Best Early Modern Fantasy Books (1930's to 1950's)

Best Fantasy Between 1930 to 1959
Best Early Modern Fantasy Books (1930's to 1950's)

After the development of Fantasy in the early part of the 20th century, it truly seemed like the genre was moving towards a golden age. Then the real world became a priority.

Most of the 40’s were taken up by World War 2 and the ensuing aftermath. The 50’s saw the rise of communism and the start of the cold war.

But the entertainment was phenomenal! 

On screen, we had James Dean, Humphrey Boggart, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Charlton Hest. On radio and filling concert halls you had Elvis, Chuck Berry, Frank Sinatra. It was a time of contrasts. Capitalism and Communism. War and Peace. Jazz and Rock and Roll.

The upshot of all of this is that Fantasy as a genre was submerged and interspersed with Gothic horror, science fiction, and religion. A rebirth and renaissance of fantasy fiction with new ideas, new genres, and a wealth of fiction that forever influenced the fantasy genre as a whole. 

Some memorable works came out of this mix: C.S. Lewis and The Narnia Chronicles and I am Legend by Richard Matheson.

The torch of True Fantasy was, however, carried by only 2 authors: Tolkien, whose The hobbit and Lord of the Rings molded the genre into what we know today, and Poul Anderson who wrote the Broken Sword and, according to some, is one of the lost great fantasy authors.

Here is our list of the 25 Best Early Modern Fantasy. 

By "early modern' we mean fantasy written in 1930's to 1950's -- a thirty year period that saw some of the biggest conflict the world had ever seen (WW2) and remarkably, along with the suffering and tragedy of the war, saw some of the world's greatest fantasy put to pen in the form of Tolkien's Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. 

But Tolkien is not the only great work to come from this period -- Lewis, Anderson, and many more authors started birthing classic fantasy tales, giving definite form and shape to modern fantasy.

The list displays a good indication of how fantasy contributed to the development of both science fiction as well as horror novels. It also highlights the immeasurable contributions made to the genre by Tolkien, Anderson, and Lewis. This list covers 30 years and wide variety of genres and subgenres. 

All these differences are united by one thing: each book contributed to fantasy in some significant way.

These books forever changed the face of fantasy -- and in some cases, started the modern idea of what fantasy is. If authors like Tolkien lite the fantasy torch, generations of authors since have picked up the torch and carried it to new heights. These are NOT given by date of publication, but rather our personal curation for quality of story, impact on the genre, and critical acclaim.

Read this list for some of the best fantasy history can offer.

