MIND MELD: What Book Introduced You to Fantasy?

We’ve already covered first science fiction books, now it’s time to flip the coin with this week’s panelists. So we asked them:

Q: What book introduced you to fantasy?

Check below to see their responses. And tell us what book got you hooked!

Brandon Sanderson
Brandon Sanderson is the author of Elantris and the Mistborn trilogy.

Brandon was chosen to complete Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. That book, The Gathering Storm will be available in October 2009 and can be sampled on Tor.com.

The first fantasy I was ever given was Tolkien. For many, perhaps, that would be the end of the story. But I wasn’t a terribly good reader at the time, and though I read and enjoyed the The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings was like a big brick wall. I slammed right into it and couldn’t get past the barrow scene.

And so, I figured fantasy was boring stuff and went back to video games. (Atari 2600–state of the art.)

The real breakthrough came when I hit 8th grade. A teacher assigned me to do a book report, and I tried with all my conniving little heart to get her to let me do mine on one of the Three Investigators novels (which I’d enjoyed reading in second or third grade.) The result of this little power struggle was me, sullenly slinking to the back of the room where she kept her cart of books, bearing the instructions that I HAD to pick one of those to read.

And there, sitting in full Michael-Whelan-Covered-Glory, was Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly. I think angels might have sung (though it was probably the school choir class next door.) Anyway, that was beginning of the end for me. I LOVED that book; and right next to it in the card catalogue at school was a listing for Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey.

Eddings, Melanie Rawn, and Williams came next. I was thoroughly a fantasy super-geek by the time 1990 rolled around, and Eye of The World was published.

Daryl Gregory
Daryl Gregory‘s first novel, Pandemonium, is currently on the short list for the 2009 World Fantasy Award. His second novel, The Devil’s Alphabet, will be out in November, 2009. His short fiction has appeared in F&SF, Asimov’s, Eclipse, and a variety of year’s-best anthologies. He won the 2009 Crawford Award for best new fantasy writer.

The first fantasy I can remember reading was The Phantom Tollbooth, that classic by Norton Juster, with all those line drawings by Jules Feiffer. Of course, when you’re nine or ten you don’t know it’s a classic, you just think that you, personally, have discovered the greatest book ever written.

Check it, people: Milo gets his own electric car, meets his own -watch- dog, Tock, solves riddles, saves kingdoms… Is there anything cooler? The impression it made never faded. Years later, when my kids were old enough, I forced them to sit still while I read it aloud to them (though I didn’t have to force them for long — the story moves.) And I was happy to discover that not only did I pick up on jokes and puns that went straight over my head the first time, the story still engaged me.

A couple of years ago I was finally able to use my love for the story in a story of my own. “Unpossible,” which was published in F&SF, came from wondering about Milo after he grew up and became middle aged. Would the car still work for him? Could he go back to the Lands Beyond? (The answer is yes. And no.)

So I owe Mr. Juster many times over. I can’t wait to read Tollbooth to my grandchildren.

Patrick Rothfuss
Patrick Rothfuss is the author of the well-received Name of the Wind (the first book of The Kingkiller Chronicle) which won the Quill Award, was named as Best Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly and the SF Site Readers’ Poll, and was a New York Times bestseller. He also blogs at his website.

Asking what book introduced me to fantasy is kinda like asking me what book introduced me to English. Fantasy wasn’t something I was introduced to, it was something I was immersed in from the very beginning. When I was little, I had a record of The Hobbit and the accompanying read-along book. At night my mom read to me out of a huge book of bible stories. I also enjoyed Winnie the Pooh. There were no dividing lines between these things. They were all just stories. And honestly, honestly, that’s an opinion I carry with me to this day.

But still, there is a first book of sorts.

When I was a kid, I was really reluctant to leave picture books behind. I loved to read, but I simply wasn’t interested in making the move to “adult” books. That is, books that were nothing but text. I could read them just fine, they just seemed really boring to me.

My mom, on the other hand, was tired of taking me to the library, maxing out her library card with picture books, then having me read all of them in a day.

So she made kind of a production of it. We went to Waldenbooks in the mall and she bought me the boxed set of the Narnia Chronicles. She said, “You’re getting to be quite the young man now. I think you’re ready for these.”

Laura Resnick
Laura Resnick is the author of such fantasy novels as Disappearing Nightly, In Legend Born, The Destroyer Goddess, and The White Dragon, which made the “Year’s Best” lists of Publishers Weekly and Voya. She is also the Campbell Award-winning author of sixty short stories. Her most recent book is Rejection, Romance, and Royalties: The Wacky World of a Working Writer, a nonfiction collection of her columns and essays on the writing life. Laura’s upcoming releases include The Purifying Fire (July 2009) and Doppelgangster (January 2010). You can find her on the Web at www.LauraResnick.com.

At thirteen, I read The Once and Future King, which probably qualifies as the first “adult” fantasy I ever read (and it took me nearly a year to read it!), and that led me to reading Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy a year or two later, The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment.

But probably the first-ever “traditional” fantasy novel I read-a novel set in a make-believe world and involving wizards and magic, good and evil, and a quest (in this case, to stop the villain)-was The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs. It’s often classified as a YA novel, and I was indeed young when I read it (fifteen years old), but I’ve also read it multiple times as an adult, and I always thoroughly enjoy revisiting that book.

