The Greatest Fantasy Novel of All time

BAYLOR

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We have a Thread for Science Fiction on the topic of greatest , we might as well have a thread for fantasy too.:)

And mentioning a runner up or honorable mention or two in this category is okay.;)
 

Rodders

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Surely there can be only one answer, right?
 

Toby Frost

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True: it is indeed Titus Groan. But seriously, and no offence intended, is there much point asking?
 

BAYLOR

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True: it is indeed Titus Groan. But seriously, and no offence intended, is there much point asking?

A great work of literature of and fantastic fiction , no question . The greatest fantasy novel ? Lots of room for debate on that . There is also the issue that there is no magic in it.

Im not trying to denigrate or dismiss Peake . he is a truly great writer.
 
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Toby Frost

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Well, it's obviously The Lord of the Rings: partly because it is very good in itself, partly because it basically invented the genre (or at the very least codified it) and partly because it had an immense impact on the lives of a lot of people, particularly in a certain time period. Not every SF novel wants to be Dune or 1984, but for a while the majority of fantasy wanted to be LOTR or at the very least owed it a huge debt. With the possible exception of Jane Austen's novels in Romance, I can think of no genre novel that is held in such high regard within its genre. I can't see how it could be anything else.
 

The Big Peat

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Well, it's obviously The Lord of the Rings: partly because it is very good in itself, partly because it basically invented the genre (or at the very least codified it) and partly because it had an immense impact on the lives of a lot of people, particularly in a certain time period. Not every SF novel wants to be Dune or 1984, but for a while the majority of fantasy wanted to be LOTR or at the very least owed it a huge debt. With the possible exception of Jane Austen's novels in Romance, I can think of no genre novel that is held in such high regard within its genre. I can't see how it could be anything else.

I didn't realise how literally true this was until recently. The name Fantasy for the genre doesn't exist until the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series started using it, and they were a response to the commercial success of Tolkien trying to capitalise on that market that'd read Tolkien but not the Sword & Sorcery revival. There's not a single author who wrote what something they'd have considered Fantasy until after Tolkien became a mega success - faerie tales, faerie romances, swords & sorcery, weird tales, gothic romances, and so on, but not fantasy. In its purest original form as a genre, Fantasy is just books like Tolkien. That it isn't is basically Fantasy grouping all like things under its commercial banner (which is why I think the following sentence is more accurate "the majority of fantasy publishers wanted to say the majority of their work was like LotR").



That said, while LotR is the consensus choice, I'll happily throw out Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana and Sir Pterry's Night Watch as alternatives.
 

Toby Frost

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I don't say this to denigrate it, but I think the sheer uniqueness of LOTR at the time of publication makes it quite hard to assess its quality compared to other writing of the time. It's so odd. Although much of the content feels realistic and may be born from real-world experiences, it isn't direct satire or attempting anything avant-guard: in a lot of ways (like Gormenghast, now I think of it), LOTR looks backward and inward rather than out. That idea of a consistent and 3D, but physically impossible, magical world was nearly completely new. If someone asked me about it, I'd have to say that LOTR was very much its own thing. I think there's a strong element of "If the idea of this appeals to you, you'll find that it's done exceptionally well".
 

nixie

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I'm not a fan of these types of questions. Greatness means different things to different people.
It's easy to say LOTR, I'd probably agree it is but then I think what about Gulliver's Travels, Lud in the Mist, King of Elflands Daughter? The list is endless.
@The Big Peat mentions Tigana, that is a beautiful book. I'd also give Mythago Woods a mention.
If someone wants to say Brooks' The Sword of Shannara is the greatest, I may disagree but that is their opinion and they're entitled to it.
 
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Dan Jones

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I'd also give Mythago Woods a mention.
Magnificent book. We're actually doing a Chronscast episode on it over the summer, which I'm really looking forward to. I wrote an article on MW a while back as it left a very strong impression on me. It seems to have fallen out of favour of late, but I've got a feeling that once it's rediscovered (as all great books are) it will be held up as a classic of the genre, and perhaps in time even a classic of English literature.
 