Possibly the most, well-recognized world of fiction in history. The Lord of the Rings is the third best-selling novel ever written, with over 150 million copies sold. This high fantasy novel follows the adventures of Frodo, a mild-mannered and innocent hobbit, and his elven friends. The band of adventurers find themselves caught up in an age-old struggle featuring wizards, the evil mage Sauron, horrifically evil orcs and the poor twisted soul, Gollum, who desires the return of his most precious possession. Why it's on the listTolkien's characters, both virtuous and foul, are identifiably human, and the realism is accentuated by the glorious details of this fantastic world he imagined. Inspired by his Christian beliefs and influential Anglo-Saxon depth of knowledge – The Lord of the Rings is a story that any reader will find enjoyable.Read if you likeTo understand what a true master is capable of. Reading Lord of the Rings is the only way to grasp how original and brilliant these legendary authors were.
These well-written series of children's novels tell the story of English children who visit a fanciful land known as Narnia. Narnia is full of talking animals, villains, heroes, witches and adventures, and is ruled over by the high king, Aslan, who appears as a giant lion. The books are written with a specific purpose and message in mind. They are light-hearted, full of adventure and just simply an enjoyable read. Why it's on the list C. S. Lewis was a brilliant author and theologian, and certainly knew what he was doing. Narnia is a fascinating land -- it may not always be fun or agreeable, but there is always the underlying feeling that the good guys will, in the end, triumph over adversity. Lewis reshapes typical mythical elements like centaurs, wicked witches, talking animals, dwarves and into fascinating creations in his imaginary world. The biggest lesson learned from the Narnian characters is that you will always triumph by being good, honest, helpful, kind, intelligent and above all - faithful. This was the core lesson Lewis wanted to leave his readers. All in all, The Chronicles of Narnia are near perfect books. Easy to read, with a message that is at times subtle, and yet always paramount in the readers' experience. They are wonderful for children and adults, and can be read again and again. Read if you like Good triumphing over evil.
The Broken Sword explores what happens when a human child is exchanged at birth and taken and raised by the elves. It is a solid bit of writing and a masterful story. This dark fantasy borrows strongly from Nordic Mythology and tells of a time when the Norse gods still walked the earth, and elves still maintained their own corner too. Why it's on the list This is a Viking-themed fantasy story, told by a master storyteller. A favorite in the whole "sword & sorcery" fantasy genre. While there are countless excellent authors who can write heroic fantasy or hard science fiction – there are very few who can write both. Poul Anderson was one of the greatest speculative fiction authors. With a degree in physics and a great depth of knowledge about Nordic mythology and ancient languages, Anderson was able to create a true fantasy classic. Read if you like Nordic Mythology. Released at a similar time as Tolkien's novels. This is an excellent example of how similar, yet completely different a Nordic/Romantic/Dark fantasy type book can be.
This is the story that influenced the zombie genre and popularized the concept of a worldwide zombie apocalypse. Robert Neville is the last human on the earth. He is immune to a virus that either killed people or turned them into blood sucking creatures. The main character has witnessed a human extinction event and struggles to deal with life afterward. The real story of this book is how he deals with the reality of losing his family, the loneliness of being the last man on a desolate planet. Is life alone a life worth living? Why it's on the list I am Legend is possibly the best short horror story ever written, and its impact on all horror books written since has been profound. Richard Matheson conceived a wholly new kind of vampire fiction. Surpassing the traditional vampiric narrative, he adds elements of science fiction and modern day culture that yields a refreshingly original version of the Bram Stoker legend. Many of today's masters of horror, Stephen King included, rank this book amongst their personal top ten lists of favorites. Read if you like Vampires. Zombies.
This classic is the Arthurian tale standard by which modern iterations are measured. Or blatantly ripped off ('cough' Disney 'cough'). While the first section is a bright and comical depiction of Arthur as a familiar young orphan called the Wart, the novel becomes increasingly dark and dismal as the golden age of Camelot crumbles. White takes age-old questions and dresses them in Old English folklore, creating a thought-provoking rendition of a legend with which we are all familiar. He pokes fun at our modern day mess, as well as the typical foibles of human nature to which none of his heroes is immune with flippant anachronistic references throughout. Despite the ease with which even the most noble fall, there is a kindness in the way they are each so relatable, even the baddies. The cast is so well written, and the prose so enjoyable it's one of those volumes that can be re-read annually and still retain its impact.

Books in The Once And Future King Series (6)

