Fantasy. How marvellous. I love a good fantasy story, which you may have picked up on if you’ve been reading this blog for any great length of time. It’s all about the escapism, the exercise of the imagination… with a good fantasy book, I can get lost for hours at a time.
I have vague memories of reading a book when I was still in school to do with a snow queen or a snow witch…something along those lines, anyway. Recently, though, it all started with Lord of the Rings of course. I’m not one of those people who grew up with Tolkien – I first came upon the book thanks to the hoopla of the Peter Jackson trilogy. A lot of people seem to disparage the movies – the purists, I suppose you could say – but I happen to think otherwise. I mean, they brought a whole new audience to the books, and seemed to really regenerate interest. Anyway.
Lord of the Rings is one of the archetypal fantasy epics, if not the archetype, with so much coming out nowadays almost entirely derivative of Tolkien’s work. However, I must admit to finding it a bit long-winded. Yes, it’s all about the journey, and yet it’s a fantastic storyline with compelling characters and epic situations, but the execution is a bit… periphrastic, if you will. The Hobbit, however, I did enjoy. Lots of fun, that one.
From Lord of the Rings, let’s take a look at another archetypal fantasy series: Dungeons and Dragons. First published in 1974 as the now-iconic role-playing game, a whole library of books have been published to support the line. One of those absolutely brilliant moments in publishing came in 1988, with the publication of The Crystal Shard, from the pen of RA Salvatore. A novel trilogy that was intended to showcase the barbarian hero Wulfgar, the result was unintended, but perhaps not unexpected – the meteoric rise of the drow ranger Drizzt Do’Urden. A dark elf from the Underdark, Drizzt is unique among his kind for having a conscience. The Icewind Dale trilogy spawned a whole industry of Drizzt material in subsequent years. That first threesome has a lot in common with Tolkien’s world, but Salvatore absolutely nails it with his prequel, the Dark Elf trilogy. These books are absolutely incredible, and I can highly recommend them!
From D&D, we head over to Warhammer, my obsession du jour! Another game setting, this time from 1983, Warhammer Fantasy is a mix of the usual tropes with a historical perspective that seems to be based on 17th-century Germany. Again, a whole library has sprung up to support the setting. For a game whose only objective is to eliminate your opponents, the novels that I’ve read so far have been really quite excellent! I’m currently reading through the latest novel in the End Times ongoing saga, which is one of these books I mentioned as being the sort that I can just lose myself in. In terms of providing background to the game beyond the army books, Warhammer novels have proven to be surprisingly awesome!
The third of the game tie-ins comes in the shape of Pathfinder. Published from 2009 as the bastard offspring of D&D, the Pathfinder setting has also spawned a whole series of novels under the Pathfinder Tales heading. I’ve not managed to make it to any of these novels yet, but have three in the collection, and will be posting about them when I get there!
Finally, we have A Song of Ice and Fire. Back in 1996, George RR Martin brought out his massive tome of a book that is, admittedly, more akin to historical fiction for the most part. But then we get dragons, and all sorts of stuff kicks off. While I’d dispute calling it “high” fantasy, fantasy it remains, so thought I’d mention it here. I do enjoy A Game of Thrones, however I have some issues with it. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the “adult” nature of these books, but most of the time it is entirely gratuitous, and gives me the impression that such scenes are only there to “legitimize” the novels as being for adults – and to offset the dragons, perhaps.
It’s a good story, so far at least, with a lot of compelling characters and some excellent set pieces. It’s definitely worth looking into, and I feel it’s better than the TV show that’s still going on. But then, I suppose this is part of the reason why I like books so damn much, as they allow you to create the world in your head, rather than seeing just one person’s view of it.
At any rate, I’ll stop with my musings now. But get yourselves off to the bookstore, if you haven’t already, and check out some of these books today!