Well – the response to the Fantasy reading posts has been interesting. I think I'll try to write something more on the LOTR films later today - I'll also try to unify and add to that list below. I've left off some rather obvious books including the magnificent "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle.
My New Recommended (Mostly High Fantasy) List with Additions
First, the two that shaped the contemporary genres more than anyone:
Tolkien – Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion
HG Wells – The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man
Andre Norton – Witchworld.
Anne McCaffrey –Harper Hall Series (Dragonsinger; Dragonsong; Dragondrums)
Barbara Hambly – Darwath Series (The Time of the Dark; The Walls of Air; The Armies of Daylight; Mother of Winter; Icefalcon's Quest) Dragonsbane; The Ladies of Madrigyn
Brin – The Postman
C.S. Lewis – The Chronicles of Narnia (The Magician's Nephew; The Lion; the Witch; and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Horse and His Boy; The Silver Chair; The Last Battle)
Douglas Adams – Hitchhiker’s Guide
Frank Herbert – Dune (only the first), The Jesus Incident
G.K. Chesterton – The Man Who Was Thursday
Garrett and Heydon – The Gandaralla Cycle
Garth Nix – Sabriel
George MacDonald – The Princess and Curdie, The Princess and the Goblin
Guy Gavriel Kay - Sailing to Sarantium
H.P. Lovecraft – Selected Works
Harlan Ellison – Deathbird Stories
Harry Turtledove – The Misplaced Legion
James Tiptree – Brightness Falls From Air
Kenneth Morris –The Dragon Path
L.M. Bujold - The Curse of Chalion
Lloyd Alexander – Prydain Chronicles (The Book of Three; The Black Cauldron; The Castle of Llyr; Taran Wanderer; The High King)
M. Lindholm – The Wizard of the Pigeons
Martha Wells – everything she’s written thusfar.
Miller – A Canticle for Leibowitz
Neil Gaiman –Sandman (graphic novels)
Orson Scott Card – Ender’s Game
Patricia McKillip – Riddlemaster (The Riddlemaster of Hed; Heir of Sea and Fire; and Harpist in the Wind)
Peter Beagle – The Last Unicorn
Philip K. Dick - The Man in the High Castle
Robert C. O'Brien – Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Robert Heinlein – Stranger in a Strange Land
Robert Silverberg – Lord Valentine’s Castle, Gilgamesh the King
Robin McKinley – The Hero and the Crown
Sean Russell – Moontide and Magicrise
Stephen R. Donaldson -- Mordant's Need (The Mirror of Her Dreams; A Man Rides Through)
Susan Cooper – The Dark is Rising (Over Sea and Under Stone; The Dark is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King; Silver on the Tree)
Tad Williams – Tailchaser’s Song
Ursula K. Le Guin –A Wizard of Earthsea; The Tombs of Atuan; The Farthest Shore; Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea
Vonnegut – Cat’s Cradle
William Gibson – Neuromancer
In the first list, I deliberately left off Pullman, Peake, Dunsany, Eddison, Howard, Pynchon, Vance, Leiber, White, Jordan, Martin, Eddings, Feist, Hobb, Pratchett, Anthony, Slavatore, Brooks, Dickson, Donaldson, Stephenson, Tepper, May, Rice, Moorcock, Verne, Cherryth, Weis/Hickman, Resnick, Eddings, Robinson, Duncan, Banks, Brust, Rowling, et al., all of whom I've read to some extent.
There are some good stories in the “off” list, but I’m really not into the endless outline/formula writers (Jordan, Martin, Eddings, Williams), nor do I like the melodrama of Feist or Hobb, and the punning stuff (Pratchett, Anthony) bores me. Actually, the endless outline writers kind of offend me; take 3-6 rather boring and clichéd narratives and weave them in and out. Then there are those who were promising but just leaned too heavily on other things – Pullman, Salavatore, Brooks. And those like Orson Scott Card who write one brilliant book (Ender’s Game – everyone should read it) and crank out thousands of pages of absolute crap afterward.
Books I haven’t read that you lot have recommended (and which I will be thus checking out):
Alfred Bester - The Demolished Man
Dan Simmons – Hyperion
MJ Engh - Arslan
John Crowley – Little Big
Marie Jakober - The Black Chalice
Then you get things like Asimov’s Nightfall – a very important work insofar as it influenced other writers, but perhaps not worth reading on it’s own (hell, I’ll put it in, it’s short).
Early Fantisists you might want to check out
Lord Dunsany – The King of Elfland's Daughter
E.R. Eddison – The Worm Ouroboros
Charles Williams – War in Heaven
William Morris – Anything
Also, a new post in reponse to all your comments below:
Tolkien: I think LOTR is absolutely worth re-reading – both for craft-hunger as a wonderful example of how to write prose with an aural air to it (read some of the passages aloud – they’re stunning), and because the book offers a sense of profound solace and rightness as it hews to Tolkien’s theory of the eucatastrophe (or “joyous catastrophe,” which goes beyond the dues ex machine, in that it’s both “good” and “catastrophic.” I put quotes around those because it’s debatable how “good” the ending of the book is (most of the heroes cannot enjoy what they’ve won) and how “catastrophic” it is, in that the world endures but is fundamentally changed (or as much of a fundamental change as the Victorian age to the Modern age – things pass away, new things arise.) The movies almost entirely miss this.
