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Before Tolkien and Lewis: Fantasy 1900-1949

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Showing 1-25 of 51 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 18, 2009 3:41:49 PM PDT
Muzzlehatch says:
Hello all,
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...

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 18, 2009 3:53:41 PM PDT
William Morris: The Well at World's End

George MacDonald: Phantases

Classics before the masters

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 18, 2009 4:13:12 PM PDT
My favorite fantasy is and always will be Through the Looking Glass with Alice in Wonderland close behind. I adore The whole of The Once and Future King and recommend White's The Elephant and the Kangaroo (1947). E. Nesbitt wrote a wonderful book in 1900 called The Book of Dragons.

In the slightly closer to horror, I completely agree with Lovecraft, and Poe and definitely The Master and Marguerita (I read that in college). You might also look up La Bas. I recently read A. Merritt's The Moon Pool which is back in print. And let's not forget James Branch Cabell. In fact I think Wilkie Collins belongs on this list.

If we are thinking of underappreciated slightly more modern authors like Charles Finney then I must also mention the short story collection Fancies and Goodnights by John Collier.

Posted on Aug 18, 2009 4:21:09 PM PDT
Muzzlehatch says:
Yeah, Collier's someone I forgot - I have "Fancies and Goodnights" but have never gotten around to it. I've read the original magazine version of Merritt's "Moon Pool" and liked it, but not read anything else yet despite having a near-complete set of the uniform Avon paperback edition from the 70s. "La Bas" I'm not familiar with but I'll look into it.

I love "Alice" and I've read some Morris and attempted a MacDonald novel (which I'll get back to at some point) but those are 19th century and I'd rather if possible keep this discussion to the first half of the 20th for the most part.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 18, 2009 5:27:41 PM PDT
Bruise Bane says:
(Much of what I mention will be duplicates of works already mentioned. Also, I will use a liberal, more academic use of the word "fantasy")

Lilith by George MacDonald (1895 -- sorry, I went pre-20th century -- also William Morris' The Wood Beyond the World and The Well at the World's End were published in the last decade of the 19th century.)

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterson (1908)

The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson (1909)

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)

Black Magic by Marjorie Bowen (1909)

The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle (1912)

The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson (1912)

Jurgen (1919), The High Place (1923) and The Silver Stallion (1926) by James Branch Cabell

The Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay (1920)

The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison (1922)

The Haunted Woman by David Lindsay (1922)

Lady into Fox by David Garnett (1922)

The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany (1924)

Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees (1926)

Witch Wood by John Buchanan (1927)

The Midnight Folk by John Masefield (1927)

War in Heaven (1930) and Descent into Hell (1937) by Charles Williams

The Nightlife of the Gods by Thorne Smith (1931)

Clarke Ashton Smith's Zothique stories

The Werewolf in Paris by Guy Endore (1933)

Lost Horizon by James Hilton (1933)

The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney (1935)

At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft (1936)

Robert E. Howard's Conan stories

Roads by Seabury Quinn (1938)

The Once and Future King by T.H. White (1939)

Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson (1940)

Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories and Conjure Wife (1943)

The Book of Ptath by A. E. van Vogt (1943)

The Valley of the Flame and The Dark World (both 1946) by Henry Kuttner

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake (1946)

The Well of the Unicorn by Fletcher Pratt (1948)

Posted on Aug 18, 2009 7:37:54 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 18, 2009 7:40:33 PM PDT
K. C. Herbel says:
Nice lists guys! I can see I've got some reading to catch up on. =)
Hope you don't mind, I printed it up.

Add one (On the date border line) -- 'The Dying Earth' by Jack Vance (1950)

Best wishes and better adventures,
With a Jester of Kindness

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 19, 2009 5:27:05 AM PDT
Muzzlehatch says:
Great list there Shadow. I'm at least familiar with the names of all of them, and own quite a few that I just haven't read yet - except for the Masefield. I know he was a poet, didn't know that he wrote any fantasy, I'll have to look that one up. I'm surprised at myself for forgetting to list Grahame and Hilton - the latter in particular. Though I like the novel quite a bit, it's Frank Capra's film of "Lost Horizon" that is unforgettable to me, certainly one of the great fantasy/adventure films ever made.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 19, 2009 6:27:47 AM PDT
EMAN NEP says:
Great thread!

