I'm rather new here, and I spent a good chunk of today scanning the posts back about 15 pages or so. I have to admit, I'm a little disappointed that very close to 100% of what I'm finding focuses on recent/new books - Jordan, Goodkind, Martin, Rowling, etc etc. Not that there's anything wrong with that at all - I'm as big a fan of Harry Potter as anyone - but I often wonder why, when people go on about not having anything new to read, having gone through all the "classics", they neglect the foundations of the field. Fantasy readers more than any I should think would be interested in the past.
Enough ranting. If I don't see it, why not create my own thread? I'm interested in your thoughts and recommendations and favorites and obscurities from the already-vast field of fantasy in the first half of the last century, before Narnia and Middle Earth existed (except in their authors' minds - and yes, I know "The Hobbit" was published in 1937 - but it didn't have the impact that the books in the 50s did).
I grew up in the 70s on LOTR and Narnia, but turned my attention fairly quickly backwards as much as (or more than) forwards, and over the years here are some favorites that I've found; I'm going to focus on novels in particular - so though I've read a fair amount of Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Howard, they won't be a big part of this for me:
L. Frank Baum's "Oz" series, begun in 1900 - I wish I'd been the right age to read these for the first time, 6 or 8, but they still made a strong impression in high school. Much gentler and funnier than the 1939 movie and with a surprising amount of social commentary (proto-feminism and socialism in particular). Baum's "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus" from 1902 is great also.
Edith Nesbit's "Five Children and It" is the first part of a kid's series also, but it's the only one I've read. Kids uncover a sand-fairy who grants wishes - strangely. Fun but I don't remember it that well.
G.K. Chesterton's "The Man Who Was Thursday" is one of my absolute all-time favorite novels, a classic of mysticism, satire, adventure and weirdness. Very short and I wouldn't want to spoil it much; published in 1908, four years after his "Napolean of Notting Hill", theoretically science fiction but feeling more like adventure-fantasy, about an attempt in 1984 to bring back England's chivalrous history.
William Hope Hodgson's 1908 "House on the Borderland" and 1912 "The Night Land" are among the more memorable and uniquely stylized novels of this period - the former quite evocative of the kind of cosmic horror/mystery that Lovecraft would later specialize in, the latter written in a weird archaic dialect about a fantastic quest across a ruined "Dying Earth" millions of years hence.
David Lindsay's 1920 "A Voyage to Arcturus" is probably my favorite SF or fantasy novel between the 1890s and "Titus Groan" and there's nothing else like it, the sheer craziness of the thing is probably a big part of why it never sold at the time. Another book I'd rather not describe, it's an experience best had cold. His 1922 "The Haunted Woman" is worth a read also.
E.R. Eddison's "Worm Ouroboros" is the closest thing to Tolkien before Tolkien, which the later writer was quick to acknowledge. Like "The Night Land" written in a deliberately archaic style, though it's more fitting here and Eddison is more adept at it. I suspect George RR Martin owes it a debt as well. I haven't yet read the pseudo-sequel Zimiamvian trilogy.
A few of H.P. Lovecraft's longer stories might be called novels; the only one that is more fantasy than horror or science fiction is "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath", finished (more or less) in 1927 but unpublished until 1943 after the author's death. Strongly influenced by Dunsany (who I've read very little of...yet) it's a beautifully-done dream-journey across fantastic landscapes, very roccoco and marvelous though fairly plotless.
Mikhail Bugakov's "The Master and Margarita" was also a posthumous publication, waiting 30 years from it's 1937 completion to be printed. I suppose now it might be called "magical realism" in that it takes place mostly in ostensibly "real" contemporary Moscow - but one with witches and the Devil paying visits. It's classed as "literature" and never was part of the fantasy ghetto, but deserves to be read by genre fans for sure.
As does Franz Kafka's "The Castle", another posthumous (1922) publication. For its eeriness and the surreal qualities; the "fantasy" lies in the bureaucratic behavior carried to impossible extremes, and the way it affects the "hero." "The Trial" has many similarities in feeling but for whatever reason doesn't quite strike me as 'fantasy'; the short novella "The Metamorphosis", about a man waking up as an insect, certainly does belong to the genre.
T.H. White began publication of what was to become 'The Once and Future King' with "The Sword in the Stone" in 1938. It ought to need no introduction to anybody and should I think be the first Arthurian fiction (besides Malory, for the brave) that anyone tackles, although it's all downhill from here...
Seabury Quinn was a contemporary of the 'Weird Tales' crew (Lovecraft, Howard, Smith, etc) and like them wrote mostly short fiction; his "Roads" published in book form in 1948 a decade after its magazine publication is a fascinating Santa Claus fantasy that ties in to early Christian legend.
I barely remember John Myers Myers' 1949 extravaganza "Silverlock", the story of a man trapped on an island who runs into all kinds of historical and mythological characters, but I remember loving it and it's a high-priority re-read.
And then there's Meryvn Peake, who published "Titus Groan" in 1946 and its first sequel "Gormenghast" in 1950. If there was a better prose stylist in English specializing in fantasy, I haven't read him. You don't read these for the action, they're all style and mood and character, but they are brilliant for all that and the climax of the second book and a few other scenes show that Peake can actually write action when he wants to as well. Absolutely my first recommendation in the entire genre.
Well there's my start; I haven't mentioned a few other works or writers that I've read, or the many, many that I haven't. Among those that deserve remembering - and I hope others who contribute will call them up and offer some words: Fletcher Pratt & L. Sprague DeCamp, Flann O'Brien, Charles Finney, Austin Tappan Wright, Hope Mirrlees, A. Merritt, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, David Garnett, Charles Williams.
And I stopped with 1900, because "Oz" is as good a place to begin as any. If this gets a lot of responses perhaps we'll go further back...
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