Top 5 Fantasy Books Of All Time

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on November 26, 2009

Christmas is coming and you’re likely looking for a great gift to pick up for that good friend, sibling or yourself. With that in mind I took a look at my bookshelf and selected my top 5 fantasy books of all time. It was tough narrowing it down to only 5 titles, after all I’ve enjoyed most (if not all) of the fantasy novels I’ve read over the years.

I quickly realized that I could stretch the list to 10, 15, 20 books or more very easily. With that in mind I needed to define my criteria for selection. I decided the book had to have had a large impact on me. It had to be a book I had read more than once over the years. Finally, the book had to take the genre in a different direction for me.

Presented below are my top 5 fantasy books of all time in no particular order.

tolkien-fellowship-01J.R.R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings

Perhaps no explanations are needed or perhaps you’re thinking that this was an obvious choice. Perhaps you’d be right. However, Lord of the Rings has a special place in my catalogue because it was my first. I was introduced to this book in grade 5 and it was my introduction to fantasy literature. From that point on, there was no looking back. I can imagine that many others have similar stories. Tolkien was an innovator and without his writing much of our hobby might not exist in its current format.

moorcock-swords-of-corum-01Michael Moorcock – The Swords of Corum

Most people single out Elric as the #1 most identifiable Moorcock character, but the way Corum deals with his handicaps and then seeks revenge only to find it an empty desire was very satisfying. It was also my introduction to Moorcock’s writing and that is why it ranks above Elric on my list, though I must say I enjoy all of Moorcock’s work and recommend it.


gemmell-legend-01David Gemmell – Legend

David Gemmell is the king of heroic fantasy. Sadly he passed away on July 28, 2006. Legend was the first book written to feature Druss, heroic fantasy at it’s finest. I remember finding this book in the university book store in Durham, England while on vacation. It was a good find and I haven’t looked back since. Legend has been read many times over. My thoughts on Druss are that he does the kind of things we only wish our PCs could do.


cook-black-company-01Glen Cook – The Black Company

Gritty, dark fantasy at its best. The Black Company will change the way you look at fantasy literature. The story revolves around characters in a mercenary company. Cook’s use of language, imagery and the departure from high fantasy makes it a welcome change to the norms of the genre.



guy-gavriel-kay-summer-tree-01Guy Gabriel Kay – The Fionavar Tapestry

And so it came to pass that I read The Fionavar Tapestry. Perhaps it’s because Kay is a fellow Canadian, and that this series begins on the University of Toronto campus (a place Kay studied). Perhaps, it’s his ability to to merge myth and legend together that makes this series so compelling. Personally, it’s a blend of all of these, combined with his pacing, character development and original idea’s that made this series such a refreshing and enjoyable read.

Now I know I’m not the only one who has a top 5 list of fantasy novels. I’m always looking for something new to read, and I want to hear what 5 books you would select for your list.

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1 grue November 26, 2009 at 12:33 pm

1. Malazan Book of the Fallen – Steven Erikson
2. Prince of Nothing – Scott Bakker
3. The First Law – Joe Abercrombie
4. His Dark Materials – Philip Pulman
5. The Scar – China Mieville

Also, any book or story of the great H.P. Lovecraft who awakened my fantasy streak 22 years ago.

2 shyDM November 26, 2009 at 1:26 pm

Hey, I just picked up Legend and the Black Company yesterday at the used book store. I’m glad to know my gut feeling wasn’t off. 🙂

3 Anarkeith November 26, 2009 at 1:31 pm

Tough to argue with any of your choices. I’ll have to give Gemmel a try (I think I did once, but it didn’t stick then.) I like Elric over Corum, but the anti-hero thing has been overdone of late, IMO.

Howard’s Conan books, Lieber’s Fahfrd (where does that “h” go again?) and the Grey Mouser, Lewis’s Narnia chronicles, and Brust’s Vlad Taltos books would make my list alongside Tolkein.

4 Swordgleam November 26, 2009 at 3:58 pm

I have a hard time prioritizing things, and I’m more into urban fantasy lately. But I never miss a chance to suggest Patricia Briggs. She has some medieval fantasy, some urban fantasy, and all of it is fantastic. I’ve never read another author who so consistently hits the mark without being formulaic. Her fey are terrifying, her witches are beyond terrifying, her werewolves make sense, and her vampires are dark and arrogant without being over-the-top.

5 wickedmurph November 26, 2009 at 7:05 pm

Legend is very good, but I like Knights of Dark Renown and Waylander better. If you like Legend, treat yourself with those two.

My top 5 seem to be represented here already, albeit on different lists.

Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson – Chain of Dogs is the best fantasy war I’ve ever read.

Prince of Nothing – brilliant and interesting and epic.