Everyone else has mentioned the ones I would have: John Myers Myers (yes, definitely worth a re-read!), Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft and Mervyn Peake.

The only other one I would consider would be EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS Martian Tales. It's not hardcore fantasy, but it does fit into the Sword and Planet category and you can see where A LOT of the ideas for STAR WARS came from, to include scenes that come straight out of those books!

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 19, 2009 6:42:28 AM PDT
Muzzlehatch says:
Oh yeah Burroughs is a good call. As you say, not fantasy - by today's definition - but of course in 1912 there were no "fantasy" or "science fiction" genre labels - and the Martian tales in particular have had a huge impact on the science-fantasy intersection of the genres - Andre Norton, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Lin Carter, Philip José Farmer, Jack Vance and many others certainly owe a lot to Burroughs and his contemporaries/imitators.

Posted on Aug 19, 2009 1:04:34 PM PDT
Robin D says:
I'm astonished that only one person mentions William Morris, and then only his best known novel. Many are too daunted by his use of middle English vocabulary (and somewhat the grammer) to enjoy his prose at first, but I urge all to hang in there and you'll be amply rewarded. There is even a character named Gandolf; LOTR was not so original after all.

Posted on Aug 19, 2009 1:05:34 PM PDT
Mrs. Garside says:
How about Pratt and DeCamps 'The Compleat Enchanter'? They're light and often very funny, but they also go into some intriguing idea about psychology and time travel.

I'm glad somebody mentioned 'The Well of the Unicorn'. I knew I couldn't be the only one who'd ever read it. More for adults than kids (and not just because it has the word 'catamite' in it).

How about a word for 'The Wind in the Willows'?

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 19, 2009 1:37:45 PM PDT
Muzzlehatch says:
Morris died before 1900, and I wanted to if possible keep this discussion to the 1900s - else we might as well talk about Beckford, Swift, etc and go further back....perhaps I'll start another thread on Victorian and earlier fantasy as this one is starting off well.

The only Morris I've read is "The Wood Beyond the World" which I liked quite a lot - I found the female lead character in particular intriguing - it feels oddly feminist at times but typically chauvanist at other times. I have most of his fantasies, in the lovely Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, and I'll certainly get to the rest at some point.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 19, 2009 1:57:47 PM PDT
Bruise Bane says:
>>There is even a character named Gandolf; LOTR was not so original after all.<<

In The Worm Ouroboros there is a character named Gandalf, and the characters refer to their land as "Middle Earth." But that's not to say that Tolkien stole from E.R. Eddison: both terms are borrowed from Norse mythology -- "Gandalf" literally translating to "wand elf", and "Middle Earth" being a translation of "Midgard" (i.e., the known world).

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 20, 2009 1:36:32 PM PDT
Robin D says:
Muzzlehatch & Shadow,
Thank you for correcting me, really. I did indeed fail to realize that Morris was pre-1900 when I posted.
I often suspect that anything I think I know (especially in a historical vein) might have deeper roots than I have had resources or persistence to uncover. The origin of "Gandalf" fits into that set perfectly! Wand elf; how poetic, eh?
I just love discussion threads; I always learn something new and interesting!

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 20, 2009 2:39:55 PM PDT
Muzzlehatch says:
Nice comments - and learnings something new (about something old and interesting) is the entire reason why I started this thread. I hope more people join, especially those with more knowledge of the obscurities - I suspect Shadow's knowledge far surpasses mine and there may well be others. I'd love to see someone write at some length about James Branch Cabell, for instance, who has always intrigued me.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 20, 2009 11:24:56 PM PDT
Boric says:
George MacDonald's The Princess & the Goblins, The Princess & Curdie, and I agree with whoever suggested Kenneth Grahame--there are definite fantastic elements in The Wind in the Willows. And what about Barrie--Peter Pan & Wendy?

Posted on Aug 27, 2009 10:47:43 AM PDT
BWP13 says:
From my "Gormenghast or Popeye" thread (now 2 Months old without a post):
EMAN NEP [in reference to Gormenghast] offered the following:
"The only other books I've read that are similar are VATHEK by William Beckford and the works of China Mieville."

Repeating his comment here, as it adds a few additional authors to this thread, and EMAN already chimed in to this thread earlier.