Bellairs’ novel had a formative influence on my ideas about fantasy storytelling in many ways. It’s both wondrous and prosaic; the lead character faces towering magical events and saves the world… but he also deals with mundane practical problems, which makes him accessible and real, despite his extraordinary skills and magical world. The book is terrifying and funny by turns, and that sort of sensibility has always attracted me as a reader and influenced me as a writer. Like all good fantasy (in my opinion), the book is about fundamental human issues, such as friendship, loyalty, duty, sacrifice, betrayal, greed, facing your demons, dealing with consequences, choosing your path in life, and-of course-good and evil. And, overall, it just has a wonderful atmosphere that makes me want to crawl inside the novel and live there when I’m reading it-and I consider that an essential quality of good fantasy writing: to lure the reader into your elaborate world, rather than to bludgeon the reader with your world-building.

I will add that I didn’t try Lord of the Rings until I was in my early twenties… and, frankly, I found it tedious. Just not my sort of thing. (I found the recent movie trilogy tedious, too.) Upon learning this about me, many people have declared with shocked dismay that We Can No Longer Be Acquainted. So if that’s your reaction, too-well, get in line!

Karen Miller
Karen Miller is an Australian speculative fiction novelist who writes under her own name, and the pen name K.E. Mills. Her epic historical fantasy novels include the Kingmaker/Kingbreaker duology, the Godspeaker trilogy and The Prodigal Mage, book 1 of the Fisherman’s Children duology. She’s also written Star Wars and Stargate SG-1 novels. As Mills, she writes the Rogue Agent fantasy series. Book 1, The Accidental Sorcerer and book 2 Witches Incorporated are now available in the US and the UK. She’s been a finalist for both the Australian Aurealis and the James Tiptree Jr. awards.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away — Hornsby Heights Primary School, to be exact — my school librarian introduced me to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I was about 9. And honestly? That was it. After reading that book, that was my life in fiction. (She also introduced me to Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven and Famous Five novels and that was the other half of my reading passion completed. Speculative Fiction and Crime … my two great genre loves.) Anyhow, getting back to Narnia …

I devoured the rest of the series as fast as I could, after reading that first amazing Narnia book. I still re-read them to this day, and I get just as upset now over the awful things that happen as I did when I was a little tyke in baby school. And that to me is a testament to the power of a great story. I refuse to be jaded and cynical about the Narnia books. Of course when I read them as an adult I’m able to recognise Lewis’ cultural and philosophical foundations. Whatever quibbles I might or might not have with them now, in 2009, decades later, take nothing away from the raw emotional impact of the story. I love all those characters, especially wonderfully brave little Reepicheep. I hurt anew for Edmund and his terrible choices and the pain that follows from them. I admire Lucy’s steadfastness. I rejoice when Prince Caspian is returned to his rightful place on the throne. I laugh at Trumpkin’s grumpiness. I confess I find Peter the least interesting of them all because he never truly struggled with anything, not like Edmund and Eustace, say. I’m most drawn to characters who suffer.

I love that those books remind me of the innocent enthusiasms of childhood reading, a time before the adult world intrudes. They remind of what it feels like to get so lost in a world not our own that only the made-up world exists. I suspect I’ll re-read them until I drop dead of old age.

Gail Z. Martin
Gail Z. Martin is the author of the Chronicles of the Necromancer fantasy adventure series, with The Summoner (2007), The Blood King (2008) and Dark Haven (2009). (See the series website at www.chroniclesofthenecromancer.com.) She’s also the host of Ghost in the Machine fantasy podcast.

I came into fantasy through the back door of YA horror back in the mid 1970s (of course, it wasn’t called YA then), and from reading folklore and regional collections of ghost stories. Then I found out there was a genre that included all of that, along with dragons and castles and I was hooked. I think the first “fantasy” book I remember was Jane–Emily by Patricia Clapp (which I’m glad to see has finally been reissued after being out of print for a long time). I also devoured anything by Poe and then Tolkien and so by the mid-to-late 1970s was thoroughly hooked.

Jane Lindskold
Jane Lindskold, author of Wolf series and Thirteen Orphans, has just released her nineteenth novel, Nine Gates. She has also had published over fifty short stories and assorted non-fiction. For more details, check out janelindskold.com.

Mythology was my route into fantasy. I know that by the time I was eight I had taken the two volumes of D’Aulaires’ mythology (Norse Gods and Giants and Book of Greek Myths) out of the library so often that I thought of them as “mine.” I had read the full Iliad and Odyssey by the time I was nine.

One of my “aunts” (Meredith Compton) gave me George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie for my tenth birthday. She gave me P.L. Traver’s Mary Poppins in the Park for my eleventh. I don’t know if these were my earliest “fantasy” titles, but I do know that since I owned them, rather than having to take them out from the library, I read them over and over.

Patrick St-Denis
Pat can be found blogging at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist.

Like many people from my generation, I was introduced to the fantasy genre by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragons of Autumn Twilight. I read the Dragonlance Chronicles as fast as my weekly allowance allowed, and then saved my pennies to buy the Dragonlance Legends. There was something inherently cool about that little band of heroes setting out against gods, dragons, and dragon highlords. The characterization was — to the mind of a twelve-year-old newbie — top notch.

