Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, 1946-1987: Introduces many lesser-known fantasy works

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Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, 1949-1984 by David PringleModern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, 1946-1987 by David Pringle

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsNote: You may also be interested in Stuart’s reviews of:
Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels, 1985-2010.
Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, 1949-1984.

Following on the success of 1985’s Science Fiction: 100 Best Novels, An English-Language Selection, 1949-1984, it made sense that David Pringle would tackle the wide-ranging and ill-defined field of fantasy with Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, An English-Language Selection, 1946-1987. It’s actually an amazing effort, since Pringle would have to read comprehensively in both genres for almost four decades, and I think it’s quite unusual for someone to do that. Moreover, though the borders of sci-fi are defined differently by each person you ask, this is even more so for the fantasy genre, which can include horror, epic fantasy, hallucinatory trips, magic realism, contemporary fantasy, and things that don’t fit any convenient categories. It’s almost impossible to narrow this down to a mere 100 works, so I’m sure people would disagree with many of his choices, but that’s the fun of “Best of” lists.

Pringle did not shy from the task, and produced a fascinating and wide-ranging list. I dare anyone to claim to have read 75% of these books, let alone all of them. There are so many unfamiliar books and authors that dedicated fantasy fans will immediately feel a desire to fill in all the gaps and take up the challenge. It’s another task that may take a lifetime, but I have discovered and enjoyed many lesser-known writers here that I would never have known about otherwise. There are so many writers that you might not have heard of or didn’t consider part of the genre, and I can’t imagine even our most widely-read fantasy fans have read more than two-thirds of this list. And there could be no consensus on which books are the best — it’s all a matter of taste, but what incredible variety.

Each entry is two pages long — they are written succinctly and give the all-important historical and literary context for each book, along with a basic outline of the plot. Occasionally he will include some spoilers in the last few paragraphs, so be careful, but his reviews are surprisingly entertaining to read. He is also very honest in describing what type of books they are, so you can immediately eliminate books that don’t fit your taste. I really took away a better understanding of the history and development of the fantasy genre, something that informs my reviews today. It’s amazing how broadly and deeply Pringle has read in the genre.

For many years I used this book and Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels as guides to track down the more obscure titles in various used bookstores. I managed to get quite a few of them, but even 30 years later I’ve only read 26, to my shame. I consider it a lifetime goal to read as many as I can before this mortal coil expires. Here is the list in chronological order — how many of them have you read already? I’ve put an asterisk next to those I’ve read.

