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Friday, July 9, 2021

Best Standalone Classic Fantasy (Book Recommendation)

What is the best standalone Classic Fantasy Book published before 1980?

We wrapped up our last book conversation a while ago, so we're overdue to start a new one. And, as always, remember to take your recommendations to the comments on the blog if you want them counted (not as replies to the posts on FB or other social media.) And though the rules don't change much if you've done a lot of these before, please check them out if you're new or need a refresher.

Remember that instead of trying to figure out what more people think is the BEST (which usually turns into which book has the coolest movie adaptation anyway), we're just going to have a good chat about good books and all come away with some suggestions for our To Be Read Pile™. We'll still have the system of seconds (and "thirds" and "fourths"), but all that will determine is which goes to the top of the list when I post the results. You can go HERE to see what the results will look like when all is said and done. And I'll link out the original nomination post for folks who want to go see what people are actually saying about the book. Eventually these posts listing the results will be compiled in a massive "book recommendation" post.

Today we're doing stand alone classic fantasy. Those books that are not part of a trilogy, a series, or massive world building universe, but nonetheless are outstanding examples of the fantasy genre. And since this would turn into a massive list if we did all fantasy ever, we're going to break it up into modern and classic. Today is classic—written before 1980.


The Rules

  1. Make two recommendations. Obviously, I can't stop anyone from making fifteen, but nothing beyond the first two will make it onto the master list.
  2. NO BOOK WITH A COPYRIGHT AFTER 1980 WILL BE ACCEPTED. We'll do those in another conversation.
  3. TELL US ALL A LITTLE ABOUT WHY YOU LIKE THE BOOK (or short story) although obviously do so without spoilers! If you just drop a title name and it gets all the seconds, I'm still going to list it, of course, but the whole point of this is to have a "conversation" and gush a little about the books you think are great, exciting, well written, or unforgettable. 
  4. For each recommendation, let us know if you're nominating it more as a BEST book in the genre or an UNDERSUNG HERO in the genre. Basically "undersung hero" is for books you think are great, tragically overlooked, NEED to be read by everyone (like…yesterday), but are maybe not necessarily the besty bestest best. They'll all end up in the list I compile, but I'll put them in different places.
  5. As always, I leave the niggling over the definition of genres to your best judgement because I'd rather be inclusive. If you want to nominate The Time Machine as fantasy (even though it's probably better placed as sci-fi), you should show your work if you desire those sweet, sweet seconds (or thirds....or fourths) and there might be a discussion thread after your comment with a lot of people writing out the "If I may…"
  6. Your book must NOT be part of a series or more than tangentially related to a fictional universe. If it makes a reference to another book like once or twice is clearly taking place in the world of another book without being a sequel, prequel, or a grand unified series, that's fine, but if it takes place in Discworld, that's not "stand alone." (Nothing wrong with those kinds of massive universes, but let's get them their own conversation.) Obviously (because of the preview image), certain non-sequel offerings that occur with the same character and world are acceptable.
  7. You get to mention two (2) books. That's it. Two. You can do one BEST and one UNDERSUNG HERO. Or you can do two BESTS. Or you can do two UNDERSUNG HEROES. But two is the total. If you nominate three or more, I will, with unimaginable cruelty, simply ignore the third and any subsequent books. I'm sorry that I'm a stickler on this, but it's just lil ol' me compiling this list by myself and it's a pain when people drop a spinosaurus list of every single book they can remember in the entire genre. However, you list more than two books and your third or later choice gets a second, I'll consider everything. (Even though that matters a lot less than it did when I was counting seconds to see which titles made the poll––see below.)
  8. Did I mention two?
  9. You may (and absolutely should) give a second shout out to AS MANY nominations of others as you wish. There is no more poll, so this will not be a cutthroat competition to see who makes it to the semifinals. It will simply dictate which titles I list first, and it may influence which books someone considers a good recommendation. ("This one got six seconds, and that one only got two, so I think I'll start with this one.")
  10. Put your nominations HERE. I will take nominations only as comments and only on this post. (No comments on FB posts or G+ will be considered nominations.) If you can't comment for some reason because of Blogger, send me an email (chris.brecheen@gmail.com) stating exactly that and what your nomination is, and I will personally put your comment up. I am not likely to see a comment on social media even if it says you were unable to leave a comment here. 
  11. You are nominating WRITTEN fiction, not their A/V portrayals. If you thought The Martian was a great movie, but never really could get through Weir's written version, please nominate something else. (I love film, but it's a different medium.) 
  12. Have a conversation, but check the typical internet assholery at the door. If someone likes something you think is terrible, it's okay to let them enjoy it. And if someone has one tight and polite bit of criticism about your recommendation ("I was not a fan of the X plot arc or the way that author writes women."), it's okay that they didn't care for it and there's no need to defend it like they have impugned you honor for seven generations.  I **WILL** delete shitty comments, and I absolutely know that's highly subjective, so better to err on the side of nice. 
  13. TWO!

