When I was 16 I was caught off guard by an acquaintance who told riddles. They were very clever and I asked him where they came from. "The Hobbit", he told me. I was irrevocably lost to the ranks of the "cool". I could no longer deny my curiosity as it pulled me toward tales of magic and made up worlds. I checked out The Hobbit from the library. I read it quietly in my room. It was good, but not as good as I expected. Still, my appetite was whetted and I knew there were more that followed it. I picked up The Fellowship of the Ring from the library and I was never the same again.The chapter "Shadows of the Past" was a point of no return for me. I'd never read anything like it and I wanted more.
Oh how I cursed myself for not getting the other two books at the same time! How I cursed our house out in the country and the need to get a ride from my parents to the library. When I finally had access to the library again, I didn't make the same mistake twice. I took both The Two Towers and The Return of the King. It was an experience that transformed me and made me into the fantasy reader and writer that I am today.
Back then, I wanted to read more fantasy, but I had no idea where to start after reading The Lord of the Rings. I didn't know anything about the genre. And it wasn't until several years later, when I met my future husband who is a fantasy reader as well, that I was finally able to get into it. He introduced me to many fantasy authors and many new books and series. Still, the more I read the more I continually become aware of how much I still don't know about the deep waters of modern fantasy. And in particular, about its origins and development.
But as a fantasy writer it's important for me to know as much about my genre as possible. Every writer should know what has come before them, what has been done too much and what hasn't been explored enough. And so, as a reader and as a writer, I have decided to made a grand expedition into the turbulent waters of the modern fantasy genre to explore its far reaches and become better acquainted with its currents.
I'm going to start at the beginning (roughly) and travel decade by decade reading as many of the well known and influential fantasy offerings as I can (without prolonging the journey too much) until I reach the present day. And along the way I will blog about my reading experiences and how I think the genre was influenced, for better or worse, by the books I am reading. I will be focusing in particular on how the genre has changed and developed over the last century plus and whether or not the changes were good. (Spoiler: I'll probably think they're bad. I'm a traditionalist.) But I will try to maintain as objective an outlook as possible along the way.
My reading list begins in the 19th century at what is (arguably) the beginning of the modern fantasy genre. Works before this time and before these authors were tended to either be new fairy tales (like John Ruskin's The King of the Golden River), parodies or satires (like Gulliver's Travels) or written as children's stories (like Alice in Wonderland). My selections will not fall into those categories. I will try to cover ever sub-genre as they develop. The first stage of the journey will cover:
George MacDonald~ Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women (1858)
William Morris~ The Wood Beyond the World (1894)
The Well at the World's End (1896)
I would sincerely appreciate any suggestions for authors and books that a true fantasy devotee must read. I have done some research, but I'm sure there will be plenty that I miss. Particularly any from those early years in the 19th century that I'm not aware of. I'll report my findings soon!