Nice discusssion on Classic Fantasy. Thanks!

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 28, 2009 7:11:13 AM PDT
Muzzlehatch says:
BWP, thanks for the reply - sorry I missed your thread about Gormenghast, maybe I'll take another look....meantime I will do my best to keep this discussion alive amidst all the threads about George RR Martin and Robert Jordan etc etc.

I've read Mieville's "Perdido Street Station" which had just a little toooo much Dickensian grotesquerie and squalor for me - and I thought I had a high tolerance for that kind of stuff! - but overall I liked it quite a bit. Very much interested in reading more of his work.

"Vathek" is on my to-read list, I really want to go through a bunch of the early gothic-fantasy novels someday - I've never read "Frankenstein" either, shame on me, let alone "The Castle of Otranto" or "Melmoth the Wanderer".

Posted on Aug 28, 2009 8:20:39 PM PDT
boogenhagen says:
What about H. Rider Haggard? I loved Alan Quatermaine and SHE. I also loved Silverlock by John Myers Myers where it seems every main character from every great book is in there.

Posted on Aug 28, 2009 8:51:16 PM PDT
boogenhagen says:
I forgot The Boats of the "Glen Carrig" by William Hope Hodgson. How about a shout out for Robert E Howard? Kull was my favorite. I also like Clark Ashton Smith. Back to H. Rider Haggard don't forget The People of the Mist. Most of H Rider Haggard's works can be read at project gutenburg.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 28, 2009 9:45:13 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Aug 29, 2009 7:49:10 AM PDT]

Posted on Sep 1, 2009 8:27:26 PM PDT
E. Larkin says:
Thanks for mentioning Haggard. Many people seem to think he only wrote two novels, "King Solomon's Mines" and "She", but he wrote dozens more. One of my favorites is "The People of the Mist" -- published in 1894, so I missed your 1900 cutoff. But Haggard wrote a lot more novels post-1900. I just haven't read any of them. I have read Lord Dunsany. I never got around to "The King of Elfland's Daughter" but I did read and enjoy "The Charwoman's Shadow". George MacDonald's "Lilith" also misses your 1900 cutoff by 5 years (published in 1895). It should be noted that all of the above were reprinted under Ballantine's Adult Fantasy imprint in the 70s, edited by Lin Carter. I remember snatching those books up when I was 10 years old. If it had the little unicorn seal in the corner, I bought it whether I had heard of the author or not. Great cover art too. You can still find them in used bookstores, but I wish someone would revive the series, or one like it.

Posted on Sep 2, 2009 5:40:26 AM PDT
Muzzlehatch says:
I LOVE the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series! I've collected nearly all of them, even some of the harder-to-find ones like "The Man Who Was Thursday" and the 4 Clark Ashton Smith volumes. There are some suspect elements in Lin Carter's intros and I suspect in the editing of some of them, but he was a fierce advocate for re-discovering lost fantasy and SF and whatever his faults as a scholar he deserves eternal praise from fantasy literature fans for really helping to keep a lot of this stuff alive.

The most regular cover artist for the series was Gervasio Gallardo - he's the guy who did the more surreal, Magritte-esque covers. Ballantine/Peacock did a book devoted to his art in their series devoted to fantastic book illustrators in the mid 70s which is worth tracking down.

Posted on Sep 2, 2009 7:02:51 PM PDT
NoLongerHere says:
Has anyone mentioned the Robert E. Howard's Conan series or it predecessor, Kull of Atlantis (aka Kull the Conquerer)? They started off as short stories in Tales of Mystery and Terror.

Posted on Sep 6, 2009 6:59:57 AM PDT
Muzzlehatch says:
Shadow mentioned Conan; strangely I forgot to but I was mostly concentrating on talking about novels and I haven't yet read the one novel-length Conan story, "Hour of the Dragon", though I have read the second-longest, "Red Nails" which is just great. I really need to go through all the Conan stuff someday. And Weird Tales writers in general interest me - I mentioned Seabury Quinn's "Roads" in my OP and have a paperback edition of some of his Carnacki stories to read - then there are Smith and Lovecraft - the lesser names are harder to find and harder for me to remember at the moment but I'll certainly be obliged if others bring them up.
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