Monday, April 24, 2006


Pursuant to the post immediately below this one...

I know some of the answers, but not all, so...

What would constitute a comprehensive list of the best heroic fantasy ever?

I'll forget the 10-year-rule mentioned in the post below if you'll be good enough to include the pub date if it's later than 1995.



At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Spencer said...

Pretty much everything by Robert E. Howard: The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, The Coming of Conan the Barbarian, The Bloody Crown of Conan, The Conquering Sword of Conan, Bran Mak Morn: The Last King, and all of the Kull stories.

E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros.

The Dying Earth books by Jack Vance. For that matter, the Lyonnesse books too.

The Earthsea books by Ursula K. Le Guin.

All of the Lankmahr books by Fritz Leiber.

The Elric, Cormac, and Hawkmoon books by Michael Moorcock.

There are probably a lot more that I'm forgetting, and if I think of more, I'll post them.

At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Dan Read said...

I nominate Neal Barrett's wonderful and underappreciated trilogy of Aldair novels, which were all published in the late 70's if I'm not mistaken. I would love it for someone to release an omnibus edition or individual reprints. (Nightshade?)

I'd also nominate some Karl Edward Wagner Kane stuff on the list too, though I'm not familiar enough with all of it to nominate a specific work.


At 1:01 PM, Anonymous Paul Jessup said...

Heh, damn, Spencer, you beat me to most of those. I second everything on his list- esp Howard and Le Guin.

I also nominate the Theives World Books- most specifically the first one (titled only Thieve's World).

Does Martin's Song of Fire and Ice count for the ten year mark? Some of the books have been out long enough...

Roger Zelazny's Amber Chronicles are a definate.

Richard Adam's Shardik is really good as well. Micheal Ende's The Never Ending Story should also be on the list. Journey to the West is also excellent.

This also makes me wonder what constitutes as Heroic Fantasy...

At 1:19 PM, Anonymous Spencer said...

I forgot William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land and some of Clark Ashton Smith's short stories.

I second Paul's recommendation of A Song of Ice and Fire. The first few books of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series wouldn't be bad either.

At 1:26 PM, Blogger Freebird said...

This is difficult to define: What about the epic poems that star heroes with outrageous exploits? If this is acceptable, then certainly these should be considered:

Epic of Gilgamesh

Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso

Torquato Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered

The Song of Roland

Malory's La Mort d'Arthur

The Niebelungen Leid

The Kalevala


But if 'heroic fantasy' is to be limited to entirely fictional characters and milieu, then in addition to the ones already mentioned above, I would add Gene Wolfe's recent (2004-2005) Wizard-Knight duology for consideration. Hrmm...outside of the epic poems and a few uneven multi-volume fantasies, I'm not well-read when it comes to heroic fantasies.

At 1:42 PM, Blogger Joe said...

I'd go along with Freebird in recommending Beowulf (Nobel winner Seamus Heaney's translation is quite excellent), also, if that kind of mythical epic is permissable then also the Mabinogion and Blind Harry's The Wallace. And what about Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan tales?

At 4:45 PM, Anonymous Vera Nazarian said...

I am going to be unrepentantly shameless about saying this, because it is simply true.

My own, mostly unread by anyone, standalone epic fantasy about a world without color -- Lords of Rainbow.

At 4:48 PM, Anonymous Spencer said...

*smacks forehead*

I can't believe I forgot The Wizard Knight! Those books are freakin' brilliant!

Also, I forgot to mention Stephen King's Dark Tower series, which is not only King's greatest work, but a genuinely inventive and fun heroic dark fantasy.

At 5:36 PM, Blogger William Lexner said...

