Fantasy books have been around since at least the 7th century BC, when The Epic of Gilgamesh first appeared in the library of the Assyrian king. Since that time books and plays with fantastical elements – animals that speak, dragons that breath fire, courageous heroes and heroines that overcome every obstacle – have been a mainstay of the world’s literature, seemingly never more popular than in today’s rigorously scientific, post-Industrial Revolution world.
The fantasy genre can be defined as one that uses magic as though it were a physical law. So what are a few of the most influential fantasy books of all time?
The Lord of the Rings: Although fantasy books existed before J.R.R.Tolkien wrote his saga of Middle Earth and the grave perils facing it overcome by the courageous actions of an unlikely hero, there was no fantasy genre as such itself before he wrote The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien not only wrote a series of fantasy books, he created a world, complete with its own languages, histories, anthropologies and economies. Many authors have done the same in fantasy sagas in the years since, but Tolkien was the first and is still unsurpassed for the sheer immersiveness of his imaginings.
The Harry Potter series: Children’s literature has been a common vehicle for magic and fantasy from the time of E. Nesbit – to whom Rowling herself acknowledges a considerable debt. What Rowling did was to take fantasy elements and more-or-less normalize them, integrate them into that most familiar childhood setting, the school. The result did more for childhood literacy rates than a slough of impassioned editorials.
The Wheel of Time series: What Robert Jordan’s fantasy books may have lacked in literary subtlety, he made up for in sheer volume and popularity. In 1998, Jordan became the first author to debut at Number One on the New York Times Bestseller List with The Path of Daggers, the eight volume in his Wheel of Time Series. Jordan died before he could complete A Memory of Light, the final installment in his saga but was said to be contemplating a new series of fantasy books as soon Wheel of Time was through.