No matter what the franchise became afterwards, there are millions of us who still have fond memories of Tanis, Caramon, Sturm, Laurana, Kitiara, Raistlin, Tass, and the rest of the gang. To this day, I continue to recommend the Dragonlance Chronicles to every young reader who wants to get into the genre.

Funny thing, though, is that I didn’t understand English all that well back in those days. Which means that I read Dragons of Autumn Twilight with the help of a French/English dictionary. As you know, Raistlin walked around with the Staff of Magius, and I didn’t know what a staff was. And my stupid dictionary said that a staff was a group of people working in an office, etc. So I was forced to wait till my English class the following Monday to ask my teacher. When she began by telling me it was a group of people working somewhere, I guess I made a face because she promptly added that it was some kind of big stick. Dumbass I may have been (still is, according to many!), but I sure as hell knew that Raistlin wasn’t walking around with a group of co-workers!

Kate Elliott
Kate Elliott is the author of the Crown of Stars fantasy series and the Jaran science fiction novels. Her most recent novels are Spirit Gate and Shadow Gate.Besides having her own blog, Kate is one of the co-bloggers at Deep Genre.

I’m going sideways on this one.

The single most influential books of my early childhood are the first chapter books I remember reading, and I read and re-read and re-re-read those particular books so many times that I still have a visceral memory of the words on the page, my hands holding the individual volume, and breathing in that experience, which entirely engrossed the young me.

I’m talking about my father’s childhood copies of Thornton Burgess’s Mother West Wind tales (we had several volumes). These are talking animal books, set in the “natural” world and with the animals and the wind (etc) anthropomorphized, so I’m going to call that fantasy. I continued to read animal stories of all kinds into junior high (what we in ancient days called what is now middle school); meanwhile, I was sliding bit by bit, via the cheap paperback Scholastic Books which we could buy at school, into fantastical and science fictional stories, although even then I tended to go for stories that had animals in them.

The next narrative that had an equivalent impact was The Lord of the Rings, which I read when I was in 8th grade (13 years old).

Violette Malan
Violette Malan lives in a nineteenth-century farmhouse in southeastern Ontario with her husband. Born in Canada, Violette’s cultural background is Spanish and Polish, which makes it interesting at meal times. She has worked as a teacher of creative writing, English as a second language, Spanish, beginner’s French, and choreography for strippers. On occasion she’s been an administrative assistant and a carpenter’s helper. Her most unusual job was translating letters between lovers, one of whom spoke only English, the other only Spanish. Her latest novel is The Storm Witch. Visit Violette’s website: www.violettemalan.com.

When I was eight years old my only very slightly older brother, Oscar Malan, told me about a book I should read about kids who went through a wardrobe into another world and met a witch, and a lion and had great adventures. Obviously the book was C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The very next time I was in the children’s room of the public library with my grade three class I asked for the book. The cute new boy in class overheard me, and asked me about it. Apparently charmed by my enthusiastic description, he carried the book home for me. So, not only my first fantasy read, but my first cute boy carrying my books home from school. I think this created a pattern of good luck, as I went on to read other fantasy and SF, and eleven years after this first experience I met my husband in a library. My brother gets a nod in the acknowledgements of my first fantasy novel, The Mirror Prince. In a related story, it was also my brother Oscar who recommended my first SF novel, Have Space Suit – Will Travel. He now owns a bookstore where he can recommend things to his heart’s content.

Ken Scholes
Ken Scholes is the author of the Psalms of Isaak, a five volume epic fantasy series published by Tor. The first volume, Lamentation, is available in stores now and the second volume, Canticle, releases in October 2009. Ken’s short story collection, Long Walks, Last Flights and Other Strange Journeys is available from Fairwood Press. Ken lives in Saint Helens, OR, with his wife, Jen West Scholes, and their twin daughters Rachel and Elizabeth. He invites readers to look him up at www.kenscholes.com

The first book that introduced me to fantasy was The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. It pulled me into a dark winter and I think it was the first time I fell into a book so thoroughly. I remember feeling different when I put it down. I’d just started reading chapter books and my librarian recommended it. And then, The Hobbit anchored me firmly in place. Those two books are books I cherish to this day and I’m looking forward to reading them to my daughters.

David Anthony Durham
David Anthony Durham has written both historical novels (Gabriel’s Story, Walk Through the Darkness) and fantasy (Acacia: The War With the Mein). He has won the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Fiction Award and the Legacy award for fiction. He currently teaches in the MFA program at California State University, Fresno.

The Hobbit. Not exactly original, but true. I don’t know how I came across it, but I read it during a summer holiday, visiting my father in Trinidad when I was twelve. My reading of The Hobbit was done mostly on the back porch of a small cottage on that tropical island. Every so often I’d look up and watch the wild fires erupt across the hills in the distance, the sky filled with vultures circling through the smoke. I’d wipe curry-flavored sweat from my forehead and get distracted every now and then by lizards running up the wall. And… I’d read about Bilbo and Gandalf and the gang.

It didn’t matter where I was or how far removed Port of Spain was from Middle Earth. It didn’t matter that I was living in a world of brown-skinned people, none of whom had any real representatives in Tolkien’s pages. It didn’t matter that dragons and elves and dwarves had no place in my father’s life.