43 comments:

  1. The Farthest Away Mountain by Lynne Reid Banks
    The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

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    1. The Farthest Away Mountain is a childhood favorite that features a young girl who decides to go on an adventure and meet a gargoyle. It was one of the first fantasy books I read with a female protagonist.

      I picked The Phantom Tollbooth because it is unlike any other fantasy book out there and the wordplay is phenomenal.

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    2. Seconding The Phantom Tollbooth. Just a fabulous book.

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  2. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, 1968.

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    1. The book is one of many fantasy stories I grew up with, it has a special place in childhood heart. Also, the bittersweet ending makes me teary.

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    2. YES!!! I adored The Last Unicorn. So sweet, so beautiful. I was very thrilled when I saw the movie playing at Cineplex sometime later, and the author himself came to visit. :D!!! But yeah, I was in a very depressed time of my life when I first encountered The Last Unicorn at the library. This book was a great comfort to me. :) Such wonderful memories!

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  3. This Time of Darkness by H. M. Hoover, 1980.
    Sci-Fi
    Undersung Hero.
    11 year old Amy lives in a neverending city. No one goes or has even seen Outside. The Authorities are in charge and Watchers watch the people. Reading is banned. Everything is done by symbols. Her mother wants rid of her but because someone taught Amy to read the Authorities won't let her move out and contaminate others. Then she meets Axel, a strange boy who claims to come from Outside.

    I'd read another of Hoover's books as a kid and absolutely loved it but as I live in the UK I could never find any of her other books. Even the library was a dead end. I read this as an adult after it came up in a What Was That Book community and I recognised the author. I immediately bought the book online, read it and fell in love with it. It just spoke to me. I really identified with Amy's situation.

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  4. The Shaving of Shagpat: An Arabian Entertainment by George Meredith, first published in 1856.
    UNDERSUNG HERO

    I love this book, because I think it's well written and is just a really delightful narrative in the style of Arabian Nights, a hero with an impossible task.

    The Princess Bride, by William Goldman, copyright 1973
    UNDERSUNG HERO

    I nominated this as an undersung hero because most people are probably only familiar with the movie, which was great. However, the book is so much better than the movie, with so many additional and charming details.

    I might have nominated The Book of the Dun Cow or Bridge of Birds, but the authors of those books decided to write sequels.

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  6. BEST
    The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury, 1951. A cleverly tied together collection of short stories. Brilliant writing. Still relevant today (mostly).

    UNDERSUNG HERO
    The Princess Bride by William Goldman, 1973. A fantasy for young and old, and a fresh take on the genre, even today.

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  7. Omigod. It ate mine. >_<; aright
    Fine.
    Best of the Best: Bunnicula (1979) It's a vampire bunny. This blend of horror, humor and just damn cuteness is the best. Its sequels are unnecessary and this first one stands on its own. This series teaches you to not be afraid of people/creatures who are different. I was almost disappointed with how NOT a vampire Bunnicula is. He's just a baby and he just needs to eat differently. The book is narrated by the dog, Harold and the kind of antagonist is the family cat, Chester. This book is short and great and the illustrations are amazing. It's not daunting to a small child and can be read pretty quickly. The humor and the horror is a great combo. U read this thing So much as a kid.

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    1. I haven't read Bunnicula yet, but it sounds so cute and intriguing!

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    2. We did this one as school reading in our grade school, one of the few I remember. Totally loved it!

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  8. Beauty by Robin McKinley and The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle

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  9. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, first published in German in 1979. It is an undersung hero because everyone knows the movie but few have read this absolute gem of children's lit. Full of creative imagination and deep life lessons.

    Watership Down is clearly already on the radar but it's also one of my favorites.

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    1. Seconding Watership Down! Blackberry was my favorite.

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    2. Second Neverending Story

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    3. I have to second both of these. The Neverending Story is a wonderful book, and Watership Down is a longtime favorite. Always worth reading. The world is complex and the characters so compelling. I'm not sure who was my favorite WD character - I love (still) so many of them, and still think of this book every time I see a rabbit go by me.

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  10. The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper.
    Truly deserving to be among the best but also somewhat undersung, this 1973 book had me captivated when I read it as a young teen, and i still re-read it frequently. It meshes British myth, legend and folklore with a fantastical element to weave a tale of the never-ending conbflict between the Dark and the Light, and the part an eleven-year old boy must play to restore the equilibrium to his world. Ranked in 2012 as 'number 22 among all-time children's novels' in a survey published in the USA, it seems to have had less exposure in the UK but many who have read it agree it is an unforgettable work with the power to remain in the consciousness of its readers for the rest of their lives.

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    1. That book is great but it is part of a series.

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  11. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. A real tear-jerker for a "kids book".

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  12. Out of their Minds, by Clifford D. Simak, and Inferno, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. They didn’t take the subject matter too seriously, but dealt with deep matters of the soul nonetheless.

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  13. Inferno has a sequel which I forgot and you should too.

