The Most Influential Fantasy Books of Each Decade

I don’t usually pay much attention to the publication dates of fantasy books. My mind tends to file them into vague categories like “old classic” or “fairly recent”.  I do sometimes check when books came out or read articles about fantasy history, but it’s hard to remember it all clearly, and I tend to think books are much older or newer than they actually are. Occasionally I’ll see a decade or era referred to (e.g. 80s paperback, 90s fantasy) but not often, and the timelines I find online tend to be exhaustively long title lists or random “must read” compilations.

All of this is to say: getting a sense of which fantasy books were important at certain times or influenced later books, and how fantasy has changed over the last 50 or 100 years, is not always easy.

This made me think it would be interesting to see a snapshot of the most popular or influential fantasy books from each decade with their original covers, to create a kind of visual timeline that shows the changing genre and cover styles over the last Century.

Since I couldn’t find anything like this out there, I decided I’d compile something myself. It’s a bit of an ambitious endeavour… but I’m hoping I’ll create a useful (or at least interesting) series of posts and learn a thing or two in the process.

So every week for the next few weeks I’m going to spotlight the most influential 8-12 fantasy books of a particular decade or period from 1900 through to 2010 (combining some decades where necessary), and at the end I’ll create one big visual timeline of all of the covers.

How I’m choosing books

  • I’m picking what I see as popular or influential fantasy books based on my general knowledge and past study of the genre, as well on various online fantasy book lists, best-seller lists, book review / rating site statistics and fantasy history articles, not based on my personal opinion of the books. Of course, there’s always going to be subjectivity involved in lists like this, but I’m doing my best to be ‘impartial’.
  • I’ll only included the first in a series and one book per author per decade  to avoid the list getting too long.
  • I’ll try to include important books from all fantasy sub-genres, not just adult fantasy or high fantasy.
  • I’ll try to exclude science fiction, but given how tied to the fantasy genre it is I might end up including books some people would call science fiction or excluding some people would call fantasy.
  • I’ll include horror and gothic works that strongly influenced fantasy sub-genres or have strong fantasy elements, but I won’t try to include all important horror and gothic works.
  • I’ll exclude ancient myths, epics, old fairy tales and poems, as these are more influences on fantasy than fantasy.

So I’ll get started on the first era right away! I know I said I’d be covering decades from 1900 onward, but there are some important books published before 1900 that I feel it would be remiss not to include, so I’m going to start off with a selection of 12 important “pre-1900” works.

Popular Pre-1900 Fantasy Novels >

10 thoughts on “The Most Influential Fantasy Books of Each Decade

    • Haha yes it definitely does. I just didn’t include it because of the more-influence–than-fantasy point, but also because I realised the moment I started counting in mythology and fairy tales (and including not just European ones but influential myths and tales from other parts of the world) things might start stretching to unwieldy epic proportions!

      Really glad you’re excited for this series – I must admit part of my drive to do it was also wanting to see how many I’d read and if there were any more classics I should be adding to my own TBR 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I hope that as we get closer to present day I have read more books than the pre-1900 list! I am a bit ashamed at how few of those I’ve read. I feel like I’ve gotten away from my love of fantasy lately. Hopefully this will rekindle my love and get a few good new books in my hands.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I assume the numbers on the books in the opening photo are to indicate the original date of publication? 😀 If so, I particularly want to see that one on the second shelf from 0003, as I’m pretty sure that was deep in the early days of The Novel. :p

    In the meantime, I do look forward to your next entry in this series. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: What’s on Your Nightstand: October 2018 | Zezee with Books

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