Here's my stab at it, and a lovely little stab I think it is:

-The Epic of Gilgamesh
-The Greek Mythologies
-The Iliad and the Odyssey - Homer
-The Icelandic Sagas
-The Nibelengunlied
-Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
-Le Morte D’Arthur – Sir Thomas Mallory
-Romance of the Three Kingdoms - Lu Guanzhong
-Musashi – Eiji Yoshikawa
-Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes
-The Moon Pool - A. Merritt
-The House of the Wolflings – William Morris
-The King of Elflands Daughter - Lord Dunsany
-The Worm Ourouborous - E.R. Edison
-Conan the Barbarian stories - Robert E. Howard
-Silverlock - John Myers Myers
-The Once and Future King – T.H. White
-The Well of the Unicorn - Fletcher Pratt
-The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis
-Glory Road - Robert A. Heinlein
-Three Hearts and Three Lions - Poul Anderson
-The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
-Tales of the Dying Earth – Jack Vance
-The Chronicles of Amber – Roger Zelazny
-The Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories by Fritz Lieber
-The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever – Stephen R. Donaldson
-The Riddle-Master Trilogy – Patricia McKillip
-Gloriana – Michael Moorcock
-The Elric Saga - Michael Moorcock
-Magician – Raymond E. Feist
-The Dragon Waiting – John M. Ford
-The Princess Bride – William Goldman
-Dragonlance Chronicles and Legends by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (The definitive Dungeons and Dragons games-turned-novels. See also R.A. Salvatore)
-The Sword of Shannara - Terry Brooks (just to understand the Tolkien-clones. See also David Eddings)
-The Prydain Chronicles - Lloyd Alexander
-The Earthsea Trilogy - Ursula K. LeGuin
-The Dark Tower – Stephen King
-Tigana – Guy Gavriel Kay
-Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn - Tad Williams
-The Eye of the World - Robert Jordan
-The Farseer Trilogy – Robin Hobb
-The Iron Dragons Daughter – Michael Swanwick
-The Book of Knights – Yves Meynard
-A Song of Ice and Fire - George R.R. Martin
-The Wizard Knight – Gene Wolfe
-The Prince of Nothing – R. Scott Bakker

At 5:39 PM, Blogger William Lexner said...

Vera, I've been meaning to pick up Lords of the Rainbow for some time now.

Your unrepentant hubris has forced me to go order it right now. I'll review it shortly on my blog.

At 5:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I love you to death, but you cannot nominate your own work. I cut City of Saints from my long list despite a few people mentioning it for similar reasons. :)


At 6:32 PM, Anonymous Vera Nazarian said...


Thanks! You will then become one of three people on this planet who have read this poor book. *grin* Feel free to tear it apart online if you choose to review and find it sucky.

Dear Jeff (and I mean that "Dear" part because I also love yah a whole lot and you know it),

I can certainly respect the sensibilities of your blog (and this whole western society of ours), but I was not aware of such a limitation, and certainly don't see why you (that's a general "you," it applies to all of us) should detract from your own work by pretending it does not exist, out of some kind of coy sense of social politeness that is making less and less relevance in our world?

Indeed, what is it that makes us do that?

Noblesse oblige? Emily Post's Etiquette beaten into our heads? Millennia of Social Rules? Humility? Piety? Tenets of traditional organized religion? Philosophical brainwashing?

What the heck is it? Well, whatever it is, it is pretty stupid, if we think about it.

What is it in our compounded social traditions and mores that disallows us to speak the simple truth of what we believe about ourselves and our work, not just that of others?

Honestly -- and this is going to be a question that will open a can of worms, I can already see them crawling, the itty bitty suckers! and it is not necessarily addressed to you -- but why can we not nominate/ highlight / mention our own work if it fits the discussion?

After all, when we become blatantly odious by doing it (and often we do become, yes!), people can see right through us and we are not fooling anyone by shameless self-promotion and pitiful self-adulation. However, when it is just something honest that must be said, for genuine reasons, I jus't don't see anything wrong with doing so.

Okay, and yes, we all know I am tacky and a weirdo and yes, I am when it comes to saying things I believe in but I am completely fed up with the coy politeness. Life's too short.