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  14. I'm going to give mad love to my man Ray Bradbury here. My pick for best is Fahrenheit 451. I always thought it was a haunting, compelling story that illustrates the power of books. My pick for Unsung Hero is Dandelion Wine. This love letter to the magic of childhood, as seen through the eyes of Douglas Spaulding in the summer of 1928, is my favorite Bradbury novel. I especially love the brief story of the newspaperman, William Forrester, who falls in love with an old photo of Helen Loomis, who is actually 95. I think I love it because I always think about the idea of what if you meet your soulmate but the circumstances are all wrong.

    I also loved Bunnicula.

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    1. Hear you on Bradbury! I wanted to pick Dandelion Wine but it fails the rule "Your book must NOT be part of a series or more than tangentially related to a fictional universe". It's set in the fictional universe of Green Town along with 4 other of his stories. And Fahrenheit 451 is more scifi-dystopia than fantasy. That's why I went with The Illustrated Man.

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  15. Watership Down. This is my favorite book. The characterization is outstanding; incredible characters. The scope is epic and echoes the Odyssey and other Greek classics. The world-building is fully formed, including its own glossary and mythology. The naturalistic details are accurate and give it a deep sense of place. The story is gripping and builds toward a climax in which seemingly unimportant details weave together and are realized as significant in the way I love best. And yet it all takes place in the hills and grass, below knee level. It is often hard selling this book to others. People have preconceptions about talking animals. Those people are missing an incredible experience. Second, I would recommend A Canticle For Liebowitz. Yes, it is science fiction, but I think the elements of magic/mysticism/religion that occur lean it toward the fantasy category. Its scope is ages long; its subject is nothing less than the hubris of humankind as we wield technology against the planet for our own puny motives.

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    1. Second for Canticle for Liebowitz, I think especially for its era it dealt with broad themes that were more common in fantasy settings than standard SF. And such a great balance of humor with seriousness.

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  16. ONE: "Drawing of the Dark" by Tim Powers (1979). Passed over by some as "early Powers", but to me it will always be a favourite blend of Powers' earliest swashbuckling efforts and his later quirky and detailed dives into supernatural shenanigans. It's a nail-biter set in the historical (Powers does his research!) setting of the 1529 Siege of Vienna with Arthurian forces whirling in the back shadows. All told via the incorrigible mercenary Brian Duffy.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Drawing_of_the_Dark

    TWO: "Operation Chaos" by Poul Anderson (1971). Anderson takes four short stories published over the years and "welds" them together with bridging material to make a novel. If that fails to meet your standalone criteria, then substitute "Operation Afreet" (1956) for my submission. Anderson subjects magic and fantasy tropes to the hard stricture of science to create an alternate Earth where the existence of God has been scientifically proven and magic has been harnessed for the practical needs of everyday life. "Afreet" features a WWII where broomsticks and flying carpets dogfight in the sky, sorcerer corps strive to push the weather around against enemy conjurors, and armour divisions feature dragons. A werewolf commando and a witch are sent on a secret mission behind enemy lines to investigate rumours of a superweapon.

    And there you go!

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  17. Kindred by Octavia Butler and not sure if this really counts as fantasy, it's certainly not traditional, but The Stand by Stephen King

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  19. So many wonderful books listed here, but I have to give my nominations for this list to the author who introduced me to short fiction - Ray Bradbury. I'll include Something Wicked This Way Comes as my first addition to the list. (still thinking about my second - will add that soon).

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  20. Watership Down--my favorite book of all time. I have reread it 31 times and each time enjoy it just as much as the first time!

    The Silmarillion--not quite the same emotional pull as LOTR but an amazing building of a universe!

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  21. 1. The Never Ending Story. Not only the best fantasy published before 1980 but one of the best fantasy novels of all time. It's not even close.

    2. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NHIM. There are a few contenders for second spot but I'm thinking about what I personally got from reading the book and I got a lot from this book.

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  22. Over Sea Under Stone by Susan Cooper. Yes I KNOW that *technically* it’s the first book in the Dark Is Rising series but it was written first, well before the others, and stands alone and complete as a story in its own right. It’s a wonderful tale of a grail quest by 3 children in 1960’s Cornwall guided by their mysterious uncle Merriman Lyon. The fantasy element is there but quite subtle and at times the book is quite chilling - there’s real danger out there! It’s a great book and I still have my original copy from over 40 years ago

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  23. Momo (also published in English as "The Grey Gentlemen"), by Michael Ende. I like Never Ending Story, and it is a classic, but I love Momo. Given my current approach to time management, I think I'm overdue to reread it myself!

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  24. I came here to post The Phantom Tollbooth. It was up already.

    Oh, I thought, well, the The Princess Bride!

    Up.

    Beauty was written bef....up. What about Kindred? Oh. Up. Hey, didn't Tim Powers have a...up.

    Ray Bradb...up, up, up, up.

    Well, Bridge of Birds hasn't...up.

    So I don't have a submission. I just wanted to say y'all are awesome.

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    1. Fortunately, all those can count as "seconds"!

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