Classic Fantasy Novels
Selected classic fantasy novels, most written before 1950. July 2011.
- She by H. Rider Haggard (1886)
The greatest of the "lost race" tales, this has spawned countless imitations, as well as three movies of various degrees of awfulness. The book starts slowly, but the character of Ayesha, She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, is justly considered an unforgettable classic.
- The picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)
A work of gothic fiction in which would influence later fantasy authors. Wilde portrays a world which resembles our own, but incorporates fantastical elements.
- The Golden Key by George Macdonald (1906)
Another founder of modern fantasy, Macdonald was a strong influence on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. His books often are mistakenly classified as children's works, but most of them are thoroughly suitable for adults. He incorporated mythological archetypes into his tales.
- Hill of Dreams by Arthur Machen (1907)
Machen was one of the first great modern fantasy writers. He depicted ordinary people who discover strange & magical -- sometimes horrible -- realities hidden within the everyday world.
- The Dream Cycle of H.P. Lovecraft (1918–1933)
A series of related stories and novels by the master of "weird fiction". The Dream Cycle shares many elements with his better known Cthulhu Mythos, but is set in the fictional Dreamlands, a vast realm entered by dreamers.
- Jurgen by James Branch Cabell (1919)
One of a series set in a mythical, Medieval-type world and written in Cabell's uniquely mannered style. The series was considered scandalous at the time due to sexual innuendo.
- The Gormenghast Novels by Mervyn Peake (1946)
The Gormenghast trilogy is surely one of the most striking fantasy worlds ever created. The characters live in a giant castle, their lives controlled by ancient rituals spelling out their actions day by day. The castle and its eccentric inhabitants are depicted in colorful and Gothic detail.
- The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954)
This set off the fantasy explosion of the last several decades, even influencing the publishing format of fantasy (the ever-recurring trilogy!). It remains the gold standard against which all heroic fantasy and world-building are measured.