Or… Well… Maybe it did matter. Maybe the significant thing was just that fact; that I was falling into a universe so outside my own home life or experience. In some ways I was a fairly well traveled kid, but having my passport stamped with entry to Middle Earth was just as formative an experience as any flight toward the equator. It’s one I took with friends known only to me (or so it seemed) to places that felt especially created for me to explore.

A few years later – when I met the crew that joined me for long sessions of D&D – I started to understand just how many other people had befriended Tolkein’s characters. That was nice too, but I was formed as an adolescent by having to reach outside of the norms presented me for a creative life. It was a solitary thing: me, the books, and the characters I secretly found inside them. That’s how I’ll always remember it.

Alma Alexander
Alma Alexander is a fantasy novelist writing for both “grown-up” (The Secrets of Jin Shei, Hidden Queen, Changer of Days) and YA (Worldweavers trilogy: Gift of the Unmage, Spellspam, Cybermage) audiences. Her work has been translated into 14 languages worldwide (including Hebrew, Catalan, Lithuanian and Turkish). She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, two cats, and assorted visiting wildlife. Visit her at www.AlmaAlexander.com, or check out her blog at http://anghara.livejournal.com.

Urban fantasy (by the likes of Charles de Lint) which is set in pretty much our reality with a bunch of fascinating things slipping through the cracks to make our lives difficult has always had its own fascination.

Before that…the two authors who drew my attention to historical fantasy – and by that I mean an “alternate reality” world (but with characters who were Real People in our own reality, as it were) or a world just a TWEAK different from ours, or a world where the history is awfully familiar but you can’t QUITE place anything until you realise that the author has taken our history and shuffled it like a pack of playing cards and re-created something that seems as though you should recognise it but you get thwarted by the fact that you’re looking at a zebra with a rhino horn… – were Judith Tarr and Guy Gavriel Kay. Judith Tarr’s Hound and Falcon trilogy – and its two follow-ups, Alamut and The Dagger and the Cross – were a revelation to me; Kay’s recreations of an alternate Provence (Song for Arbonne) or medieval Spain in El Cid’s time (The Lions of Al-Rassan) made me into a die-hard fan, and his Tigana is one of the best books I’ve ever read, EVER, bar none.

Before that, there was Rober Zelazny and Amber – books which acted like magic mushrooms to my imagination, opening my mind to seeing things JUST out of my line of sight, teaching me that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE – that anything at all that can happen, and some things that you think can’t, usually will happen eventually if you only wait long enough…

Before THAT, there was the epic – THE epic – The Lord of the Rings, the thing that taught me scope and range and reach and the power of history and background and lives that were lived long before your own but which still reach out to touch yours, just as yours will someday touch in some unexpected way the life of someone else as yet unborn who will somehow change because you will have lived.

Before that… there was the so-called “simpler” stuff. Narnia. Before that, the fairy tales (the original versions, thank you. I grew up with the Hans Christian Andersen tearjerkers, and the unbowdlerised Cinderella where blood dripped out of glass slippers as heels and toes were cut off for a foot to fit. The things that taught me the basics – how to tell right from wrong, how to survive in a wild forest, how to talk to animals and how to revere a lion (because he was not a TAME lion) called Aslan, how to fly on the wind or weep tears of pearl or go to lands that were west of the moon and east of the sun.

Before that, there were the mythologies of the world – Slavic, Norse, Greek, Roman, Celtic, Oriental, Polynesian, Amerind, Aboriginal. Back, my friends. Back to the dawn of time.

My relationship to fantasy has been that of Scheherezade and her stories. Always, always, there is one more tale to tell, a new place to go, a new person to be.

I have thousands of books. Thousands of voices whisper in my library. Thousands of worlds live and breathe side by side, trapped between covers. Every one of those books “introduced me” to fantasy. The debt is vast, and shared amongst many.

Hal Duncan
Hal Duncan was born in 1971, brought up in a small town in Ayrshire, and now lives in the West End of Glasgow. A member of the Glasgow SF Writers Circle, his first novel, Vellum, won the Spectrum Award and was nominated for the Crawford, the BFS Award and the World Fantasy Award. As well as the sequel, Ink, he has published a poetry collection, Sonnets for Orpheus, a stand-alone novella, Escape from Hell!, and various short stories in magazines such as Fantasy, Strange Horizons and Interzone, and anthologies such as Nova Scotia, Logorrhea, and Paper Cities. He also collaborated with Scottish band Aereogramme on the song “If You Love Me, You’d Destroy Me” for the Ballads of the Book album from Chemikal Underground.

Easy one. The Borribles by Michael de Larrabeiti is the book that set my whole perception of fantasy, back when I was a mere nipper — I couldn’t tell you exactly how old, but I’d guess about eight or nine. It’s possible that I read C.S. Lewis before, but Narnia is allegory, right? So fuck that Christian shit. Besides, everyone gets The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe foisted on them in school, so it doesn’t count. No, The Borribles is the first fantasy book I discovered for myself, and it pretty much set the mould for the type of fantasy I’ve been interested in ever since. I’d call it urban fantasy, if that term hadn’t been co-opted to something else. What it is, is one of those fantasies in which our world is permeated by the fantastic, more Neil Gaiman than Terry Brooks. You don’t have to go through a portal to find a magic polder, a refuge from reality. The fantastic doesn’t invade via some rift, as a terrible threat to be averted. No, it’s just there already, in the seams, the interstices, the back-alleys and side-streets of our world.

