Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Taking the Fantasy Masterworks challenge

Riffing off (or perhaps stealing from, whatever you want to call it) posts over at The Blog That Time Forgot and Dweomera Lagomorpha, which in turn sprang from this post at the Mad Hatter's Bookshelf & Book Review, here are the books I've read from the Fantasy Masterworks catalogue (in bold):

1- Shadow and Claw - Gene Wolfe
2 - Time and the Gods - Lord Dunsany
3 - The Worm Ouroboros - E.R. Eddison
4 - Tales of the Dying Earth - Jack Vance
5 - Little, Big - John Crowley
6 - The Chronicles of Amber - Roger Zelazny
7 - Viriconium - M. John Harrison
8 - The Conan Chronicles, Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle - Robert E. Howard
9 - The Land of Laughs - Jonathan Carroll
10 - The Compleat Enchanter: The Magical Misadventures of Harold Shea - L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt
11 - Lud-in-the-Mist - Hope Mirrlees
12 - The Book of the New Sun, Volume 2: Sword and Citadel - Gene Wolfe
13 - Fevre Dream - George R. R. Martin
14 - Beauty - Sheri S. Tepper
15 - The King of Elfland's Daughter - Lord Dunsany
16 - The Conan Chronicles, Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon - Robert E. Howard
17 - Elric - Michael Moorcock
18 - The First Book of Lankhmar - Fritz Leiber
19 - Riddle-Master - Patricia A. McKillip
20 - Time and Again - Jack Finney
21 - Mistress of Mistresses - E.R. Eddison
22 - Gloriana or the Unfulfill'd Queen - Michael Moorcock
23 - The Well of the Unicorn - Fletcher Pratt
24 - The Second Book of Lankhmar - Fritz Leiber
25 - Voice of Our Shadow - Jonathan Carroll
26 - The Emperor of Dreams - Clark Ashton Smith
27 - Lyonesse I: Suldrun's Garden - Jack Vance
28 - Peace - Gene Wolfe
29 - The Dragon Waiting - John M. Ford
30 - Corum: The Prince in the Scarlet Robe - Michael Moorcock
31 - Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams - C.L. Moore
32 - The Broken Sword - Poul Anderson
33 - The House on the Borderland and Other Novels - William Hope Hodgson
34 - The Drawing of the Dark - Tim Powers
35 - Lyonesse II and III: The Green Pearl and Madouc - Jack Vance
36 - The History of Runestaff - Michael Moorcock
37 - A Voyage to Arcturus - David Lindsay
38 - Darker Than You Think - Jack Williamson
39 - The Mabinogion - Evangeline Walton
40 - Three Hearts & Three Lions - Poul Anderson
41 - Grendel - John Gardner
42 - The Iron Dragon's Daughter - Michael Swanwick
43 - WAS - Geoff Ryman
44 - Song of Kali - Dan Simmons
45 - Replay - Ken Grimwood
46 - Sea Kings of Mars and Other Worldly Stories - Leigh Brackett
47 - The Anubis Gates - Tim Powers
48 - The Forgotten Beasts of Eld - Patricia A. McKillip
49 - Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury
50 - The Mark of the Beast and Other Fantastical Tales - Rudyard Kipling

So yeah, I've only read 17 titles. Kind of pathetic, and to be honest, some of these are probably stretches (I have only read some of the contents included in The Emperor of Dreams and Time and the Gods, for instance). I attribute this deficiency to a couple sources: One, I grew up in the 80s, so I've read a lot of high fantasy either too new or unworthy to make the cut: Dragonlance, Terry Brooks, Stephen Donaldson, Dennis McKiernan, etc. And despite the fantasy focus of The Silver Key, I also enjoy reading history and other non-fiction as well as horror and occasionally sci-fi, so my fantasy reading has correspondingly suffered.

But I also have some serious problems with the Fantasy Masterworks series itself. First, the omissions: No C.S. Lewis, Ursula LeGuin, or J.R.R. Tolkien? (although as Al Harron pointed out on The Blog That Time Forgot, this is surely a matter of obtaining publishing rights, not a deliberate oversight). Still, there are some rather head-scratching omissions, including William Morris, H. Rider Haggard, and T.H. White, to name a few. And some of the inclusions are puzzling. Beauty by Sheri Tepper? Lud-In-The-Mist by Hope Mirrlees? Never heard of 'em. That doesn't make them bad, as I've already admitted to an ignorance of a large swathe of the collection, but are these works truly deserving of the "masterworks" appelation? These aren't books that spring to mind when one typically thinks of the movers and shapers of early fantasy, and I can't recall any recent author interviews citing them as a major influence.

