Top 25 Best Pre-Tolkein Fantasy Books
When writing any list detailing the best pre-Tolkien fantasy it is difficult, to say the least.
I started creating this list quite easily...then the questions began:
How do you determine what belongs and what doesn't?
How far back in time is appropriate? There's no denying The Iliad was influential… but should it be on this specific list?
If the people reading and writing the story believed it to be true – then can we call it fantasy?
This leads from the question before – If The Iliad was telling the stories of the Greek Gods, how can we decide that it is now Fantasy? Maybe it belongs with Religious Works (That's a WHOLE separate, scandalous and potentially world-ending debate – let's just move on, shall we?)
So the decision was made – and it could be quite an arbitrary decision at that – to include only the novels that influenced the Fantasy Genre as we know it now.
By “influenced”, I mean those books that shaped the fantasy genre that we are reading today. Books that, like pieces of an interlocking puzzle seem weird and, when released as stand-alone stories, were certainly a little out of place.
Yet once they start connecting with their counterparts… something begins to take shape. Influence is a funny thing… sometimes influence is only recognized a long time after the fact.
Here are the books that I feel shaped and guided the genre towards what it has become today. These books inspired our literary grandfathers and introduced the world to a different type of storytelling.
Each book has one little component, one puzzle piece, that a reader will pick up and say “aah! I recognize that” It could be a concept, a stereotype, a style of writing or even a plot line.
What that puzzle piece is, does not really matter (who cares what a puzzle piece looks like on its own) but what becomes so obvious is that without that piece, our world of fantasy would be lacking.
Here is my selection for the 25 most influential Fantasy Novels pre-Tolkien (note: The Iliad undoubtedly belongs on this list!).
Make sure to check out our other Best Fantasy Decade Lists:
Best Early Modern Fantasy (Fantasy during Tolkien's era)
Best Fantasy Books of the 70's (fantasy finds complexity)
Best Fantasy Books of the 80's (the golden age)
Best Fantasy Books of the 90's (contemporary fantasy)