Tolkien – good old Lord of the Rings.

Glen Cook’s Black Company

Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone by Greg Keyes.
.-= wickedmurph´s last blog ..4e Sandboxing =-.

6 Wimwick November 27, 2009 at 9:22 am

@ grue
I’ve had Steve Erikson’s works on my radar for sometime now. I’ll have to pick them up over the holiday’s.

@ shyDM
Solid choices!

@ Anarkeith
Howard is another author who I have neglected to pick up and I know that when I do I’ll be wondering what took me so long!

@ Swordgleam
I’m not familiar with Briggs, I’ll have to take a look. Thanks for the recommendation.

@ wickedmurph
Another Erikson recommendation, I really will need to find myself a copy. I’ll also be taking a look at the other books on your list, thanks!

7 Tracy November 28, 2009 at 9:01 pm

I just added Legend to my reading list. I can’t believe I had never heard of that book and the author before. I guess that’s why there are blogs like this.

8 vengeanceismine November 29, 2009 at 3:13 pm

not a top five but i do love me some conan and the wizard of earthsea by le guin was awesome
.-= vengeanceismine´s last blog ..Engineering and / or Producing Credits: Kurt Ballou =-.

9 ryan November 30, 2009 at 12:25 am

1. Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb (really, all of the Farseer and Fool Trilogies)
2. The Gunslinger by Stephen King
3. A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
4. Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey
5. To Green Angel Tower by Tad Williams (series starts with The Dragonbone Chair tho)

10 Wimwick November 30, 2009 at 8:42 am

@ Tracey
I hope you enjoy Legend and the rest of Gemmell’s catalogue.

@ vengeanceismine
I’m seriously thinking I need to go out and pick up some Conan.

@ ryan
The Gunslinger was a great read, not traditional fantasy but very enjoyable. I haven’t heard of Kushiel’s Dart and will need to look it up, thanks for the recommend. Assassin’s Apprentice is a great read, I still have to read more from Hobb. Martin and Williams were close to my top 5 and could easily have been substituted. Had I done the list as a top 10 you would have seen both of them on the list.

11 Lord Inar December 1, 2009 at 1:12 pm

My favorites are:
Karl Edward Wagner – Any, but Dark Crusade really sticks out
Robert E. Howard – Bran Mak Morn & Cormac Mac Art stories
Robert Asprin, et al. – Thieves World (First three)

12 Alisha December 7, 2009 at 10:34 pm

The first trilogy of the Kushiel series (Kushiel’s Dart, Kushiel’s Chosen, Kushiel’s Avatar) are incredible, Jacqueline Carey has fantastic imagery. Until I stumbled across this series thinking they were about vampires, my fantasy fiction background consisted mainly of Forgotten Realms books. The rest of my list? The Hobbit, The Crystal Shard, and Legend.

13 Galstaff February 23, 2010 at 4:08 am

Grue, props for Malazan book of the fallen. That is my all time favorite book. Also props for the name. Yeah, I reccommend that anybody who has not read it immediately remedy the situation.

Of course, Tolkien has to be right up top of the list. fourth grade for me

Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy was well done, and he looks to be a promising new author

I actually managed to enjoy Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, although at times it can be difficult to get through. Long and overly descriptive.

I remember Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, by Stephen Donaldson, being good, but it has been awhile since i read it. and their was a third trilogy i have yet to read.

14 Brent May 13, 2011 at 7:17 pm

I know its cheesie but I really like the Drizzt series. Got me back into DnD after a 15 year hiatus. I know its not a classic but fun none the less.

15 Tinimir March 27, 2012 at 10:32 am

I really liked the Magician series by Raymond Feist. I read the first book before it was split into two.

16 Michael May 16, 2013 at 3:23 pm

1) The Lord of the Rings – of course
2) Dragonlance chronicles – First introduction to D&D. It has one of the best opening chapters I have read. You get to know the characters and the world by their actions, not by a narrator telling you.
3) Don Quixote – Who can forget the greatest knight-errant to ever draw a sword or court a lady, undaunted by bandits, giants or reality itself. If RPG/LARPing had existed in his day maybe he would have lived a quiet life.
4) The Wheel of Time – The most detailed expansive world I’ve ever read. It provided me thousands of hours of reading, imagining and debating the story with friends. On the other hand it consumed thousand of hours of reading, imagining, and debating the story with friends.
5) The Chronicles of Prydain – As a child I probably identified with Taran more than any other character I had ever read. Somehow, Lloyd Alexander wrote a story about growing up that resonated with me more than any other. When I was an adolescent and young teen trying to figure out where I was headed in life, I probably read Taran Wanderer a dozen times, as Taran dealt with similar issues (plus people trying to kill him).

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