If this is gone too far, please accept my apologies and feel free to delete this post, otherwise, I am happy to let it stand. :-)

Oh, and it pains me greatly to see you not include your own monumental City of Saints and Madmen in the long list where it completely belongs due to some politeness scruples.


Yes, I know it's not you, it's what we have all been taught all our lives, the self-humility, etc., yadda yadda.

And I am not accepting it anymore.

It's bullshit.

At 6:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm just not much for conflict of interest. I do so much PR for my books that there are places where I draw definite lines in the sand.

This is one of them.

Another one is not to lobby for my books and stories for the Locus Awards. Or the Nebula. Or anything else where undue influence can be brought to bear in a way that de-stabilizes the value of being nominated.

It's no big deal, though, Vera. I was not trying to be a humorless git, you know. :)


At 7:35 PM, Anonymous Vera Nazarian said...


I do understand about conflict of interest, and admire and respect your stance, always.

And holy shaisa, but you can never be a humorless git -- not with all that squid and greycaps moving around in your admirable cranium.... *grin*

At 7:43 PM, Anonymous Vera Nazarian said...

Off the topic of me, me, me, and to add to the heroic fantasy list, it's amazing that no one has mentioned Tanith Lee.

The Birthgrave

The Storm Lord

Vazkor, Son of Vazkor

Quest for the White Witch



The Flat Earth Series

At 10:19 PM, Blogger JP said...

I love the Dying Earth books, but wouldn't they be more by way of picaresque fantasy, specifically the Cugel books? (It might be intetresting compiling such a list, though - the only other entry I can think of off-hand would be Aldiss' The Malacia Tapestry, but there ought to be more!)

Lyonesse would be a better fit from Vance's bibliography.

I'd contest including *anything* that is part of an as-yet unfinished whole.

At 12:11 AM, Blogger William Lexner said...

You'd contest A Song of Ice and Fire?

That's hogwash. There's never been a beter writen epic fantasy series. It's complete enough to know that's its bloody genius, and better than 95% of the other stuff on my list.

At 2:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heroic Fantasy and Epic fantasy are two very different things.

Tolkein Knockoffs and their ilk are "epic fantasy" while episodic, shorter tales involving single heroes, and antiheroes, are more traditionally "heroic fantasy." REH's Conan, is, of course the classic Heroic Fantasy archetype. There was some historical adventure fiction that preceded Conan, and of course there are mythological hero cycles that predate it(gilgemesh, Hercelues, persues, et al.) but REH's work pretty much kicked off the subgenre with his work.

There was an excellent article about "heroic fantasy" in The Black Gate a few issues back that I recomend heartily as a source of much information.

Moving past the initial Werid tales epoch, there is of course sardonic/modern twist on heroic fantasy, which was kicked off by Frizt Lieber, and followed in short order by Moorcocks Elrik, and Wagner's Kane. And between REH, and these more modern reworkings, there have been hundreds of different variations upon these themes, and there are dozens, if not hundreds of anthologies that collect up a lot of great examples of these types of stories.

Of course if Jeff intended a broader defintion of "Heroic fantasy"... then nevermind.

-Jeremy Lassen

Don't forget Imaro, by Charles Saunders.

At 6:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jeremy!

Hey--I'd contest book four of Song of Fire and Ice. I think he fucked up in that one.

First 3--brilliant.


At 7:37 AM, Blogger William Lexner said...


I don't think George fucked up in A Feast For Crows, I think that book had a lot of things going against it.

-It was *way* too big. He had to cut it in half.

-It was coming after the genius that was A Storm of Swords. God couldn't follow that one up.

-There was originally supposed to be a five year gap, but George felt telling the story of what happenned post ASoS would be impossibly in flashbacks. (I don't know that I agree, but I don't have all the info he does)

-This 5 year gap issue caused the book to take too long to be completed. (over five years) The publishers were screaming for it.

-It was not a complete novel, but half of one.

All of these are excuses and all of these are reasons, but read in context, AFFC is a great continuation of the series. It works to set up a lot of things that needed to be set up, and is enjoyable in and of itself.