See, the book sort of turns a savagely cynical eye on two cherished childhood fictions — Peter Pan and The Wombles — takes them round the back of the bike sheds and gives them a sound drubbing. The Borribles are what the Lost Boys would really be like, stripped of all the wistful sentimentality of Neverland. There’s no fairytale island here; this is 70s London and Borribles are thieving little street oiks, runaways who’ve decided that growing up is a mug’s game and they’re just not going to bother. Instead these pointy-eared punks live in squats, stealing electricity, food, clothes, whatever they need to survive, always in danger of being caught by the fuzz, who’ll clip their ears if they catch them — causing them to grow up after all, the worst possible fate a Borrible can imagine. Meanwhile, their deadly foes, the “rumbles,” are what the wombles would really be like — giant rodents armed with “rumble sticks”, lethal staff-weapons with a six-inch-nail embedded in the top, giant rats who live in a vast warren underneath “Rumbledon Common.” With their lisping hatred for those “howwible bowwibles,” and their somewhat poncy ways, there’s more than a hint of class war here. There’s as much Steerpike as Artful Dodger in your average Borrible, and you can’t help but feel that, with the rumbles, the author is taking a pop at all the bourgeois bollocks of children’s fiction for and by the middle-classes. This is what you’d get if Roald Dahl had been into the Clash.

The plot? Every Borrible has to earn his name in an adventure, see, so a Dirty Dozen style team of unnamed Borribles is brought together — one from every borough — on a mission of assassination. Each takes the name of their target, a member of the rumble High Command — Napoleon, Torreycanyon, Vulgaria, and so on. And not only do you get the perils and shenanigans as the heroes cross London; when they finally get into the rumble base, the methods of killing are… brutally inventive, to say the least. All I’ll say is that the sequel has a decapitation by shovel, in a Wandsworth sewer, with all manner of scabrous adventure leading up to it. The result is fun of the most vicious kind, a trilogy of tales with all the adventure, betrayal, slaughter, larceny, slavery, intrigue and redemption any blood-thirsty kid could hope for. The Borribles books piss on everything Enid Blyton ever wrote, and they’re probably the reason I never could take Tolkien that seriously. Furry-footed little critters that live underground and fuss over high tea and tiffin? Sounds like effing rumbles to me, mate. Bollocks to ‘em.

49 thoughts on “MIND MELD: What Book Introduced You to Fantasy?”

  1. I remember being read the Hobbit when I was at primary school and enjoying it, but it didn’t really stick. The books that really made fantasy stick for me where Susan Cooper’s ‘The Dark is Rising’ novels which I borrowed from the library at the librarians insistence, this was then followed up by David Eddings Belgariad, which i borrowed the 1st novel of then went and used my pocket money to buy the entire series because the library only had the 1st book in the series.

    After that came the 1st Dragonlance trilogy and then I got into Midkemia thanks to Feist and my future book reading for probably the next 20 years was 90% fantasy.

  2. Raymond Feist’s Rift War companion trilogy (the ones set in the bad guys’ dimension) got me started.  I was a sci-fi snob who ignored fantasy, but my friends got me the Feist trilogy for my birthday.  I’m pretty OCD about books (if I read a book, I read all the books set in the same continuity), so the rest of Feist’s books followed.

    Nowadays I’m back to sci-fi, but I still read an occasional fantasy novel.

  3. Surprised nobody mentioned Where the Wild Things Are, which was probably the book that did it for me. I think I was five? I must have read that book a hundred times. When I finally got to grade school, I developed fast as a reader and in first grade discovered The Phantom Tollbooth and thought it was brilliant and funny and I think I really wanted to try multiplication stew…

  4. I got into reading Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Avalon series and that did it for me. I was hooked.

     

  5. I started in to fantasy with The Chronicles of Narnia, though I also credit A Wrinkle In Time.  I know, it’s generally considered sci-fi, but I feel it has some fantasy elements too.

  6. I can’t be sure what the first book was, but the one that got me hooked for all time was Lloyd Alexander’s Taran Wanderer.  I knew, even at the tneder age of about 8, that they were simplistic and a little silly, maybe, and I didn’t care.   He made it all real, even the stuff that couldn’t be.  More, he made it all matter.

    A few years before Mr. Alexander died, I got a copy of Taran Wanderer signed by him.  It still has a place of honor on my bookshelves.

  7. After the Narnia books, the ones that really captured my imagination were the Xanth books by Piers Anthony.  Surprised no one’s mentioned him.  Some of it was a little much for a grade schooler, but I think anything risque went over my head anyway.

  8. Laura Resnick:  That is so great!!  I was the one who put THE FACE IN THE FROST into the Ace paperback fantasy line (oh, boy, that Lundgren cover brings it all back….) – I was just out of college, in my first job as an underling in publishing, but I’d read this great book when *I* was a teenager – found it in the kids’ section of the public library, I think – I read it over and over, and when I discovered it had never been put into paperback, I made Ace grab the rights!  It makes me stupidly happy to know that was Your Book.