  1. Titus Groan* by Mervyn Peake
  2. The Book of Ptath by A.E. van Vogt
  3. The Well of the Unicorn by Fletcher Pratt
  4. Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson
  5. Seven Days in New Crete by Robert Graves
  6. Silverlock* by John Myers Myers
  7. The Castle of Iron by Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt
  8. Conan the Conqueror by Robert E. Howard
  9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe* by C.S. Lewis
  10. Gormenghast* by Mervyn Peake
  11. The Dying Earth* by Jack Vance
  12. The Sound of His Horn by Sarban
  13. Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber
  14. The Sinful Ones by Fritz Leiber
  15. The Broken Sword* by Poul Anderson
  16. The Lord of the Rings* by J.R.R. Tolkien
  17. Pincher Martin by William Golding
  18. The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson
  19. Dandelion Wine* by Ray Bradbury
  20. The Once and Future King* by T.H. White
  21. The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag by Robert A. Heinlein
  22. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  23. Titus Alone* by Mervyn Peake
  24. A Fine and Private Place by* Peter S. Beagle
  25. Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson
  26. The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything by John D. MacDonald
  27. Glory Road by Robert A. Heinlein
  28. Witch World by Andre Norton
  29. The Magus by John Fowles
  30. Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock
  31. The Crying of Lot 49* by Thomas Pynchon
  32. Day of the Minotaur by Thomas Burnett Swann
  33. The Eyes of the Overworld* by Jack Vance
  34. The Owl Service by Alan Garner
  35. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
  36. The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien
  37. Gog by Andrew Sinclair
  38. The Last Unicorn* by Peter S. Beagle
  39. A Wizard of Earthsea* by Ursula K. Le Guin
  40. The Swords of Lankhmar* by Fritz Leiber
  41. Black Easter by James Blish
  42. The Green Man by Kingsley Amis
  43. The Phoenix and the Mirror by Avram Davidson
  44. A Feast Unknown by Philip José Farmer
  45. Fourth Mansions by R.A. Lafferty
  46. Red Moon and Black Mountain by Joy Chant
  47. Time and Again* by Jack Finney
  48. Grendel by John Gardner
  49. Briefing for a Descent into Hell by Doris Lessing
  50. Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny
  51. Watership Down* by Richard Adams
  52. The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman by Angela Carter
  53. Sweet Dreams by Michael Frayn
  54. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip
  55. Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
  56. The Great Victorian Collection by Brian Moore
  57. Grimus by Salman Rushdie
  58. Peace* by Gene Wolfe
  59. The Malacia Tapestry by Brian Aldiss
  60. The Dragon and the George by Gordon R. Dickson
  61. Hotel de Dream by Emma Tennant
  62. The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter
  63. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever* by Stephen R. Donaldson
  64. The Shining by Stephen King
  65. Fata Morgana by William Kotzwinkle
  66. Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber
  67. Gloriana, or, The Unfulfill’d Queen by Michael Moorcock
  68. The Unlimited Dream Company by J.G. Ballard
  69. Sorcerer’s Son by Phyllis Eisenstein
  70. The Land of Laughs* by Jonathan Carroll
  71. The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy McKee Charnas
  72. A Storm of Wings by John Harrison
  73. White Light by Rudy Rucker
  74. Ariosto by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
  75. Cities of the Red Night by William S. Burroughs
  76. Little, Big by John Crowley
  77. Lanark: A Life in Four Books by Alasdair Gray
  78. The War Hound and the World’s Pain by Michael Moorcock
  79. Nifft the Lean* by Michael Shea
  80. Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin
  81. Soul Eater by K.W. Jeter
  82. Tea with the Black Dragon by R.A MacAvoy
  83. Cold Heaven by Brian Moore
  84. The Anubis Gates* by Tim Powers
  85. Who Made Stevie Crye? by Michael Bishop
  86. The Digging Leviathan by James P. Blaylock
  87. Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter
  88. The Businessman: A Tale of Terror by Thomas M. Disch
  89. Mythago Wood* by Robert Holdstock
  90. The Glamour by Christopher Priest
  91. The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike
  92. Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd
  93. The Dream Years by Lisa Goldstein
  94. The Summer Tree* by Guy Gavriel Kay
  95. The Bridge* by Iain Banks
  96. The Hungry Moon by Ramsey Campbell
  97. Replay* by Ken Grimwood
  98. The Unconquered Country by Geoff Ryman
  99. The Day of Creation by J.G. Ballard
  100. Ægypt by John Crowley

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STUART STAROSTA, on our staff since March 2015, is a lifelong SFF reader who makes his living reviewing English translations of Japanese equity research. Despite growing up in beautiful Hawaii, he spent most of his time reading as many SFF books as possible. After getting an MA in Japanese-English translation in Monterey, CA, he has lived in Tokyo, Japan for the last 13 years with his wife, daughter, and dog named Lani. Stuart’s reading goal is to read as many classic SF novels and Hugo/Nebula winners as possible, David Pringle’s 100 Best SF and 100 Best Fantasy Novels, along with newer books & series that are too highly-praised to be ignored. His favorite authors include Philip K Dick, China Mieville, Iain M. Banks, N.K. Jemisin, J.G. Ballard, Lucius Shepard, Neal Stephenson, Kurt Vonnegut, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. LeGuin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, etc.

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11 comments

  1. sandy ferber /

    I also have been guided by this book, Stuart…as well as THIS one, which I find even more to my tastes…. http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41zsF7YVOXL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

    • Sandy, I KNEW you were going to mention that one. I ordered it for $4 used over Christmas and as soon as I saw the time period covered (1726-1987) I thought of you. How many have you read from that list???

      • sandy ferber /

        From the Moorcock list, I have read 51…just over half. Again, I have my work well cut out for me….

  2. sandy ferber /

    Yeesh…I’ve only read 31, it seems. Gotta try harder….

  3. It’s interesting that Pringle categorized horror novels with fantasy novels; I didn’t expect to see The Haunting of Hill House or Rosemary’s Baby on the list!

    • Yes, I noticed that. Depending on how you define ‘fantasy’, this list can have an infinite number of variations. Of note, there is a book dedicated just to horror called Horror: The 100 Best Books (1998) edited by Kim Newman. Not my favorite genre but I’m sure fans would have strong opinions on the selections.

  4. I have read only 36…but I’m okay with that.

  5. sandy ferber /

    Here is the book that Stuart refers to above. It is another one of my Bibles…. http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41lL7RKz9zL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

  6. sandy ferber /

    And this sequel is still another book that has heavily influenced my reading: http://www.stephenjoneseditor.com/covers/best100-2-cg.jpg

  7. sandy ferber /

    Oh…and while I’m on the subject of books that I use as checklists…. https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/ae/70/14/ae70149e53534efaac00696bd9088a61.jpg

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