Popular 1970s Fantasy Novels

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 Ballantine’s publication of  Evangeline Walton’s 1936 novel The Island of the Mighty and its formerly unpublished sequels was an important in inspiring the sub-genres of Celtic Fantasy and Historical Fantasy.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 1978and 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.

Popular 1980s Fantasy Novels >

< Popular 1960s Fantasy Novels

32 thoughts on “Popular 1970s Fantasy Novels

  1. Oddly, or not, I don’t recognise any titles in the ‘also ran’ section, while most of those in the top section became favourite authors well into the 1990s. So, I thank you for providing a sleigh ride back to the day.
    Did any of these influence my own writing? Possibly Anne Rice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome! And I’m glad to hear that – it’s not always easy to pick the top line-up for a decade (popularity and influence are hard things to measure!) so it’s nice to hear them “confirmed” 🙂
      I actually finally read ‘Interview with the Vampire’ about a year ago – it wasn’t what I’d expected, but I liked it. I’m curious what the rest of the series is like.

      Liked by 1 person

      • They’re brillant. I enjoyed every one of them. Well thought out story world, excellently written. I miss them, could have read another full series. Though I don’t read horror books, not even Gothic. Odd. But that says much about the books.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: 1970s Fantasy Novels | W.L. Hawkin

  3. Glad to see another installment of your Popular Fantasy Novels posts. I’ve read several from this decade. Recently read the Sword of Shannara but didn’t like it for similar reasons you mentioned above. I found it very boring. Robin McKinley is one of my fav authors. I didn’t know Beauty was pubbed in the ’70s and same too with the Neverending Story, another of my favs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I started reading Sword of Shannara a few years back but decided it wasn’t for me either (what I read of it didn’t grab me). It’s impressive the effect it had on the success of the genre though – obviously a lot of people loved it. I haven’t read Beauty but it looks up my alley so I want to!

      Like

      • Oh yes! Beauty should be a good one. It’s been a while since I’ve read it so I’d like to give it a read too. Hope you enjoy it. McKinley’s writing is very descriptive and beautiful. I love it.

        Liked by 1 person

    • That’s great to hear about Forgotten Beasts, I’d like to read that one. I’ve loved the Princess Bride movie since childhood (I enjoyed all that swashbuckling!) and have been wanting to read the book for a long time – even more so after writing this post.

      Like

    • You’re welcome! I also didn’t initially realise what an early work it was. The sequels were published in the 80s, 90s and 00s and I think Rice is releasing more, so that’s probably why the series as a whole feels more recent – but it’s still interesting that the first book was published over 40 years ago.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post! I am familiar with Anne Rice’s work but I will definitely look up William Goldman. You asked if there are some other important novels to be added on the list. Well, I’m not sure this one can be qualified as “important”, but it is certainly informative to mention here that Pamela L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, published in 1975 her own retelling of Sleeping Beauty. The title is “About the Sleeping Beauty”. It never really got any attention from the public. So, maybe if you write a post about obscure and forgotten writings by famous authors you can add this one on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh man. Sooo many good ones on this list.

    Of the ones I have actually read, my favorite is Watership Down. It is very long, but the last few scenes are *amazing* … and the book needed every one of those pages to make them so.

    As for The Princess Bride, I think of the book as more of a fantasy parody for adults. 100% snark. It’s a funny read, but hard to get into emotionally because of all the snark. For me at least. However, the MOVIE is another story. It is the best movie! The kind that, when you see it, you say, “Why don’t they make movies like this all the time?” It keeps the funny, but makes the story sweet. When I first saw it, as a kid, I didn’t realize that it was a comedy. I thought it was a wrenching love/adventure story for the ages. 😀

    Question: Wasn’t Pierce Anthony writing during the 70s? I guess he’s classed more as sci-fi, but I believe he has some fantasy parody series too. There’s one with a family of centaurs. But maybe those were published later?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes it was a great decade! I’ve yet to read Watership Down but it’s very high on my list.

      That’s interesting you felt that way about The Princess Bride – I haven’t read the book yet but from the excerpts I’ve read I understand what you mean about snark! I have seen the movie though and I adore it too. It really does balance the sweetness and the humour perfectly. And I think there’s enough wrenching love story in there to see why you thought that as a kid 🙂

      Piers Anthony was indeed writing in the 70s. I included his first Xanth book ‘A Spell for Chameleon’ in the main list above – I just didn’t add any info in the notes or facts section (didn’t want things to get too long). I’m planning to mention him in the next decade though together with Terry Pratchett as an important early writer in the comic fantasy sub-genre.

      Like

  6. This is a great post! There are so many excellent titles here.
    Thank you for the little fun facts! The Anne Rice one makes so much sense, I felt like Claudia was such a well written character. If she is based off Anne’s deceased daughter, then the emotion behind the character really reflects in her writing.

    I’ve definitely added some of the books in the list above to my to read list.
    Thank you for that!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well I’ve read seven of your main picks. Have loved ‘Watership Down’ for years. (Note – anyone who thinks it’s a kids book cos bunnies, it’s really not. My mum thought it was for kids, and got it for me when I was nine.) I love the metafictional aspects of ‘The Princess Bride’. I’m a huge fan of ‘Lord Foul’s Bane’. Donaldson’s series ‘The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant’ was big during the eighties, and I have a signed copy of this book. So many good memories from these books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great so many of these are attached to good memories. And yes I get the definite sense Watership Down is not a kids book – I saw the animated adaptation as a child (again i think my parents thought bunnies=kids film) and it was actually quite disturbing. I’m hoping that when I read the book now I’ll be able to appreciate the story in a way I couldn’t back then, and in its original form too.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Love reading all these facts! I still need to read so many of these- especially Princess Bride- which I really wanted to read because of the background (and the movie of course 😉 ) And I’ve been planning to read sword of shannara cos it’s such a classic (though of course I’ve heard it’s derivative of LOTR) I definitely need to read McKilip and McKinley books- they’ve been on my tbr for a while. I also love Neverending Story- it’s my favourite from this selection 😀 Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks!! 🙂 Many of these are on my to-read list too, and the Princess Bride is really high up there – I’m very curious what the book is like. And I also started reading Shannara due to its classic status. I got a ways in and decided it wasn’t for me, but I’m glad I tried otherwise I would have always wondered. The Neverending Story really is wonderful, and so imaginative – I loved all the different fantastical places and how they were described (e.g. the desert with the different coloured sands and the lion).

      Like

Leave a Reply to DebyFredericks Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.