"Lord of the Rings" looms over its genre like no other work of fiction in any other area. It forms the foundation of everything from the most successful pen and paper RPG ever in "Dungeons and Dragons" to the most successful MMO of all time in "World of Warcraft".

While it may be the most influential work of fiction on the genre, though, it's not the only one. Which got me to thinking about other favorite fantasy novels that influence how I think about other pieces in the genre, whether they be computer RPGs or movies.

I want to focus on fantasy novels for now, although certainly at some point you could also discuss influential movies, stand-alone games, or other genres like science fiction. For now, though, let's stick with fantasy novels.

One of the biggies for me was the "Dragonriders of Pern" series, partly because it was the first series I struggled with through its opening, only to be very glad I did. I liked how it took standard fantasy mainstays and merged them with science fiction explanations. "The Harper Hall of Pern" series also helped me appreciate the non-combat aspects of fantasy world building, understanding how interconnected a world has to be to make sense and how adventures can arise even if no one picks up a sword.

I discovered it too late for it to be formative, but for my money the "Vlad Taltos" novels by Steven Brust are among the best mature fantasy novels out there. I love the way magic and even more fantastic elements like resurrection are handled in a matter-of-fact way, which is how they ought to be if everyone is running about raiding dungeons all the time with Bags of Wonder on their belts.

I read and enjoyed the Xanth books when I was younger, but I can't say they influenced me particularly, since ultimately they're pretty derivative.

That's just the tip of the iceberg, but I didn't want to go on too much. I'm more interested in what fantasy novels influenced you (although my list of books that moved me has an awful lot of sci-fi on it), the ones that have stuck with you over the years and which inform your reaction to genre pieces you experience now. So sound off in the comments!

18 Responses to Influences

  1. Gene says:

    Wow, off the top of my head, The Pern and Zanth series were books I read when I was young.

    The Horseclans novels by Robert Adams
    Dilvish the Damned and The Changing Land by roger Zelzany
    The Doomfarers of Coramonde and The Star Followers of Coramonde by Brian Daley.
    The Original Dragonlance novels.

    Have to check my goodreads list later when I’m home…

  2. X-stacy says:

    I really loved (and still do, actually) the Fifth Millenium series by SM Stirling, Shirley Meier, and Karen Wehrstein. It was a shared universe, with each of the three authors bringing their own take on a sword and sorcery fantasy world that was actually our world, 3000 years after nuclear devestation. Sadly, I think Snowbrother by SM Stirling is the only book still in print. Different authors handling different areas of the world kept the world from feeling too homogeneous.

  3. Iago_Valentine says:

    Even though he’s a science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke has been a huge influence on me, and Frank Herbert falls into that category as well. More than any genre style, they’ve really informed the way I approach characters and build worlds.

    For strictly fantasy, William Nicholson’s Wind on Fire trilogy and Tad Williams’ Shadowmarch series were huge for me. Also, when I was young, Tamora Peirce and the Enchanted Forest Chronicles were my favorites. The Enchanted Forest in particular gave me the ideas that I now regularly use when writing magic.

  4. Me, Myself & I says:

    George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series is fantastic. Certainly a must read. Unfortunately only the first four books are published yet. The author is planning for seven in the series.

  5. Nick Hentschel says:

    For me…

    Douglas Adams, “The Hitchiker’s Trilogy” – This is THE big one: the oddball thinking and non sequiturs of the “Hitchhiker’s” books affect even my casual conversation! And I learned my British accent by imitating Arthur Dent.

    David Brin, the “Uplift” books – the intensely developed backdrop, revolving perspectives, and even his innovative use of fonts and typesetting in the Earthclan/Uplift books left a HUGE mark.

    J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit” – More influential on me than LOTR, because of its homey, good-humored writing style. This book takes epic fantasy and makes it seem natural and understandable. My favorite bit is how Tolkien relates Bullroarer Took’s inadvertent invention of golf; he should have included more jokes like that.

    Guy Gavriel Kay, “The Lions of Al-Rassan” and realted works – Kay taught me a whole new approach to fantasy, based on one-off variants of real, historical settings, and using them as an analogy for our own world. This supplied me with a whole new, and very productive, source of ideas!

  6. Owl_Poop says:

    Influential novels… novels, novels, novels…

    “The Masakado Lesson” by William Kennedy. Old school story of old school hackers in Japan. I get The Matrix because of it.
    “Pages of Pain” (D&D Planescape) by Troy Denning. Not knocking the Shannara series, but this one got me back on all things D&D when it came out, and kept me there.
    “End of the Circle” (Robotech #18) by Jack McKinney. I grew up on big robots, but this one has more character development than a DC Crisis can possibly muster. Yeah, quote me.
    “Spider-Man: Revenge of the Sinister Six” by Adam-Troy Castro. ‘Nuff said.
    “Green Lantern: Hero’s Quest” by Dennis O’Neil. This one is my favorite of the JLA series for two reasons. I like the GL mythos and although this story is more about K.Rayner, there’s plenty of GL spiritual philosophy in it. Yeah, the original space marines. Batman would disagree, though.

    Honestly, I was more influenced by the short stories in a science magazine titled “Omni”, and Greco-Roman mythology. TMI?

