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.