Thursday, 11 August 2011

Which Fantasy Books Will Still Be Popular in 50 Years?

So, NPR have released their tallied list of the best fantasy and science fiction books EVAH, as voted for by the public, and, whaddaya know? The Lord of the Rings takes the top spot. Again. *yawn*

I've had a bit of a storm about this on Twitter and Facebook, but I won't bore you with how dull I find the book, how unimaginative I think it is that we're still putting this at number one.

A lot of people are telling me that it's only number one because it's the most well-known, been read by more people and has been around the longest. Personally, that doesn't seem a great reason for voting a book to a "BEST" placing, but.... *shrug*

Consequently, I am opening the floor to you knowledgeable lot.

If this poll is conducted again in 50 years' time, which fantasy book would you put at the top of the list from now? Which book do you think has enduring value? I'm not playing the silly NPR game and putting series as one entry - you're only allowed ONE book title. And please give reasons!


  1. I don't think I voted for LotR in that poll - but given that people had 10 votes, not one, it was easy for anyone who likes epic fantasy to slip it into the mix, and as I said on Twitter, more people have read LotR than anything else on that list.

    One can't, in my opinion, identify a present-day book that future generations will consider "the best". The reason LotR hits the number one spot is that it was influential, and that can't be predicted.

    However if I have to nominate something, it would be "Nightwatch" by Terry Pratchett. As a writer he has been hugely influential in the UK, and "Nightwatch" is one of his darkest and most thoughtful Discworld books.

  2. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville.

    The most important Fantasy novel of the last two decades. Better written, more imaginative, and more enjoyable than anything from the stagnant pool of depressing multi-book epics that seem to dominate Fantasy otherwise.

    LOTR, although a series with faults, is hardly unimaginative. It just seems that way in the wake of its millions of imitators. It helped to create the cliches in the first place. LOTR was arguably among the works that contributed to the long-standing tradition of sprawling, multi-book epics, massive casts, worlds so "fully realised" that you need an A Level in its geography to remember it all (who's he again? who's that? where? what?) and many other offputting hallmarks of High Fantasy.

  3. I know you'll think I'm crazy, but I'm still 99% sure I'd go with Lord of the Rings. I love it. I started reading predominantly fantasy because I was trying to recapture that same feeling I had while reading it. While I've come close, I haven't ever had that same level of enjoyment in a fantasy novel.

  4. Sorry to break it to you like this, Amanda, but I think there's a reason people are still (rather consistently) voting Lord of the Rings #1 sixty years after it was published. I would honestly not be surprised to see it top the lists 50 years from now.

    Are you complaining that LotR was voted "best" (a word that appears only twice in all of the NPR posts, far less frequently than the more ambiguous "top") in a poll that was pretty obviously a popularity contest? Or simply that it remains so popular? Sure, there are plenty of "better" books out there, but you point out the arguments for LotR's selection yourself: it's been around for so long, and has been read by so many people, of course it's going to be number one! I think Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun should be tops; do you think that even a fifth of the 59,999 other voters have read it, let alone voted for it? By contrast, I'll bet you that at least 70% of the voters have read LotR; it's guaranteed to show up in a large portion of the Top 10 lists (which is what the final vote came down to, you may recall.) In 50 years, the only book I can imagine garnering similar support would be Harry Potter, for the same reasons; it's become a genre cornerstone for this (and quite possibly the next) generation.

    Only two of my five nominations made it to the final list (#s 81 and 87) but so what? I'm not going to go on a rant about it like (apparently) ever other person in the blogsphere.

  5. I would think that Harry Potter would still be popular 50 years out. The impact of the series on today's teenagers in addition to the movies will likely keep Harry Potter in the public consciousness for years to come.

    As for less mainstream titles, your guess is as good as mine. I would hesitate to select any unfinished series as a lackluster ending would wash away any stockpiled good will.

    If I had to guess, I do think China Mieville and Neil Gaiman will have tremendous staying power.

  6. If I had to nominate only title I'd pick is fairly recent, but it is hands down the BEST fantasy book I have ever read. Easily.

    THE WAY OF KINGS by Brandon Sanderson.

    Hands down. Easily.

    Psst: That said, I really want that gorgeous hardcover set of LOTR that you posted there. ;P

  7. I can half see where you're coming from. I can't finish LotR (I'm half way through fellowship and have no real desire to finish). I find it long winded, slow paced and reads like an encyclopedia more than a story (though many would argue that was kind of Tolkien's intention). That being said, I completely see its importance in speculative fiction and I wouldn't be comfortable without it being in the list.

    My personal addition to see in 50 years time (besides 'Magnus Opus' by J.Gibbs ;) ) would be Patrick Ness' Monsters of Men. His characterisation is superb, and he knows how to write a deep and meaningful plot.

  8. Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, probably China Mieville. Harry Potter certainly. Douglas Adams and JRR Tolkein will always be up there. Given the increased publicity, etc., George RR Martin will probably be a permanent fixture now, too.

    (I've only read 16 of those NPR top 100...)

  9. I don't find it a bit surprising that Lord of the Rings is the most popular fantasy book (and if I recall correctly it was the voted the overall most popular book of all genres in the UK a few years ago). If you find the book unimaginative...well thats your perception I guess and I wouldn't try and gainsay it. I find it to be incredibly evocative, the world building is incredible and the way its written is beautiful. The flow of much of the text is gorgeous and at times inspirational in comparison to the dullness of much of modern fantasy.

    Much as I love the modern day greats, many of them could also do with learning from Tolkeins brevity (the Silmarillion, Hobbit and LOTR combined come to about 2000 pages). Also the fact that he created several languages and a detailed history of EA and middle earth is pretty incredible.

    And to top it, I've not yet read anything to match The Ride of the Rohirrim/The Battle of the Pelennor Fields

    'Arise, arise, Riders of Theoden! Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
    spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
    a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
    Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!''

    Suddenly the king cried to Snowmane and the horse sprang away. Behind him his banner blew in the wind, white horse upon a field of green, but he outpaced it. After him thundered the knights of his house, but he was ever before them. Éomer rode there, the white horsetail on his helm floating in his speed, and the front of the first éored roared like a breaker foaming to the shore, but Théoden could not be overtaken.


    Darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.

    Doesn't that just make you want to slice some orcs into shreds?

  10. I have to disagree with a those that say China Mieville would be on the list. Mieville is a wonderfully imaginative writer but his writing is dense and I don't think it is wide appeal to most readers.

    When a "top" list is brought up, one of the largest factors that sometimes is forgotten, is that the book must be mainstream. Mieville is not mainstream and I don't believe his books ever will be because his writing style is limiting. I think LoTR appeals to a wider audience and has ended up being mainstream. Books like Harry Potter and Hunger Games area also going to stay in a top choice among speculative fiction readers because they appeal to a wider audience and have become more mainstream.

  11. @Wonderbunny,

    If you think Mieville's difficult, I'd leave Michael Cisco and Gene Wolfe well alone!

    Mieville's prose (in Perdido Street Station) is absolutely perfect. Literally: to me the book, and the writing, represent almost a Platonic ideal of the Fantasy novel. I wouldn't say "dense" but more that it's lushly descriptive, "purple" in the finest traditions of writers like Clark Ashton Smith. It's easily read (different from "an easy read") and it flows beautifully.

    I don't know what you mean by "limited" either.

    I agree that none of his novels would make it into a very mainstream top 10 - the kind where Harry Potter or maybe even Twilight would be on the list - but I can't compute the idea that Perdido Street Station wouldn't make it into a proper one.

  12. I think part of the debate is caused by the difference between "best" and "favorite", the latter being what I understood the poll to be.