The fantasy boom of the late 60s came to full fruition in the 70s, drawing older works back into the light as well as bringing many new ones. The decade also saw the publication of important works in particular sub-genres, such as vampire fiction, fairy tale retellings, time travel fiction and more.
Below I’ve listed what I believe to be the 12 most popular or significant fantasy novels published between 1970 and 1980. I’ve used the year each novel was first published and I’ve tried to use the original cover or jacket from that year:
(To enlarge a cover simply click on it and the image gallery will open)
In 1977 Terry Brook’s The Sword of Shannara became the first fantasy fiction novel to make The New York Times bestseller list, appealing to readers who had fallen in love with The Lord of the Rings. Ballantine used it to launch their new subsidiary Del Rey Books, and its success further boosted the commercial expansion of the genre.
Another significant development in the 70s was the publication of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. Launched in 1969 and edited by Lin Carter, the line consisted mostly of reprints of novels from earlier decades and brought many newfound popularity. Ballantine’s publication of Evangeline Walton’s 1936 novel The Island of the Mighty and its formerly unpublished sequels was an important in inspiring the sub-genres of Celtic Fantasy and Historical Fantasy.
Young Adult Fantasy continued to enjoy popularity, with the publication of McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, Goldman’s The Princess Bride and McKinley’s Beauty (an early work of the currently popular sub-genre of YA Fairy Tale Retellings). The 70s also saw the continuation of several popular series that started in the 60s, such as Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle (The Tombs of Atuan 1970, The Farthest Shore 1972), L’Engle’s Time Quintet (The Wind in the Door 1973, A Swiftly Tilting Planet 1978) and Cooper’s Dark is Rising Series (The Dark is Rising 1973).
Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire was critical to the resurgence of Vampire Fiction and the development of Paranormal Fantasy, while Richard Adams’s classic Watership Down continued a tradition of Animal Fantasy from earlier decades, with epic themes and allegorical interpretations that appealed to a broad audience.
A Few Interesting Facts
- The Princess Bride is presented as an abridged, edited version of a book by S. Morgenstern that William Goldman loved when his father read to him as a child. In the footnotes Goldman says he discovered, on trying to get his own son to read it, that his father had left out the boring parts, which prompted him to create the abridged version. In truth, no such work or author exists – it is a fictional framing device. Goldman builds this fiction throughout the book, going so far as to mention copyright issues with the estate of S. Morgenstern. The footnotes also include many other fictitious “facts” about Goldman and his life.
- William Goldman wrote the screenplay for the 1987 film adaptation of The Princess Bride, and has won academy awards for his other screenplays: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men.
- Terry Brooks wrote The Sword of Shannara over 7 years while attending law school. Many criticised the book for being too derivative of The Lord of the Rings, as it contains similar characters and plot points. Brooks acknowledged the heavy influence in his first novel, but said he later evolved his own style.
- Octavia Butler is a multiple recipient of both the Hugo and Nebula awards. She wrote her best-selling novel, Kindred, in response to hearing a young man say he felt ashamed of older generations of African Americans because of their subservience. She felt he lacked the historical context to understand that survival and the safety of their family often depended on them accepting abuse, and imagined a modern African-American character travelling back in time to experience life in the Antebellum South.
- Anne Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire after the death of her four-year-old daughter Michelle, who is often believed to be the inspiration for the young vampire character Claudia.
- Michael Ende’s Die unendliche Geschichte enjoyed great success when first published in Germany in 1979, selling nearly a million copies in 3 years. An English translation by Ralph Manheim, The Neverending Story, was released in 1983. The book has since been translated into over 40 languages and adapted to film, TV, stage play, ballet, and opera.
- The Neverending Story is normally printed in two colours: red text for events in the real world, and blue-green text for those in the fantasy world.
- Michael Moorcock’s Elric character originally appeared in novelettes in Science Fantasy Magazine in the 60s, the last of which ended with Elric’s death. The first original novel, Elric of Melniboné, came out in 1972 and is actually a prequel to the previous tales. Moorcock was influenced by the work of Poul Anderson, as well as Finnish mythology and Norse legends.
Other 70s Works and Authors
There are some works that didn’t make it into the list above for various reasons, either because they were light on fantasy elements, because I’ve already included the most influential work by that author in this or another decade, because they were magical realism or horror, or simply because I didn’t think they were as significant to the genre as others. However, there are still some worth mentioning:
- The Crystal Cave (Arthurian Saga) by Mary Stewart (1970)
- Deryni Rising (The Chronicles of the Deryni) by Katherine Kurtz (1970)
- Grendel by John Gardner (1970)
- Time and Again by Jack Finney (1970) [time travel fiction]
- The Pastel City (Viriconium Series) by M. John Harrison (1970)
- Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (1971)
- The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren (1973)
- Momo by Michael Ende (1973)
- Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (1975)
- The Dragon and the George (Dragon Knight Series) by Gordon R. Dickson (1976)
- The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien (1977) [posthumously edited and published by Christopher Tolkien with assistance from Guy Gavriel Kay]
- Charmed Life (Chrestomanci #1) by Diana Wynne Jones (1977)
- Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (1977)
- What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson (1978)
- Gloriana by Michael Moorcock (1978)
- Another Fine Myth (Myth Adventures Series) by Robert Lynn Asprin (1978)
- Carrie (1974), Salem’s Lot (1975), The Shining (1977) and The Stand (1978) by Stephen King
- Night’s Master (Tales from the Flat Earth) by Tanith Lee (1978)
- The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter (1979)
- The Leopard Mask (The Guin Saga) by Kaoru Kurimoto (1979)
- Tales of Nevèrÿon (Return to Nevèrÿon Series) by Samuel R. Delany (1979)
- The Animals of Farthing Wood (Farthing Wood Series) by Colin Dann (1979)
Are any of these books a favourite? Or would you add another important novel to the list? Feel free to give it a mention in the comments.