That said, while the writing is of the same quality, the actual story is not as fulfilling as the previous three.


I think when you break heroic and epic fantasy down into seperate subgenre's, you're culling just a bit too much.

At 10:51 AM, Anonymous Spencer said...

William: Your list is great, but I take issue with your inclusion of the first Dragonlance trilogy. I read Dragons of Autumn Twilight a long time ago, and it is the single worst book I have ever read. At least R.A. Salvatore can write.

At 11:21 AM, Anonymous Paul Jessup said...

I don't think you should include the "old epics" (Gilgimesh, Odyssey, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, L'Morte, etc) because with the original intended audiance these were not considered works of fantasy. We consider them as such, but that's only from our viewpoint.

At 1:55 PM, Blogger William Lexner said...

You know, Spencer, in all honesty I don't much remember Dragonlance -- it's been quite some time. I do know, however, that they were the first incredibly succesful D+D game turned fantasy, and I included them as a triviality.

I'd never resort to calling them literature, by any means, nor would I say that about Bob Salvatore, either. He may have improved on what they did, but if you want the history of it, they came first.


Paul, in reference to the epics, I disagree with you. I have a hard time believing that most people believed in such things. At very least, like today, the educated sort of put up with the ignorant masses belief systems. Hell, I'd be willing to put some passages from the old testament on this list, if it wouldn't upset so many peoples applecarts.

At 3:50 AM, Anonymous Paul Jessup said...

Paul, in reference to the epics, I disagree with you. I have a hard time believing that most people believed in such things. At very least, like today, the educated sort of put up with the ignorant masses belief systems.

Point to refreences, then. From every book of antiquity that I could find even the most learned scholar believed in most of it (even Socratese- who was killed for calling the Greek Gods false had his own religous system that was similiar to Christianity).

The only ones that would be accaptable, IMHO, is the Nordic sagas, since they actually were believed by the people to be fictional.

You can't just make a blanket statement like that. Point me to anthropological evidance that the writers of such work believed in them to be fiction for a fictional audiance. Then you would have an arguement.

At 4:53 PM, Blogger William Lexner said...

Ok Paul, I don't want to get into an anthropological debate with you. It's impossible to know what people alive today truly believe in their heart of hearts, so I will not pretend to know what ancients believed.

So I submit.

At 4:53 AM, Anonymous BenO said...

Here's my version of "the list". It has some duplicates, but I'll include them anyhow in case multiple nominations matter.