This enjoyable novel is a sequel to The Incomplete Enchanter and continues the adventures of Harold Shea, a 20th century American who finds himself in a world of wizards, dragons, and other fantasy elements. In The Castle of Iron, Harold ends up in a world of Knights and Saracens, doing his best to rescue his forgetful wife, Belphebe. Why it's on the list If you are a big fan of the Planet of the Apes, you will be eager to discover this rare treasure. It is unusual to find a book that values cooperation over conflict - a Planet of the Apes where the apes get along with the people. Highly recommended for fans of Sprague de Camp and Pratt – or for anyone else who appreciates tales of varied magic's, risky ventures, and a touch of romance. Funny and inventive, Sprague de Camp and Pratt were providing this genre with laughs long before the Harry Potter books. Read if you like Magic. Adventure. Fun.
Deep below the floorboards lives the petite Borrower family - Pod, Homily, and Arrietty Clock. Everything they own is borrowed from the humans above them, even their names are not quite their own. There is just one rule: they must never be seen. Then one day Arrietty meets the boy, and the family's incredible adventure begins. Why it's on the list As exciting as it is alarming, the story of the family living beneath the floorboard is a fun bedtime read for children. These stories are classics; they are fantastic to read aloud and are a must-have for every child's bookshelf. Read if you like A fantastic and thoroughly enjoyable children's book.
Ray Bradbury weaves the story within your imagination, touching upon fun summertime memories we all have as kids, such as childhood friends, the smell of freshly cut grass, the enigma of old people (when you're 12 everyone older that 18 is old), new sneakers that seem to have super powers, and so much more! Dandelion Wine leads you through the lives of two boys, Tom and Douglas, and their adventures, in their northern Illinois town. It is a celebration of small town summer life that makes you yearn to feel the cool grass under your bare feet on a hot summer day. Why it's on the list This book is a joy to read, and takes you back to a simple time when innocence and life were not so hurried; a time when getting a new pair of tennis shoes for summer was a big event, because they seemed to "make you run faster". This book has been a favorite for many, many years. If you want to reminisce about the time when we still had front porches, played "hide-n-go-seek", and were never too busy for an evening chat with our neighbors, this book is a must read. Read if you like Nostalgia and a child-like wonder.
What if half the world's population practiced witchcraft? Specifically, what if Women practiced witchcraft and kept it a secret from men? And what if a husband found his wife's charms, spells, and totems and made her destroy them all, considering them dangerous superstitions. That's the basic premise of the book, but in his superb writing style, Leiber allows most of the books action to occur internally. The main character is left to speculate on what he experiences and to question his own sense of reality. Why it's on the list Conjure Wife is an interesting window into another time. It tells the tale of the hidden magic of women. Written in the 1940's and set in a small college town, it's a compelling view of a time when women, no matter how intelligent, were constrained to secondary roles in favor of their husbands' professions and most often landed up helping them in ways that the men would never acknowledge. The story itself is engaging and has a lot of twists. Leiber's language is simple and flows easily from page to page. Although Leiber writes simple and convincing dialogue, he allows his descriptions to stick with you, even after you have put the book down. Read if you like A great way to understand the social norms at the time.
This gothic fairy tale has a classic plot: A gorgeous princess is imprisoned by a dark and evil mage. He will release her into marriage, but only to the bravest and strongest suitor. One who is able to fulfill a seemingly impossible quest. This quest has only 2 possible outcomes – death or glory and marriage. But what makes The 13 Clocks special is how events take place in a dark and surreal atmosphere. When something happens, things get even more mysterious since these trials and endeavors are never completely explained. Why it's on the list As in all fairy tales, nastiness defines the villain and his vile deeds let the youngest hearer know that this villain is evil and also that such doings are not likely in our town. It is a classic that everyone should read and the best way to do so is out loud. Thurber has such a fun time with his words and the playful language he incorporates into this story. The words ebb and flow flawlessly. This is a revamped fairytale that is not to be missed. Both enchanting and absorbing, Thurber spun his story in prose, in poetry and let the narrative flow easily from page to page. You will love the words that came straight from Thurber's imagination, how quirky and creative Read if you like Fairy tales, gothic stories and the traditional battle of good vs evil.
A Canticle for Leibowitz follows the rejuvenation of "civilization" after a devastating nuclear holocaust. It has three distinctive chapters, each one disconnected by centuries, focusing on life at a desert monastery named in honor of a very unusual "saint" Why it's on the list This book is amongst the first stories to explore the post-nuclear apocalyptic landscape. On the surface, the book is a well-written tale of an Abbey that has survived through the ages (the book takes place a millennium from now). The book is profoundly layered, however, very much like an onion. The more you read this book, the quicker you will be able to grasp the themes, which will let you How many times you read this book and how quick you are to catch on to various themes will determine how many layers you experience. Read if you like Sci-fi cult classic.
Titus Groan is the first book in Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy and it opens with the birth of Titus, the heir to the imposing Gormenghast castle. It then proceeds to unfold into a story of intrigue, betrayal, and Machiavellian maneuvering like any good fantasy book should. Why it's on the list This is one of those books where it seems like not a lot happens, but by the end, a great deal has occurred. You are rapidly enveloped into its world and live and breathe the events along with the characters for the duration of reading. Peake is refreshingly original. The book is stunningly written and made for compelling reading. It flows remarkably well and keeps you eagerly turning the pages to find out what happens next. There are some descriptions and images that are almost poetic and you'll be surprised at just how beautifully this fantasy novel is written. Read if you like Gothic horror and beautiful imagery.

