New books come out all the time, and that can make it seem like keeping up with your backlog is tough enough. You might think you don’t have time to add anything new to your list. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth revisiting classics or reading them for the first time.
It’s nice to go back to the roots of fantasy, which can be rather old, but here we’re talking about books that read like a modern novel. Note that many of these are installments in a series. In these cases, I’m going with the first installment in a series, even if it isn’t necessarily the best.
1. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
If you prefer novels that read like a forgotten history of a place that never actually existed, The Silmarillion is for you. Famously more dense and difficult than Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, this isn’t a breezy read. That said, it’s one that Tolkien superfans love.
2. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Fantasy isn’t all swords and sorcerers, which is something Ray Bradbury understood very well. This is fantasy on the dark side, but it certainly isn’t horror. Something Wicked This Way Comes actually has a fair amount in common with what readers now refer to as urban fantasy.
3. The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White
This is the first volume in White’s series The Once and Future King. You probably know parts of this story, or even most of it, but Arthurian Legend isn’t referenced in fiction as much as you might image. If you’ve only seen the Disney movie, be prepared for something fairly different.
4. The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
We’ve talked about Pratchett’s Discworld series before when we looked at sci-fi and fantasy authors with humor. The Color of Magic is Pratchett’s first novel in this setting, and while it isn’t as brilliant as some of his later works, this is where it all began. Just note before you read it that it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, so be ready to read the follow-up, The Light Fantastic.
5. The Black Company by Glen Cook
If you’re a fan of military fantasy in the vein of Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series, you’ll probably like Glen Cook as well. Cook’s The Black Company series was a major influence on several fantasy authors, but Erikson acknowledges Cook’s influence on his own work. Grim and dark, but not quite grimdark.
6. Magician: Apprentice by Raymond E. Feist
Magician: Apprentice is the first installment in Feist’s longrunning Riftwar saga. This is epic fantasy at its most epic, which means that while things take a little while to get going, you’ll be sucked in pretty quick. This is also really only the first half of a long novel, so be ready to buy the sequel, Magician: Master.
7. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Yes, I’m including Tolkien on this list twice, because much of modern fantasy owes a debt to his influence. While The Fellowship of the Ring might have been a better inclusion, there are already so many long series here that a short standalone novel is a nice palate cleanser.
8. Pawn of Prophesy by David Eddings
The first volume in Eddings’ epic series The Belgariad, this novel might seem derivative at first, until you realize it’s probably the other way around. This is not especially deep, but there is plenty of fun to be had throughout the entire series.
9. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
While plenty of people are aware of the film version of The Princess Bride, far fewer have read the book. If you’ve seen the movie, the plot is largely the same, even down to the frame story, but if you’re a fan of the movie, it’s well worth a read.
Do You Prefer Science Fiction?
There is plenty here to get you started reading older fantasy novels, especially considering how long some of these series run. That said, not everyone loves fantasy. Some people prefer spaceships and lasers to horses and swords.
If that sounds like you, you’re in luck. We’ve already got an article dedicated to classic science fiction novels that still hold up.
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