Some books you read and a week from now the details are gone, but others not only stay with you for many years, they also shape the future of your entire reading landscape. Before I discovered the books on this list, reading was a fun activity to keep an only child busy, but life was never the same after I read the first book on this list. A lifelong obsession with fantasy was born, one that has spilled over into the movies I watch and the books I write myself today.
The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
I will forever be grateful to my uncle who gave me his well-loved copy of this classic novel as a gift when I was about 9 years old. Up until then I’d been tearing through Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, but this book changed everything. Suddenly the world was a place filled with hobbits! And wizards! And dwarves! And elves! And dragons!! My imagination was unleashed and has been running rampant ever since.
The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
Of course, after that I had to have more, and Tolkien did not disappoint. Epic fate-of-the-world-depends-on-it quest, star-crossed lovers, heart-wrenching deaths – I lapped it all up. And I think Aragorn might have been my first fictional crush…
I adore this book so much, I reread every few years and if asked what my favourite book of all time is, this is always my answer. Yes, it’s a little dated by now, but it was genre-defining at the time and the story it tells is timeless. I just love it.
The Silmarillion – JRR Tolkien
I wanted more, more, more! And Tolkien still did not disappoint. I know the Silmarillion isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy myths and legends, like I do, and you love Middle-Earth, like I do, then these tales will delight and enthrall you, like they did me.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia) – CS Lewis
Actually, the entire Narnia series, which I first read in the suggested order, starting with The Magician’s Nephew. I was too little at the time to understand all the allegory tucked into the stories – to me it was just a magical gateway to a land of talking animals and ice queens, and the conclusion in The Last Battle blew me away. To this day, I will always open any old wardrobe I come across to see if there’s a door to Narnia for me hidden in there.
A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle) – Ursula K Le Guin
I think Ged might have been my second book crush. The Archipelago and the magic system in this book, not to mention the fact that the protagonist’s skin is a little darker than I was used to, was so unusual to my early-teen self that this series immediately rocketed onto my all-time favourites list. I reread the entire series (plus the shorter stories that I didn’t even know existed until recently) a year or so ago and it was even more amazing as an adult reader. This is a series that makes you think deeply while you’re off on an astounding adventure.
Pawn of Prophecy (The Belgariad) – David Eddings
Enter Eddings with the Belgariad, Malloreon, Elenium and Tamuli series – all books I discovered at my local library that now have pride of place on my own shelves. It was Garion and company who first awakened in me the urge to become a writer. I loved traversing the world with them so much, learning how to use the Will and the Word, sneaking around with Silk (book crush number three!), that I never wanted the stories to end. I thought if I could bring someone else just a bit of the joy these books had brought me, then I would have done something worth doing.
(It pains me to say that after a recent reread, the Belgariad at least doesn’t really hold up anymore, but if you’ve never read them before and you’re only starting out on your fantasy journey, then they are definitely worth diving into.)
The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time) – Robert Jordan
If you haven’t read WoT yet, then can you really call yourself a fantasy fan? Yes, it’s a 13-book series and yes, it does sag a bit in the middle, but trust me, you won’t regret dedicating a few months of your life to following Rand and the gang around. Finally, I got the heroic female cast I hadn’t known I’d been waiting for – Moiraine, Egwene, Nynaeve and the rest of the ladies play just as an important part in the events of the story as the boys do, and it was about time too. I still remember exactly where I was when I read the Final Battle, and almost a decade later I still have a book hangover after the series ended.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Harry Potter) – JK Rowling
No list would be complete without the Boy Who Lived on it. I was already in my twenties when I decided to see what all the fuss was about and I was hooked from the very first page. Even after multiple rereads, this series doesn’t disappoint and I still class myself and others I get to know into their respective Houses (I’m Ravenclaw, my hubby is Hufflepuff). I can’t believe there is anyone left who hasn’t read this yet, but I’m jealous of anyone who gets to discover it for the first time. Rowling made fantasy mainstream and no matter what you may think of her personally, she did us all a favour by writing this magical series.
If there are some books on this list you haven’t had the pleasure of reading yet, then what are you waiting for? They all come highly recommended!
(PS: This post contains affiliate links. They don’t cost you any extra, but if you buy something with them I will get a small fee to fuel my reading addiction. Thanks!)
Which fantasy books shaped your reading preferences? Is here anything that you would have added to this list?