    Hal Duncan:  . . . and same to you!  I’m sure you read the original British pub of BORRIBLES – but that was another one I grabbed for Ace Books while I was trying to introduce strong fantasy to the American paperback buyer.

    I guess I should answer the original question now.  Hmm….

  9. I’m with Ken Scholes. It was Susan Cooper’s “The Dark is Rising” series. I reread the series on a yearly basis and frequently want to write a YA series to honor her and the fact that she is the reason I am an author today.

  10. I got to fantasy by a meandering path.  I heard The Hobbit in 4th grade as our teacher read it to us, only to be stopped midway because Christian parents did not want it read to their children.  After years of my own adventures in fundamentalism, I began reading mythology heavily, and then found recordings of Poe’s work by Lorne Greene and Vincent Price in the school library.  I can still hear Greene’s opening invocation of “The Cask of Amontillado.”  I read all of the Poe and then started looking for other stuff to read, but instead of pointing me towards Gothic works, the librarian handed me John Carter, Warlord of Mars.  I devoured it, and the rest of the series, and from there I began to seek out fantasy avidly.  I found Howard, L’Engle, Beagle, and, upon entering high school, The Hobbit again, this time to read completely for myself.

  11. A WRINKLE IN TIME, by Madeline L’Engle. I’d read other fantasy works before then (hadpreviously  fallen in love with Narnia and the wonderful world of Lloyd Alexander and Tolkein’s THE HOBBIT), but there was a scienc e fiction edge to A WRINKLE that pulled me in a new and unseen direction.

  12. For me it was Terry Brooks’ “Sword of Shannara”  I read it in the back of the car during a fly-drive holiday to Florida and never had my head out of the book.

  13. My dad read THE LOST PRINCESS to me when I was four. Excepting the Sesame Street bedtime book, that was probably my first remembered exposure.

  14. Aren’t 90% of children’s books fantasy? Didn’t most of us learn to read with fantasy? Cat in the Hat, anyone?

  15. I was about to say that my first fantasy were the Weis/Hickman Dragonlance books, but I think I must have read The Neverending Story by Michael Ende at least 5 years before that.  The book is genius, the movie is not, and that’s where I must have fallen in love with fantasy.

  16. The Chronicles of Prydain (Black Cauldron, High King, etc.) were the first all word fantasy books I read.  Followed closely by Narnia and the Dragonlance books.  My memories of those series of books are very vivid, eventhough I haven’t read them in over 25 years.  I would tend to agree that Narnia doesn’t count, as it is pushed onto kids.

  17. I can’t believe no one said “A Wrinkle in Time,” by Madeleine L’Engle! That was the one that introduced an “other-worldly” element to my own world.

  18. Very interesting.  Its always a treat to find out how someone else got interested in my favorite genre :)  And I’m always a bit disappointed that I’m the only one who got there by reading “The Wind in the Willows”…..

  19. I’ll skip children’s books, fairy tales, and such stuff. Fantasy, perhaps, but there was no perception of the books as fantasy at the time. No, it was reading the Frtiz Lieber short stories featuring Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser that got me started on the genre. I remember reading them and thinking “Wow, this is terrific!” I read all of the stories, then started looking for something else as enjoyable. Somehow that led me to Robert E. Howard, then L. Sprague DeCamp and finally I discovered Tolkein. Later I loved The Book of Skaith by Leigh Brackett and moved on to Eddings, Hambly, Rawn, Sawyer, Saberhagen, and the rest.

    Oh, in response to Dawn’s comment above, I read and loved The Wind in the Willows, but had no idea it was “fantasy”, I just thought it was an children’s book with talking animals. A matter of terminology…

  20. Ellen Kushner: And do you know, THE FACE IS IN THE FROST is out of print once again, and second-hand copies of it (including the Ace edition) are going for astronomical sums online?

     

    I wish someone would reprint that wonderful book again!

     

    LauraR

  21. Setting aside fantastical kids books like Dr. Seuss, the first book books that introduced me to fantasy were all quasi fantasy, more Science Fantasy than anything else.

    I don’t remember which came first, but I do remember reading them all at about the same time, so I’ll throw them out in no particular order.

    My dad had a really phenomenal paperback library, and I just lost myself in it at an early age.

    The first is one you don’t normally see on such lists; “The Glory Road,” by Robert Heinlein. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense. I started with Daybreak:2250 AD (aka Star Man’s Son) by Andre Norton and then moved right into the Heinlein juveniles. But after I plowed through all of those, I kept going into Stranger In A Strange Land, followed by The Glory Road. This was a different Heinlein, and strayed from classic SciFi. It was weird and it was subversive and it was, well, glorious.

    I ran across Doc Smith’s Lensman series (and what is space opera, really, but another kind of science fantasy?).

    About the same time, I was heavily into Edgar Rice Burroughs, and ate up both John Carter, Warlord of Mars (and the series on Mars) followed by Tarzan, The Ape Man (and that series).

    I was a huge Zelazny fan, and discovered his Amber series. Were they fantasy? Were they SciFi? All I knew is that Corwin was a bada$$ and I wanted my own set of teleporting Trump cards and the ability to walk through Shadow.

    I remember Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, but that’s another series which was science fantasy.