The Big Peat

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If I had to talk about the uniqueness of Lord of the Rings, I think I'd talk about how well it gave this sense of great adventure and derring-do while also saying these are terrible things that shouldn't be needed. It had its cake and ate it. I don't think there's a work of speculative fiction prior to LotR that came anywhere close to the same, and not many people have equaled it since, which is a huge part of why it remains an 800lb gorilla.

I'm not a fan of these types of questions. Greatness means different things to different people.
It's easy to say LOTR, I'd probably agree it is but then I think what about Gulliver's Travels, Lud in the Mist, King of Elflands Daughter? The list is endless.
@The Big Peat mentions Tigana, that is a beautiful book. I'd also give Mythago Woods a mention.
If someone wants to say Brooks' The Sword of Shannara is the greatest, I may disagree but that is their opinion and they're entitled to it.

The good thing about that is you can at least use the amount of different ways greatness can be used to create interesting conversations. Lud in the Mist is a cracker of a book that I'm very happy to promote near endlessly.
 

Extollager

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"Greatness means different things to different people."

That's right, unless an effort is made to identify criteria that characterize "greatness." This isn't a hopeless task, but it is a laborious one.

Wouldn't we agree, after all, that "greatness" implies qualities such as the following?

--If a work is great, it will show the simultaneous and interpenetrating achievement of things that belong together. For example, descriptive passages do not seem to be imposed upon the story, but rather they are necessary for the story to be told well. The Lord of the Rings excels in this, as does Titus Groan.

--Perhaps an aspect of the previous point: the diction (word choice) is right for the work; one never feels that the work is a "good idea" but the "style" is defective. Impatience with the style of the work shows defect in the reader, not the work. This, I believe, is true of The Lord of the Rings, which by the way possesses not one style but a variety of styles appropriate to character, occasion, tempo of the storytelling, appropriate atmosphere for an episode, and so on.

--The work possesses that degree of characterization that is appropriate to it. ("Characterization" shouldn't be discussed apart from this. The degree of "characterization" appropriate to one story may be quite different from what's appropriate to another.)

--The work isn't made with an inferior alloy derived, for example, from contemporary trends, obsessions, and notions. We feel that the artistic integrity of an imaginative work is compromised when it betrays an undue attention to such things. A great work may, however, be intimately related to identifiable current events. The example that comes to my mind is Dostoevsky's Demons, which isn't fantasy. It is a tremendous work the imagination, though.

--The work should possess wisdom. It is not simply clever. This may be one of the most difficult criteria because our culture seems to have little sense of the difference. An indication of this: the academic world is swamped by clever professors, lectures, articles, conferences, symposia, position statements, podcasts, whatever, but (I think) precious little wisdom. Cleverness often pivots around wishes about the way things should be. Wisdom deals with real things, including the perennial truths. We live in a post-wisdom culture. I'd better not say much more about that here.

--If the literary work is fantasy, it must also convey or work "enchantment." I keep adding to this posting already so I won't here go into what I think makes for literary enchantment, but I would resist the too-easy idea that, shucks, it's just a matter of taste.

If we work at it, we can achieve quite a bit of consensus about what makes for literary greatness, I suspect, but that's not a discussion for the fainthearted. But when a fair degree of consensus is achieved, then we can have better discussions about the works that deserve to be called great -- or so I suspect. I do think we can also work inductively (if that's the right word). We can take a work that most people agree is "great" -- The Lord of the Rings -- and try to put into words the qualities it possesses so superlatively.
 
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BAYLOR

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I can't disagree with LOTR being at the top . Gormenghast , upon further reflection and consideration . Okay, it belongs at the top of the list too.
 
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nixie

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When I first discovered fantasy in the early 90's, my introduction was Magician and if asked the question I would have said it was the greatest. Now that I've read more in the genre, I realise how wrong that statement is. Magician will always be special and will re-read regularly, ignoring the flaws.
 

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