And four titles by Moorcock? Really?

Still, I have a compulsive obsession with "Best of" lists so I found this exercise irresistable. How many Fantasy Masterworks have you read?


Will Duquette said...

It's hard to say, as so many of these are compilations of books that were originally published separately. But of these listed here, I think I can claim 31.

nephite blood spartan heart said...

I've only got about 16 Brian and some I may not have finished-I agree some of these I have never heard of-so...

Lagomorph Rex said...

I'll admit, some of them I've only read because Lin Carter chose to include them in the "Ballantine Adult Fantasy" Series. Had I not been collecting that, I doubt I ever would have heard of Mirlees or Hodgson

Eric D. Lehman said...

I'm way behind on this list - I only read 11. However, I've read a lot of books over the years, including somewhere close to 1000-1500 of what people consider "speculative fiction" and I'm not going to feel too bad about this particular bunch.

Kipling? (which I've read and liked) Very out of place here. This is just the books they got the rights to, nothing more. It's not a bad list, but neither is the top 50 list I might compile, of which only maybe 2 of these would make it. (a couple others might make it into the top 100)

Boy, I'm in a haughty mood today!

Taranaich said...

I'm pretty sure the Tolkien estate has the monopoly on JRRT publications, as with C.S. Lewis (who work with HarperCollins).

The others, though, are headscratchers, especially Le Guin: she has three books over at the SF Masterworks line, so you'd think they'd have one of her fantasy works too. The ones out of copyright are even more perplexing.

As much as I harped about Moorcock's prevalence here, it's nothing compared to SF Masterworks' Dick fixation. Fourteen books in 73 is just overkill.

Lagomorph Rex said...

He's got three volumes in the "Library of America" Collection too.. which puts him on par with Nabokov and Issac Singer.. Clearly he's simply one of the "Accepted" Genre writers by the establishment and they are trying to enlighten us by making us read him.

Brian Murphy said...

Yes, these are only the books that Gollancz was able to acquire the rights to, but unfortunately the title of the series is going to mislead some folks into thinking that this selection is the best fantasy has to offer.

Although I applaud Gollancz for their efforts and think the series is valuable, a larger publisher with deeper pockets like Penguin Classics (see American Supernatural Tales may have been a better fit.

Lagomorph Rex said...

And Penguin already has a rather substantial catalog of Fantasy and Sci-Fi since they own DAW, though a lot of DAW's best stuff no longer is published by them.

Scott said...


Yeah, no Tolkien, but DeCamp is on the list?? Someone needs to quit smoking crack while composing lists, I think.

Brian Murphy said...

Yeah, you're right Scott. I mean, Tolkien is to fantasy what Poe, Lovecraft, and Stephen King are to horror--combined. So no Tolkien=fail.

Taranaich said...

Well, at least they name-drop Tolkien (and Peake) on every edition:

Fantasy Masterworks is a library of some of the greatest, most original, and most influential fantasy ever written. These are the books which, along with Tolkien, Peake and others, shaped modern fantasy.

It's clear the line does consider Tolkien one of the shapers of modern fantasy, but whether it's through the Tolkien estate or the HarperCollins deal, they can't seem to snag Tollers' work.

A shame, since the idea for a true Fantasy Masterworks series, all leatherbound and whatnot, would make an awesome library collection.

Brian Murphy said...

Good to know that they do name drop Tolkien and Peake, Al. And totally agreed about the leatherbound collection. Dragonskin would be better if you could get it.

Anonymous said...

Song of Kali is a fantasy novel? along with The ceremonies by T.E.D. Klein and Pet sematary by King are the three best horror novels I have read, and maybe my favourites of any genre, but is more a psychological horror or even a supernatural thriller than a fantasy novel, not even a dark fantasy...
Al and you must read The history of runestaff by Michael Moorcock, even better than some novels of the Elric cycle. Michael Moorcock is a bit the Philip K Dick of the fantasy genre...

Taranaich said...

Yeah, I scratched my head at SoK's inclusion too. It is much more of a horror/supernatural thriller.