Books, Thoughts

Book Dork: My (Mostly) Epic Fantasy Shortlist

With the last book in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series released on Tuesday, I’ve found myself recently growing more & more nostalgic about the epic fantasy genre.  My love of epic fantasy, like many other people, was a crucial bridge that took me from childhood to adolescence.  Wheel of Time was one of the last series that I read before I “grew up,” so I thought I’d take a quick survey of some of the epic fantasy books that have been so meaningful to me.

  • The Jewels of Elvish and Child of Elvish by Nancy V. Berberick were among my first fantasy books.  While they don’t necessarily fit the definition of “epic fantasy” (as defined here and typically exemplified by the Lord of the Rings trilogy or the Chronicles of Narnia), Berberick’s books were my initial entry into the fantasy world.  Like most of the fantasy books I read, Jewels was my mother’s & part of the excitement came from reading “adult books.”  (An excitement that had its consequences–I learned what rape was from the novel.  I was in the fourth grade.)  I think I actually read these two before Lord of the Rings.
  • Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis would come next on my imagined shelf.  My mom read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Hobbit quite often to my sisters & I as young children.  But it wasn’t until a few years later when I decided to take on the entire Narnia series myself.  Technically I shouldn’t include it because I didn’t complete the book The Last Battle until I was an adult.  (Which is also why Lord of the Rings won’t be on this list either.)  But, the memories of spending many summer days on the highest limb of a tree reading these stories gives it an advantage.
  • The four main series by David Eddings, which are The Belgariad, The Mallorean, The Elenium and The Tamuli. Again, these were my mother’s & the copies I now own are second-hand from her.  As a reader, I owe a lot to Mr. Eddings, more than I’m willing to admit.  I learned about fantasy character types and how to piece together a quest’s structure from his books, lessons that served me well when I took on Tad Williams and Terry Brooks.  In fact, I went back & reread Belgariad and Mallorean around the time I was married.  My husband, who hadn’t noticed my fantasy collection before, gently teased me about one of the titles, pronouncing it like a local yokel.  I blushed hard & double-shelved Eddings’ books in the back when I was finished.
  • Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series and Vera Chapman’s Arthurian stories came into my life at the same time, around 6th grade.  (Guess from whom.  There’s one book of Chapman’s that has my mom’s name written in it & mine under hers.)  Chapman’s novels sparked my interest in Arthurian legend & eventually led me to Marion Zimmer Bradley.  LeGuin’s series was the first that was difficult for me to totally get.  I can’t explain the problem much more than after I had read the books, I felt like I was missing some understanding about the magic system.  I wouldn’t know it at the time, but LeGuin prepared me for authors like C.J. Cherryh, whose Russian Stories series is hard reading work.
  • Finally, I’ll round out the list with the Wars of Light and Shadow by Janny Wurts.  This series finishes out my list because, like readers of the Wheel of Time saga, I’m still caught in the story.  (Jordan’s readers, however, have the relief of finally seeing the series end.  I pray for a speedy end too.)  I started Wurts’ Wars when I was 13, after I had made it through many other long-running epic fantasies.  I had Terry Brooks’s Shannara series as well as Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis’s Death Gate Cycle under my belt.  I had read Tad Williams’ huge tomes and made it through half of Katherine Kerr’s Deverry series.  I had even begun the Wheel of Time series and tried to hang on for as long as I could.  (I made it to book 10 & gave up.)  But Janny Wurts has outlasted them all & still has me ensnared.  The work is still captivating & even though the text makes it clear that she knows where she’s working toward, by no means does that mean the action gets boring.

Even after this nostalgia trip though, I can’t really give a real reason I stopped reading epic fantasy.  I still occasionally will read something from the fantasy genre.  For instance I discovered The Neverending Story was a book in my adulthood, which I promptly read.  But, I don’t have it in me to invest in another long-running series, like A Song of Ice and Fire or Discworld.  The drive or curiosity just isn’t there, which maybe I lost with my childhood.  The ending of Jordan’s series is just a reminder of how final that change in my perspective was.