Books in Ghormenghast Series (2)

The Screwtape Letters consists of letters written from a “superior” devil to a junior devil (Wormwood) about how to lead a human soul away from The Enemy (God). Screwtape is a retired and wise tempter, or “devil”. The book is written as a collection of these letters to the inexperienced nephew. Through the communication, we follow Wormwood's quarry through conversion, to distrust, love, and his eventual fate. What is so engaging and suspenseful is the destiny of Screwtape's prey – will he avoid his fate? Or will he fall victim to the wiles of this evil demon? Why it's on the list The Screwtape Letters is considered one of the classics of Christian literature. Only C.S. Lewis could write such a book. An epistolary account from Hell's point of view that leads readers to understand their own faith. Refreshingly humorous as only satire can be, yet at the same time disturbing in its implications, this book needs to be read for anyone who has ever contemplated religion. Read if you like Allegory and a fresh point of view.
The novel describes the adventures of John Lang, an American who gets appointed as a consul to the mysterious land of Islandia. Islandia is fairly isolationist, only allowing about a hundred foreigners at a time in the country. Lang is expected to investigate the possibility of opening up business interests there and possibly bringing this backward place into the totally modern world of 1910. Instead, he finds himself exploring the land with an Islandian colleague, getting involved in their politics, learning about their culture and falling in love with all of their women. Why it's on the list Islandia's message is strong and relevant, filled with the complexity of trying to live a truly good life in increasingly complicated times; of getting to the essentials; of honoring friendship and love. This is not just a Utopian novel or just another fantasy paperback. It is a great piece of classical literature that deserves more accolades. Read if you like Classic writing and a spellbinding storyline.
This ridiculous but entrancing story follows the life of a city family called the Littles. They adopt a son and name him Stuart, but the unusual thing is that Stuart is a mouse! So why would you want to read a story about a mouse? You never know what is going to happen next. The story goes from Stuart befriending a bird named Margolo, to sailing a sailboat, to trying to drive his own car.Why it's on the listStuart Little is a classic story. You never knew what is going to happen to this courageous little mouse. This is a wonderful classic children's book that is one hundred percent pure fun for the reader. The writing is great and very detailed, the characters are fantastic and easy to love, and the pictures are so cute and add to the writing.Read if you likeAdventure. Little animals.
This book was the very first Superman novel, and tells the familiar story of how the legend came to be. The story begins on Krypton, follows Superman as his spaceship crashes to earth, and takes us through the events around his new life with the Kents. We share the adventure as he develops his powers, the sadness when his father dies, and the excitement as he begins his new career as a reporter in Metropolis.Why it's on the listThis novel is full of exciting action, yet it is also meaningful because it lets the reader know what is going on in Clark's head during all this. The novel is very dated but well written based on the standards of the time.Without doubt this is best Superman book ever written. Clark Kent, and Superman, is a timeless, classic hero. The book shines a light on a time when heroes were HEROES instead of flawed, super-powered people.Read if you likeSuperheroes. Superman fanatics.
This is the sixth installment of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Pellucidar series. The protagonist, David Innes, has traveled from our world into the center of the Earth, where he has become renowned, feared, and respected to many in the land of Pellucidar. Within the first few chapters, he finds himself lost, captive, and in search of his mate, Dian the Beautiful. David braves a number of perils, from prehistoric creatures, to large, brutish, bearded clans of women, to a race of dark-skinned people.Why it's on the listAlthough Burroughs is mostly known for writing the classic Tarzan of the Apes, This book shows us all just how truly imaginative he was. While the main storyline of the book is getting captured, being separated and then reunited again, the weirdness of the creatures our characters meet, makes this a riveting sci-fi/fantasy to read. You can get lost in the strange fantasy world of Burroughs' imagining. All sci-fi/fantasy devotees should read Burroughs; he was one of the giants who founded the genre.Read if you likeSatire.
The Hobbit is one of the most well-loved fantasy novels of all time. Written by J.R.R Tolkien as a bedtime story for his children, The Hobbit is a light-hearted tale, focussing on the exploits of an increasingly adventurous hobbit named Bilbo Baggins. Set in the same world as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit ties into and lays the foundations for Tolkien's more famous work. However, The Hobbit, which functions as an excellent standalone book, definitely shouldn't be viewed as an inconsequential novella or tie-in novel. Unfortunately, Tolkien occasionally gets caught up in the minor details of world-building, spending entire chapters on meandering side plots. While this can make for slow read at times, Tolkien's masterful character development is sure to keep the reader hooked from the first page. Bilbo is one of Tolkien's most relatable characters, an unassuming hobbit who is plucked from his comfortable life and thrust into a fantastical world of magic, thievery and battle. In comparison to The Lord of The Rings trilogy, Tolkien keeps The Hobbit grounded in a single main storyline. Instead of trying to save all of Middle-earth, Bilbo and his companions are dedicated to one goal – to steal an ancient relic from a dragon's treasure trove. Since being published in 1937, The Hobbit has stood the test of time, and it remains an incredibly popular novel to this day.