    I don’t think I got to what you might consider serious fantasy until I discovered Mary Stewart and her Merlin trilogy, The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment.

    I still haven’t made it all the way through LOTR or Harry Potter, preferring more Science Fantasy such as Gene Wolfe’s ‘Book of the New Sun.’

  22. What about Katherine Kerr and Daggerspell? I remember reading that in middle school and that did it for me – I was hooked on fantasy and couldn’t wait to read the rest of the series.  Then Guy Gavriel Kay and the Fionvar Tapestry series cemented it my love affair which hasn’t ebbed in the last 25 years. 

  23. My first was Stewart’s Trilogy. I was 12. Seeking a similar thrill, I found found LOTR and fell in love.  No one’s mentioned Anya Seton’s Green Darkness, but that book stuck with me for a long, long time.

  24. Harry Potter?  Anyone?  Or is no one old enough yet?  I was 25 years old, and that got me into reading.

    And I totally agree with Hal Duncan…

  25. I’m another one who has to go with The Hobbit.  I was 8 years old and trying out for a community theater production and thought I should read it before I auditioned.  Didn’t get a part, but I did finish the book in one sitting and fantasy shot to the top of my genre list. 

  26. Holy moly.  I can’t believe that no one mentioned the Oz books by L. Frank Baum.

    An obvious precursor to Tolkein, Le Guin, L’Engle, Lewis, Alexander, MacDonald, and everything else here.  Full of wonder and magic.  Wonderful!

  27. My father read me the first book in the Chronicles of Amber out loud, and I was completely hooked. He couldn’t read to me as fast as I could for myself, so I read the rest over the course of the next week. After that I begged him for more books. He first gave me Piers Anthony’s Spell for Chameleon and then Orson Scott Card’s Hart’s Hope.  Then I started devouring all of the Salvatore books I could find. Pretty much a fantasy junkie ever since (with an occasional Science Fiction thrown in for good measure).

  28. First was A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin.  My brothers and I each received a book in the Earthsea trilogy in our Christmas stockings.  I remember I got the third installment. My oldest brother got the first, but since he didn’t like to read I snagged it.  I was about 8 and it hooked me.  Poor Syfy channel adaptations aside, I still love the stories of Ged the Sparrowhawk.

  29. The Hobbit.  Third grade second semester.  Three times.  :) Been terribly in love with it all ever since.  

  30. I’d say 4th grade, Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain. Awesome books which were soon followed by Anne McCaffrey, David Eddings, Mercedes Lackey, Tad Williams etc…

  31. I started with the Lord of the Rings, like a lot of people, but I got into it through the awful cartoon that got made in the 70s – it was on television one night when I was about 13, and I remember thinking that this was a great story but the book just HAD to be better than that.  And it was. 

    Then I read the Silmarillion, and I was just hooked for life.  Yes, I’m an academic now, why do you ask?

    I didn’t get around to reading the Hobbit until after that, and not surprisingly it turned out to be a bit tepid by contrast.

    Last year I read LOTR out loud to my daughter, who followed along drawing out the routes of the various characters on a map we printed out from the web.  It was great.

  32. Most of mine have been listed.

    The first ‘grown-up’ novel was Raymond Feist’s Riftwar saga, in …3rd grade? Followed closely by the original Dragonlance (Weis and Hickman), Myth Adventures of Ahz and Skeeve (Asprin), and the Sword, Ring, Chalice (Chester). All in Elementary school.

    I sorta slacked off in Middle, just contented myself to those authors and didn’t really expand much other than to bring in some Sci-Fi. 

    But nowadays I spend so much time in the bookstore (I work there- win XD) that I’ve expanded my repitiore to include the Black Company novels (Cook), Nightangel (Weeks), the Codex Alera (Butcher), and a smattering of Forgotten Realms. But probably my current favorite is The Name of the Wind (Rothfuss).

    I’m also keeping up with all the stuff I started on and am still trying to find new stuff.

  33. JEREMY THATCHER DRAGON HATCHER! wonderfully delightful.

     

    Though A Wizard of Earthsea soon followed, and it remains, in my opinion, one of the purest narratives of the fantastic ever written.

  34. Hal Duncan: Totally agree on Narnia!

    Started off when my dad read The Hobbit to me when I was six. Started reading Lord of The Rings when I was 8 and finished it when I was 10! Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson were in the mix as well.

  35. Not a book, but a game: The Legend of Zelda for nintendo, which I would play at my mother’s friends’ house while she smoked pot with them in the other room (no joke). This was followed up with The Legend of Zleda: A Link to the Past, which I got from my older brother. I know this is about books, but since a Link to the Past was the reason I learned to read I think it’s relevant.

     

    The first fantasy book that really pulled me in though was Outcast of Redwall by Brian Jacques. All of my money from birthdays and chores during my elementary school years went into buying those books. How wonderfully racist those books were too :/

     

    And I suppose the first true non gimmicky fantasy book I read, the one that really set me on my path would have been The Sword of Shannara. I read the shit out of that book when I was eleven and have been reading fantasy ever since.

