If you’re on Twitter, I imagine you saw the discussions when TIME magazine released their list of the 100 Best Fantasy Novels of All Time.
TIME explained they made the list with a judging panel of fantasy authors – who weren’t allowed to nominate their own books, but who all still appeared on the list anyway—multiple times, in some cases – and that these were the books considered the most ‘engaging, inventive and influential works of fantasy fiction’. I had a look through the list and, friends, I have some Thoughts.
Now I don’t want to be a Negative Nancy. The majority of books on that list are books that I agree should be on there, but so many spaces were taken up by needlessly adding sequels – such as including The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, instead of simply including The Lord of the Rings.
It’s brilliant to see a lot of authors of colour on the list, and certainly in recent years there’s been so much more of a celebration of fantasy written by authors who aren’t white, so I don’t for one moment want it to sound like I think this list should only be a list of white dudes, but there were a few books and authors I was very surprised not to see on the list.
To be honest part of the problem here is calling this a list of the best fantasy of all time, instead of just saying what it really is: a list of these fantasy authors’ 100 favourite fantasy books. Particularly when so many spots have been taken up by sequels. For example, both Children of Blood and Bone and Children of Virtue and Vengeance are on there. I haven’t read this series but I completely understand why the first book made the list – it was everywhere when it was released – but even people who loved the first book didn’t like the sequel, so how has it made the list of all time best fantasy?
So today I’m doing something I never thought I’d be doing on this blog: I’m talking about some books by a bunch of white people that I think should have been on this list.
More than anything else I’m focusing on that word ‘influential’, and when I think of ‘influential’ fantasy there are some books I’m very surprised didn’t make an appearance…
The Odyssey is the classic adventure story, and it’s a story that has inspired so many others from Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad to Madeline Miller’s Circe which, along with The Song of Achilles, did make the list. I loved Circe and I think it’s a brilliant novel, and I 100% agree that The Song of Achilles deserves a spot on the list, but I’m not quite as sure about Circe. Especially when the original tale that has inspired so many Greek myth retellings didn’t make the cut.
The Mabinogion is probably a lesser-known collection of classic tales, and they’re bonkers, but I do think they deserve a spot on the list. Originally written in Welsh, these are Britain’s earliest prose stories and the first time we encounter King Arthur on the page!
Thankfully the list does include The Arabian Nights, but rather bizarrely doesn’t include The Grimm’s Fairy Tales. In a list of the best fantasy of all time, in an era of fantasy that’s brimming with fairy tale retellings, Grimm’s doesn’t make the cut? Really?
I’m even more surprised Robin Hobb didn’t make the list at all when she’s one of the best-loved female fantasy authors out there. Go to any fantasy section in any bookshop and Hobb is one of the few authors who has an entire shelf to herself. Assassin’s Apprentice isn’t my favourite book of hers, of the ones I’ve read so far, but it is the beginning of her well-loved series.
Sabriel is such a well-loved fantasy novel, and the beginning of one of the most famous fantasy series that features necromancy, so I was surprised it didn’t make the list.
I know so many YA fantasy heist novels are compared to Six of Crows, which is a whole other discussion, but when Six of Crows was released I often saw it described as similar to The Lies of Locke Lamora. It isn’t – they’re two very different stories – but The Lies of Locke Lamora is the novel that seems to have made fantasy con artists cool and I was surprised it wasn’t on there.
Of course Twilight isn’t a masterpiece and there’s plenty wrong with it, but there’s no denying that it made vampires popular again and made publishers take YA seriously.
One of the books in Rick Riordan’s imprint made the list, and yet not Riordan’s own series, beginning with The Lightning Thief, that inspired the whole imprint? I still haven’t read this series, but I don’t understand how it didn’t make the list.