Books in The Lord Of The Rings Series (6)

The book is a story of an arctic expedition that discovers the remains of a yet unknown, intelligent extraterrestrial civilization that predates human life on earth. The survivors of this expedition have to face unknown evils lurking below the arctic surface.Why it's on the listVery few novels of the fanciful create such a total story environment, but Lovecraft did it with strict continuity. It is one of the most well-written works of fiction he produced, and when you read this terrifying story, you'll understand why he is considered a master of modern horror / fantasy fiction. The story is compelling and will have you devouring page after page from the midpoint to the end.Lovecraft writes in a simple way, masterfully hinting at or planting slivers of information at the most opportune moments. This skill means that even at times when there does not seem to be much going on, the words and plot is developing in a fascinating way.Read if you likeHorror. Science fiction.
The story of four airplane passengers whose plane crashes into a mysterious mountain range near Tibet. They are taken to a secret monastery in the enigmatic Shangri-La that is complete with a library, music room, and all sorts of modern comforts. The monks, their hosts, are extremely vague about how they might return to civilization that they begin to suspect that something ominous is prowling in the background of this utopia. Why it's on the list Although it was written in the early 30s, this is a magical book with a feeling of hope and inspiration with views that are applicable in today's world. It is, therefore, a timeless classic that every person should have the pleasure and good fortune of reading. This story is full of twists and turns. The suspense definitely boils as the story unfolds which makes it truly hard to put this book down. It will haunt your imagination and you will be obsessed with all the loose ends you must accept for the inspired art that makes this one of the most disturbing of any book you will ever read. Hilton uses a very subtle tool to introduce the story, and it pays off in the epilog when the reader is left wondering whether or not Lost Horizon is a true story. Read if you like Mystery. Adventure.
Instead of picking up the story of King Arthur from the day when young Art pulls the sword from the stone, T.H. White gazes back to the innocent childhood of England's once and future king, the days when outlaws like Robin Wood (read: Hood) roamed the Forest Sauvage and knights spent their entire lives questing mysterious beasts. This is the first part of the Once and Future King series of novels. A story of a young boy, Wart, who has no idea who he really is, and the happenings, lessons, and trials that lead to him becoming a leader. Why it's on the list This is the timeless story of a young King Arthur, except with wonderful depth and awe-inspiring detail. It describes the magic of being young and exploring the fields and rivers around your home, and talks of fights between nasty witches and pleasant wizards. White really knows how to get you to step into another world. His spectacular descriptions sweep you into the world of Medieval England and revitalizes the age-old story in an endearingly fresh way. The characters of Merlyn, Arthur, King Pellinore and the steadfast Sir Ector flourish in such a genuine and whimsical way that the story comes to life, making it far better than the original narrative. You actually feel like you are sitting in the grass on a summer's day watching people joust. White does not only describe the legend of the sword in the stone, he tells the story of the young man who actually pulled it out. He takes us further back in time and tells us about how this young man grew up. We begin to understand a little more how Arthur was destined for greatness, and what events there were that impacted and tempered him for this magical fate. The entire book is perfectly peppered with Charm, wit and humor. Read if you like Books about King Arthur and all his adventures. It is filled with magic and strange creatures aplenty. It is not just fun for children, but the whole family!