  7. Nick Hentschel says:

    Oh, yes: I forgot James Thurber’s “The Thirteen Clocks”: both tongue-in-cheek AND eerie, humorous and scary, equally accessible to both children and adults.

  8. Joshua says:

    Robert E. Howard’s various Solomon Kane stories: Kane, a Puritan adventurer, travels through Europe and Africa vanquishing vampires, werewolves, and demons. Now I know it could be considered horror by most purists, but I’d argue that it could also fall under the banner of fantasy. Also, I know when evoking Howard people expect ‘Conan’, but my tastes run toward cross-genre.

  9. Dan Gonzalez says:

    Fritz Leiber’s books were a big influence on me and the genre in general.

    I also loved the John Norman Gor books for the great adventures as well as the naughty BDSM vibe that got all the press.

    Moorcock was also an important author. He may have been the first antihero I ever read about, at least one to that extent.

  10. The Imp says:

    Formative fantasy novels for me? Hmmm.

    -The Belgariad, by David Eddings.
    -The Dragonbone Chair series, by Tad Williams.
    -The Eyes of the Dragon, by Stephen King.
    -Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay.
    -The original Shannara trilogy, by Terry Brooks.
    -Maia and Shardik, by Richard Adams.

    I’m sure there’s more, but those are the biggies that immediately spring to mind.

  11. Legatus says:

    Robert E. Howard’s “Conan”
    Karl Edward Wagner’s “Kane”
    Robert Asprin’s “Myth”-series (fantasy comedy at its best, just skip the internal monologoues of Skeeve)

    Steven Erikson’s “Malazan Books of the Fallen”-series (it just changed the way I think about fantasy; and: No Orcs!)

  12. Loki says:

    I’d have to say The Inheritance Cycle By Christopher Paolini, The Dresden Files By Jim Butcher, His Dark Materials, and…The Artemis Fowl Series, that I’ve read sense I was a wee kiddie. Have the whole thing, next one pre-order!

  13. Phatchick says:

    As a kid I read Jules Verne’s “10,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “Around the World in 80 Days”. Both set me looking at the world differently. I also like C. S. Lewis’ Narnia books, and Madeline L’Engle and Llyod Alexander’s work.
    As an adult, I’m more into hard Sci-Fi than Fantasy but I love Mercedes Lackey’s urban fantasies, Pratchett & Gaiman’s “Good Omens” and David Brin’s “The Practice Effect” (I love anything with a slightly twisted sense of humor).

  14. thejay says:

    Roger Zelazney’s “Amber” (all ten of them),Herbert’s “Dune”, Eddings’ “Belgariad”, Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time”, “Dragonlance Legends”, Tolkien (naturally), Robin Hobb’s “Farseer”, some of the works of Neil Gaiman, Pratchett’s “Discworld” and Douglas adams “Hitchhiker’s”, I’m not ashamed to mention J.K. Rowling, though HP probably won’t last 20 minutes in my world.
    Never read Narnia.
    Also “Girl Genius” webcomic.

    And on that note, I think everyone should read David Eddings’ “the Rivan Codex” – sort of behind the scenes and world-building view on his Belgariad. I don’t agree with everything written there, I think he’s too methodical in his approach, but it’s a good place to start:

    “For all those enthusiastic readers who want to become fantasy novelist I say: why don’t you pick something simpler, like rocket science or brain surgery?”

  15. Bael says:

    I read an awful lot of fantasy these days, but for truly formative, my big three are Tolkien, Aspirin’s Thieves World books, and the original Dragonlance trilogy. My current all time favorite is Mick Farren, but be warned. The man is truly and deeply weird.

  16. Oquies says:

    Wish I had read this entry earlier. One of the most influential fantasy books I have read was the “Death Gate Cycle” by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman. Its a future series as it turns out but you don’t know that till about the 5th or 6th book. It had an idea based on a ‘wave’ that all of existence is built on and when something goes too far in one direction (like what happened in the book) the ‘wave’ corrects itself. I have always liked to maintain balance in every thing I do now. lol

  17. Asherian says:

    My earliest fantasy book I can remember that really did leave an impact on fantasy to me, especially elves was Greendaughter by Anne Logston, also the Shadow series(Which greendaughter is a prequel to). Not a kids book but a great elf mythos.

    Mercedes Lackey Valdemar books are one of my core fantasy series, though I know its well.. girly.
    Wheel of time is my favorite “high” or epic fantasy book by far, still torn on the new author who’s finishing it(Though I like his other works) by Robert Jordan now Brandon Sanderson.
    The Vlad Taltos series has always been one of my favorites as well, for its interesting take on the human/elf as well as its matter of fact attitude towards the fantastic(Though technically it sa Sci-fi series I’ve got to point out).
    The Garrett P.I books by Glen cook, and Black Company are recent discoveries so not formative a’tall, but I wish they were!
    Last but not least is the Rhapsody trilogy(now 5-6 books) by Elizabeth Haydon. A fantastic look at the concept of prophecy, music as magic, and assassins with better hearts then they’ll admit, also? Dragons.

    I’ve read a lot of the others on the list, but these are the ones I know my mind uses for what a fantasy world Is, especially the sci-fi one.

  18. kingmonkey says:

    Hmmm, I seem to be going against the grain here, but my bigger D&D influences come from books like the Gormenghast trilogy, or movies like THX-1138.