#WyrdAndWonder 2021 | The books missing from TIME’s 100 Best Fantasy Novels

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Wyrd & Wonder is a month-long celebration of the fantastic hosted by imyril, Lisa and Jorie. Get involved here!

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.

What did you make of the list? Are there any books you’d add to it?

13 thoughts on “#WyrdAndWonder 2021 | The books missing from TIME’s 100 Best Fantasy Novels

  1. dianthaa says:

    Oh god this list gives me flashbacks from when it came out. I’m a mod on r/fantasy and we had a few very active threads where we were just trying to tell who didn’t like the list for valid reasons (repetitions, the fact that everyone on the jury’s lists were included multiple times despite the no self-nominating rule) from the racists who thought all the recent books by authors of color shouldn’t have been included. I really wish they’d had done a 1 book/author or at the very least 1/series, would’ve made so much more space for other books that were influential.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jess @ Jessticulates says:

      Ah yes, the racists will always emerge, won’t they? Yeah, I think the fact that so many spots are taken by sequels and the fact that all of the judges on the panel ended up on the list is what annoys me a bit. Not that the judges aren’t good authors, but if they’re not allowed to self-nominate you get the feeling they were all sat around a table, stroking each other’s egos. Maybe I’m just being too cynical, though!

      Like

  2. Jaime says:

    This is FASCINATING. I hadn’t heard about this list until I read your post (so thank you for that!), but I definitely agree with your points, especially that some of these could have been combined for the whole series. Also, I find it odd that some of the “best” aren’t even the first book… which I guess sometimes the first book isn’t always the best of a series, but it baffles me that they picked this or that book in a series instead.

    I also am fascinated by how many of these books are new-ish. Like published in the last ten years and they’re considered the best fantasy books of all time?! Also, how many of these are YA? Don’t get me wrong, I love YA, but a lot of people don’t consider YA to be the best of the best so it’s interesting how many are YA (and how many YA authors are on the panel). You bring up great titles that /should/ be part of this list. (Especially the Odyssey and Grimm fairy tales! Also, why is Beowulf not on this list?!)

    I’m also curious how they categorize “fantasy.” I wouldn’t consider Madeleine L’Engle’s books to be fantasy but more science-fiction since it involves other planets and scientific ideas.

    I’d be really interested in learning how they determined this list (and how they determined which fantasy authors should be on this panel). This is all so interesting. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jess @ Jessticulates says:

      I must admit there are a few books on this list that I personally don’t consider fantasy – including Outlander. I know that’s ridiculous, when Outlander is far more fantastical than it is scientific, but for me time travel will always be sci-fi. There are quite a lot of new books on here and to be honest I don’t mind that because I think there has been so much excellent fantasy published in recent years, but I was surprised by the inclusion of some books that were literally published last year–do we know if they’re the best of all-time yet?

      I’d love to know how they picked the list, and I can’t help but roll my eyes at the fact that they weren’t allowed to nominate themselves but they still all ended up on the list because they all nominated each other, I guess.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jaime says:

        I agree with everything you said! There are some on this list I don’t consider fantasy either and there are many fantasy novels that were skipped over for whatever reason. It does strike me as odd too that even though they didn’t nominate themselves, they all made the cut. I can almost guess which books some of these authors nominated.

        It’s interesting to think about though! I sent it to my writing group and we’re working on compiling our own list XD

        Like

  3. azucchi says:

    I hadn’t heard of the TIMES article before this, and I had a look through. So many sequels! Even for Earthsea, they could have just used the complete edition! I also think that is you’re going to be looking at “of all time” it’s very hard to only look at 100 books (though I doubt anyone would be willing to scroll through more than that). I can’t believe Robin Hobb wasn’t on there! And all the others, but that one and Percy Jackson surprised me the most I think

    Liked by 1 person

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