic when he is moved from being a kitchen boy in the castle of King John Presbyter to the office of Doctor Morgenes, castle wizard. However when the King dies and his power hungry son Elias assumes the throne and makes a pact with the evil Sithi, Simon is caught up in a war between Elias and the good Prince Josua, and must search for the sword of Thorn.
That’s enough for now, but it is more than enough to go on if you want to start out your new found fandom of fantasy. See you next time as we finish up the 80’s and head into the 90’s
[amazon_link asins=’0140386335′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’Ryan Gaumer’ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’6cc27f97-c91d-11e7-8b5d-bd96f95f0e65′]
[amazon_link asins=’0061478784′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’Ryan Gaumer’ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’8bab405f-c91d-11e7-a525-cdf600454ab0′]
[amazon_link asins=’0886773849′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’Ryan Gaumer’ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’9d114a67-c91d-11e7-95ff-6d9ff745b298′]