Books in The Once And Future King Series (6)

A young man in Ireland in the late 19th Century sees the beauty in a bog or piece of ground that is about to be torn up for development. His only allies in saving this bog are the young woman he loves, an Irish fighter who once considered shooting him, a wise woman living on the edge of the bog and her very wise but unlettered son. Why it's on the list A wonderful book and one of the very first novels to deal with an environmental issue. This story takes you just to the edge of all that is wonderful about Irish mythology. Mostly, the book is about forgiveness, love and the marvels of the characters world. It is carefully plotted, has beautiful prose, delightful characterization, elegant use of symbolism, wonderful imagery and detailed descriptions of the sporting life which thrill the heart. This is literature but only in the sense that you won't know it is literature because you are enjoying it. Read if you like Lord Dunsany is an acknowledged master whose work has become a little forgotten. This book is an excellent example of how great this author was.
The Banks Family of 17 Cherry Tree Lane is in a bit of a dilemma… Their nanny has quit without warning, leaving the four Banks children (Jane, Michael, John, and Barbara) without a nanny! Nevertheless, an east wind is blowing and, before Mrs. Banks can even put out an advertisement, it brings a new nanny. Mary Poppins is like no one the Banks family has ever met before. She seems to be able to do anything she wants, no matter what. Magic seems to follow wherever she goes and, despite her stern manner, the children find that they cannot imagine life without their new nanny.Why it's on the listMagical, mysterious Mary Poppins is practically perfect in every way. An endearing character that takes you and the children on a series of wonderful and enchanted adventures. She is the other side of the coin to Barrie's Peter Pan - an adult still connected to the (soon to be lost) innocence of childhood. You won't need a spoonful of sugar to read this classic. Harry Potter simply could never compete with Mary Poppins' magical powers or eternal appeal. She flies in on her umbrella, and never leaves your heart.All parents should read this book to their children, as soon as their children are old enough to sit upright and be read to. Once their children are old enough to read for themselves, all parents should give this book to them, then tiptoe out of the room and quietly close the door. We should all be so lucky as to have a "Mary Poppins" in our lives!Read if you likeMagic. Adventure.
Three children, Carey, Charles, and Paul are brothers and sisters that were sent to Bedfordshire to stay with their aunt. An old lady named Miss Price lives in a small house near their aunt's house. One early morning, the three children find Miss Price in pain with a broomstick next to her. They soon find out that she is a witch and fell while practicing to ride a broomstick. To prevent the children from revealing her secret, she puts a spell on Paul's bed-knob. Using this magical bed-knob, the children travel through time and space to ancient England, a desert island and more. Why it's on the list It's daring and unpredictable. In most books, everything goes well most of the time. In this book, almost everything goes wrong! Like all of Norton's books, this is an exciting story of a gentler time. A classic tale of magic and adventure. Read if you like Gentle and wondrous stories of adventure and magic.
Silverlock is a charming, wild ride through literature. It's an incredibly entertaining tale of an American skeptic's journey as he explores the life, and adventure of the literary world. A wonderful voyage through the realms of fantasy, mythology, and literature. Some of the fun are tracking down the literary characters, from Beowulf to Robin Hood to Don Quixote to Huck Finn to Becky Sharp to the Mad Hatter.Why it's on the listSilverlock is a book that inspires you to read more books. Myers has taken snippets from some of the greatest works of literature and woven them into a glorious tale of human development. Clarence Shandon aka Silverlock is the only original person in the story, the rest are borrowed, rented and stolen from myth, legends, tall tales and fiction. Discovering who they are is part of the symbolic journey of a man's journey to find himself.Once a character enters the story, you want to know more about the background of that character. That, in turn, leads to reading mythology, fables, and legends, which in turn leads to more reading about historical context. This is a book that leaves you breathless and craving more, and the only novel that each time you read it you find something new.You don't need to know all the references to enjoy the book. The writing is just stunning, the characters and situations gripping. There is an engaging plot, fascinating personalities that Silverlock interacts with, plus poetic beauty. You will have favorite moments you want to read again and again.The novel shows that you can find meaning in all the stories you encounter. Sharing those experiences, even using them to invent new stories, is one of the profoundest pleasures of life. Anyone with a modicum of admiration for literature and the history of speculative fiction should give Silverlock a try.Read if you likeClassic literature. Fantasy.