Yes, yet another meme I’m going to try and keep up with. I found this one thanks to some blogs participating in Bout of Books 14 (which just wrapped up). Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the Broke and the Bookish and is a meme where they put up a prompt for top ten fill-in-the-blank, and anyone who wants can respond with their ideas for the prompt and then you add your post to their Linky.
This week’s theme is Top Ten Novels on your syllabus if you taught Insert-Class-Name-Here. I went back and forth for a long time on what my subject would be, but I couldn’t come up with enough books for the first few topics I thought of, unfortunately, although I’m happy with this compilation. So, without further ado, part of my syllabus for Fantasy 101:
1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Reason: Frankenstein is often considered more science fiction than fantasy, but the fantasy genre owes a lot to both Mary Shelley and H.G. Wells’s ‘scientific romances’. I like both, but I think Shelley’s work is closer to fantasy than Wells’s, and this is meant to be a fantasy class.
2. The Hobbit and Tree and Leaf (from The Tolkien Reader) by J.R.R. Tolkien
Reason: Tolkien was a university professor before he published any of his books. Many of his lectures concerned story-telling, tropes, and the like. The Hobbit (along with his other works) exemplify his beliefs of how writing and stories should work, as well as show-casing his interests in history, languages, and culture. Like Frankenstein, this is a book (and a man) to whom the fantasy genre owes a great deal. I chose the Hobbit instead of the Lord of the Rings trilogy both because I have an epic further down and because I think the travelogue nature of the Hobbit is something to be discussed as it lends itself to a subset of fantasy that includes, to my mind, books such as Gulliver’s Travels (Jonathan Swift) and The Colour of Magic (Terry Pratchett), among others. And I included the lecture because of how it influenced Tolkien’s work and the work of others who came after him, as well as for the discussion of how to write.
3. The Belgariad by David (and Leigh) Eddings
Reason: A lot of people, especially in the 80’s (and probably 90’s, as well), came to the fantasy genre through the works of David Eddings and his wife, Leigh (uncredited until more recently published works). While later rereadings of their work has proved problematical for me, their influence and easy gateway to the genre thanks to their use of standard fantasy tropes cannot be denied.
4. Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
Reason: Anne McCaffrey defined how a lot of fantasy readers and publishers view dragons. Even now, dragon-centric books will be compared to her dragons. Like the work of the Eddings’ (above), there are problems for modern-day readers in her works, but I still feel an understanding of how her dragons work to be very important for an understanding of the genre.
5. The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny
Reason: Zelazny’s Amber is so completely different from most fantasy books, I had to include it. The setting, the idea of magic, even the use of guns (yes, you read that right: guns in a fantasy novel)! I read a lot of fantasy, but I don’t think I’ve ever read something quite like Amber either before or since. In a perfect world, I would get to cover all ten books that make up Amber so I could discuss what Zelazny’s untimely death left (arguably) unfinished and talk about the arguments for and against continuing a series where the author perished before finishing.
6. Storm Front by Jim Butcher
Reason: I can’t teach a fantasy class without mentioning urban fantasy, and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files do a great job both of urban fantasy and monsters. Urban fantasy is a quickly growing sub-genre, and the Dresden Files are a well-known and well-written example, as well as being ongoing.
7. Dhampir by Barb and J.C. Hendee
Reason: Dark fantasy is another must for a fantasy course and, okay, Dhampir and the rest of the Noble Dead saga straddle the line a little, but a lot of fantasy novels are hard to classify when you start throwing in sub-genres. It’s got scary vampires, terrifying elves (seriously, these are not your friendly-but-aloof High Elves), and a blurring of good and evil. Dhampir’s a good way to discuss how protagonists aren’t always likable, going from a con to the real thing, and ‘gods’ who aren’t all that nice, among other fun topics.
8. Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
Reason: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is, in many ways, a satire of fantasy conventions. Rife with British humor, footnotes, and everything you love (and love to mock) about fantasy, the Discworld is a great representation of comedic fantasy, although with occasional dark twists. You could select almost any book from the series as a representative, but I’ve always enjoyed the books about the guards and I think the ensemble nature combined with the setting of Ankh-Morpork makes Guards! Guards! a solid choice to represent a series that has numerous character storylines.
9. Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson
Reason: Of course I couldn’t teach a fantasy class without talking about epic fantasy. There were several choices, but since I haven’t finished either Game of Thrones (the book, not the series as a whole) or the Wheel of Time series – and I believe those two are the best known examples besides the Lord of the Rings trilogy – I chose to go with the first book of an epic I have read multiple times over: Gardens of the Moon from the Malazan Book of the Fallen. It is an epic, it is dark, it has fantastic world-building, and it never answers every question (in fact, most questions don’t get answered).
10. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
Reason: To finish up my syllabus, I chose The Lies of Locke Lamora, a blending of the fantasy and crime genres. To me, it represents where the genre can go, with the interconnected genres, the hints of long lost technology, the colorful characters, and the sense of foreshadowed events yet to come. Yes, it’s possibly more crime caper than fantasy, but I think that’s important to include in a Fantasy 101 course as it shows just how umbrella-like the genre truly is.
Unfortunately, I can only include ten books on this list. I can think of so many more I would have loved to include, and I know I missed a lot of fun sub-genres. Any thoughts on what I chose or what I missed?