Adams, Richard - Watership Down
Alexander, Lloyd - The Prydain Chronicles (5 books)
Anderson, Poul - Hrolf Kraki's Saga
Anderson, Poul - The Broken Sword
Beagle, Peter S. - The Innkeeper 's Song
Bellairs, John - The Face in the Frost
Bishop, J. K. - The Etched City (2003)
Brunner, John - The Traveler in Black
Bujold, Lois McMaster - The Curse of Chalion (2001)
Chant, Joy - Red Moon and Black Mountain
Dunsany, Lord - The King of Elfland's Daughter
Dunsany, Lord - Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow Valley
Eddison, E.R. - The Worm Ouroboros
Gentle, Mary - Ash: A Secret History (4 books - 1999-2000)
Goldman, William - The Princess Bride
Haggard, H. Rider - She
Harrison, M. John - Viriconium (4 books)
Heinlein, Robert A. - Glory Road
Hobb, Robin - Farseer trilogy (3 books - 1995-1997)
Hodgell, P.C. - God Stalk
Hodgson, William Hope - The Night Land
Howard, Robert E. - Conan (stories)
Hyne, C. J. Cutliffe - The Lost Continent
Kay, Guy Gavriel - Tigana
Kay, Guy Gavriel - Sarantine Mosiac (2 books - 1999-2000)
Kushner, Ellen - Swordspoint
Le Guin, Ursula K. - the Earthsea trilogy (3 books)
Leiber, Fritz - Fafhrd and Grey Mouser (stories)
Lewis, C. S. - Narnia (7 books)
May, Julian - The Many-Colored Land
McKillip, Patricia A. - Riddle-Master trilogy (3 books)
Meynard, Yves - The Book of Knights (1998)
Moorcock, Michael - Elric (first 6 books)
Moorcock, Michael - Gloriana, or the Unfulfill'd Queen
Morris. William - The Well at the World End
Robinson, Kim Stanley - A Short, Sharp Shock
Shea, Michael - Nift the Lean
Shepard, Lucius - The Scalehunter's Beautiful Daughter
Silverberg, Robert - Lord Valantine's Castle
Smith, Clark Ashton - Hyperboria, Poseidonis, Xiccarph, Zothique (stories)
Stoddard, James - Evenmere (2 books - 1998-2000)
Stover, Matthew Woodring - Heroes Die (1998)
Swanwick, Michael - The Iron Dragons Daughter
Tepper, Sheri S. - the True Game trilogy (3 books)
Tolkien, J.R.R. - The Lord of the Rings (3 books)
Vance, Jack - Lyonesse trilogy (3 books)
Varley, John - Gaea trilogy (3 books)
Walton, Evangeline - The Mabinogion (4 books)
Wells, Martha - City of Bones
White, T.H. - The Once and Future King
Wolfe, Gene - The New Sun (4 books)
Wolfe, Gene - The Long Sun (4 books - last is 1996)
Wolfe, Gene - The Short Sun (3 books - 1999-2001)
Wolfe, Gene - The Wizard Knight (2 books - 2004)
Zelazny, Roger - The Chronicles of Amber (first 5 books)

If I had to pick a "best" heroic fantasy book, it would easily be Eddison's Worm Ouroboros. It's an incredible feast of language and adventure. And if I were to un-nominate a previous nomination, which I'm just about to do, it would have to be the shared world anthology Thieves' World - it's dire.

Jeff, I hope you do more of these lists - they're great fun. Just think of the possibilities - surreal, highbrow humor, philosophical, gonzo - the possibilities are almost endless!

At 1:13 PM, Blogger Eldritch00 said...

I'm loving these lists, and while I'm not so well-versed in heroic fantasy (and it's arguable if "sword and sorcery" and "heroic fantasy" are precisely interchangeable terms for each other), here's a recent thread from a board I'm part of where attempts were made to do something similar. Hope it helps!

At 7:46 AM, Anonymous Paul Jessup said...

Ben- that is a great list. Perfect.

I understand the Theive's World comment- but I guess I'm nostalgic. I read and loved those books when I was twelve, and sometimes nostalgia can taint the truth.

At 12:49 AM, Blogger Karl Lutzer said...

Hey all...if you're interested in Heroic Fantasy, you might want to check out my blog...Heroic Fantasy Magazine...a stab at bringing back the prolific nature of the pulps, ala Conan...

Or Fritz Leiber as well!

It's going to be a tribute to that sort of writing. It's brand new! Check it out!

At 10:29 PM, Blogger Nav said...

How about David gemmel? He passed away recently but his books were amazing

At 6:55 PM, Blogger Martin G said...


"David Andrew Gemmell (1 August 1948 – 28 July 2006) was a bestselling British author of heroic fantasy " wikipedia

This guy wrote 20+ best selling novel all of which is %100
Heroic fantasy if you have not read most of his books you cannot consider yourself an author on heroic fantasy by any extent . And No sword and sorcery does not = heroic fantasy . My lord what is going on with the young these days . Pug (magicians) never had to sell his soul to save the kingdom of the isle . Simon snow lock(memory sorrow and thorn) never had to rape his childhood sweet heart to learn the meaning of love . Brona( sword of shanara) never raped and skin his victim alive .

To be a heroes you must have a soul and you can't portray a soulful character in a novel without exhibiting the depth of human depravation and benevolence . If you want to know what I mean read sword in the storm or heroes in the shadow by David Gemmell .

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