Donaldson: I also found the Covenant series unpleasant, although I read through all the books. There were a couple of great moments in there, which I touched on. I do like, in a craft sense, the concept of the anti-hero being so completely realized, but a hard read. Rik had a great call with Mordant’s Need – that’s an interesting duology and is very much Donaldson. I think Covenant is a more ambitious and deeper reaching book, but I’m still keeping it off my list due to the problems with the scope of the book (endless blather) and it’s fundamental unpleasant-to-read nature.
Here’s an interesting quote by Donaldson (which applies to poets as well?): “I believe that as a group we sf/f writers are saner than mainstream writers. We concentrate on storytelling, and I believe that storytelling is actually good for us. In addition, in this field the storytelling tends to be about small people who become bigger instead of about small people who become smaller, which is usually the case in mainstream fiction. Our kind of storytelling relieves internal pressure. And we seem to feel that it’s possible to have constructive endings instead of destructive ones. As a result, I find that my peers are (very broadly speaking) nicer and happier people than the mainstream writers I know.”
Tad Williams: I’ll put Tailchaser’s Song on the list as well. It, like Mordant’s need above, is, on some levels, a lesser story than “Memory, Sorrow, Thorn,” but it’s also one that I’d rather recommend. I think Flashes is dead-right about Williams having difficulty resolving his tensions. However, I think that in MST Williams ought to get kudos for making his elves (again, Tolkien echos) actually immortal, with all the burdens and weariness that apply – they genuinely do seem to be “of fairy,” in that they’re recognizable but alien, creepy. Tolkien’s elves are generally “outside” the story, except for Legolas, who is a very young elf, born in Middle-Earth, having never seen the light of the trees (Valinor). The elder elves, like Elrond and Galadriel, have their own worries and are not, in a sense, fully “there” in the story. Given that Galadriel is one of the kin-slayers (she’s a penitent murderess banished from Valinor) and that Elrond is only a half-elf (again, never having seen Valinor) we can see Tolkien carefully constructing his world so that we don’t have a sense that it’s simple “pure good” v. simple “pure evil.”
CS Lewis: Narnia isn’t for everyone (Tolkien hated it): allegorical, breezy, disunified, but for all that it works for me.
Pratchett (et. al.): I’m sorry, but while I went through a phase where I loved the lighter stuff, largely because the jokes and plot center on the more surface level of language, for some reason I now just can’t read it. To me it seems to be about cleverness v. deeply (emotionally) satisfying story; it seems a harder and finer thing to do the latter.
Alexander: The Prydain books are hard for me; he’s clearly writing all over the map children’s books at many points, but there are all these wonderful fantastic nuggets (like the witches asking for a memory of a perfect summer day in exchange for something) that really do strike at the heart of why we’d read and write fantasy (because, on some level, one can objectify and symbolize what we value and thus explore it more fully.) I think both “The High King” and “Taran Wanderer” are of a different nature than the Castle of Lyr and the Black Cauldron; more adult, more realized. It’s as though he decided to go in a new direction, almost like how Tolkien seems unfocused up to the point where the Fellowship actually forms, whereupon the story seems to become something else, as it becomes something else again in Moria. Again, although there are obvious Tolkien echoes throughout Prydain, including the close, there are still those moments which are completely Alexander’s own; the free Commots, Fflewddur’s sacrifice of his harp, Coll’s death, Annlaw Clay-Shaper. So – yes. On the list.
As to Lindholm v Hobbs (I realize they’re the same person, Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden). Hobbs’ Assassin series is melodramatic; stock characters, blatant and heightened emotional appeals to clichéd emotions, one-dimensional characters not quite behaving as they ought so that the plot snakes it’s way forward. Basically, the realistic element of internal fidelity/consistency (you poets should know what I’m talking about) gets lost because the author wants to take the reigns and “make” the story do certain things. That's just off-putting to me. Perhaps it's not that bad for non-writers.
A good author/poet is kind of like the Deist conception of God. They make the clockwork of their universe then they set it in motion and watch what happens. If the clockwork is poorly made, it requires a lot of miraculous nudging. If the clockwork could work but the god wants certain things to happen, there’s also miraculous nudging.
Hobb’s world is ultimately interesting (I like ideas/settings of the Liveship Traders myself) but one in which she plays too much, is too headstrong. However, in The Wizard of the Pigeons, Lindholm manages to straddle the line between madness and magic for much of the book in a kind of Fisher-King-esque way.