  36. wow this is one of the hardest questions… But like many others it all started when my dad read me lord of the rings, and we watched the hobbit cartoon movie. After that it was pretty much everything, usrala le guin (spelling?) Roger Zelazney whom ive fade a point of trying to read every book written by him, dragon lance, i still think these are amazing) The red wall books, also read to me, loved them especially the descriptions of food, with my imagination it was like eating a grand feast. lets see X-men/batman cartoons to me these fit into the same genre, evoked the same love. Then the wheel of time by Robert Jordan, these were like a re-awakening to me at the age 0f 16 or so, then kathrin kerr, oh and also ealier david eddings in a big way) I had a bad disease as a kid and these books were they onlly real medicine i needed, giving me the strength i needed to push on. So to all the authors i mentioned, and all the ones still writing, carry on, I need you.

  37. Lloyd Alexander’s The High King was the one that really drew me into fantasy. I had the read-along Hobbit when i was little and loved it, but Alexander really brought me into the realm of fantasy. I followed it up with The Lord of the Rings five times in 4 years and then started tearing through anything I could get my hands on. Eventually I finished the rest of The Chronicles of Prydain which is the series that The High King is the finish of.

  38. I must say I am disappointed, I have seen the classics mentioned, Tolkien, Weis, Eddings…etc, but perhaps its not a book..hmmm, Elfquest anyone?  Anyone?  It was a huge graphic novel in 4 very expensive editions!  I still have them, the drawings were fantastic.  And yes, nothing was as fun as the Dragonlance series…wow…

  39. The First book that ever go me interested was HG Wells The Time Machine I have probably read this book more times than any other until I read Patrick Rothfuss Name of the Wind This by far is my favorite I look forward to his feature endevours.

  40. Throughout primary school I was really addicted to crime stories, and the first fantasy novels I read were probably the “Neverending Story” and “Momo” by Michael Ende. What really hooked me on the genre, though, was a YA Fantasy triology by a German author who still hasn’t been translated into English as far as I know, even though he has written countless books and been translated into roughly every other language I can think of: Ralf Isau and his Neschan Triology.

  41. First books were probably Enid Blyton can’t remember which one but had something to do with running away to an island. Stopped reading for a long time then when I was 15 I was given a copy of Ender’s Game got a sunburn reading it in the garden. After that I struggled to find something else that interested me and bought a cop of The Eye of the World by Robert Jordon which promptly disappeared into a box in the closet. Three years later I was bored and found it again. Read the entire series and didn’t look back. Then came Eddings, Tad Williams, Kate Elliot and Jim Butcher I now have a personal library of almost 700 books. The Amazon delivery guy just laughs and says back again.

  42. I know he re-hashes the same story, but c’mon guys, what about David Gemmell??

    His Quest for Lost Heroes sucked me in and by the time I was finishes, I was raiding my uncle’s fantasy collection for anything else by him.

    That was closely followed by David Eddings Elenium and Tamuli (Sparhawk IS a God) then Feist’s Riftwar saga

    Being a bit OCD about books myself, I now own all Gemmel, Eddings, Feist books, including a hand signed copy of Wolf in Shadow (ebay anyone!!)

  43. the first book that realy hooked me was called the haven. about talkin animals and human taking a stand against evil in the last haven. problem is i cant remember who wrote it so i cant find it now or anyone who knows anything about it. would love to find it tho

  44. I agree with Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “Avalon” being an influence. It was  a great twist on the legend – also loved Anne Mccafrey’s dragon books (Pern) – but later on she seemed to be compelled to back justify the scenario and got hung up in it – Why? Her later writing went downhill.

    Ursula Lequin’s “a Wizard of EarthSea” also as  some have mentioned.Great author.

    Hobbit was good, and I read the Lord of the Rings triology – but must say it was very strange as it was full of males who all camped together for weeks, and no mention of any romance except the one elf who was, lets face it, there just for that purpose (the bland and weak love interest), and then it’s on to more boys’ adventures that seem very unreal not because there was magic in it, but because  it was so blind to human character’s needs. As a child I loved it, but as an adult it leaves me cold.

    - atterratt

  45. What about the Dark Elf Trilogy by R. A. Salvatore? That wasn’t exactly my first fantasy book, but it certainly introduced me to the darker slant that could be spun on characters such as elves, that you previously thought of as good (Though, that may have been my Tolkien prejudices affecting me, as I read it first).

    Have to say that LOTR was one of the biggest influences for me… I remember liking it so much I swapped a massive egyptian book I got given for a nice hardback copy of the whole trilogy one of my friends had but didn’t want. I’ve still got that… it’s a little scruffy, with ink spilt on it, but it’s been well loved over the years – the sheer scope, detail, the history and full background put into those books – it was a world that I wholeheartedly lost myself in as a young teenager. Breathtaking. After that, I read The Hobbit, and I’m trying to read The Silmarillion, although uni is distracting me a little. I also loved the Dragons of Pern saga by Anne McAffrey – luckily, my dad had basically all the books in paperback. Got into sci-fi that way, reading books by Elizabeth Moon, Isaac Asimov and many others.

    More fantasy authors I can think of that fostered my love of the genre… Raymond E. Feist, certainly… Terry Pratchett (any/all of the Discworld series), Neil Gaiman (I got introduced to him first through his Sandman graphic novels [which is a complete masterpiece], then got into his writing), Douglas Adams - I like L. E. Modisitt Jnr, but the books seem to be hard to come across in British bookstores. Got directed to this article from Patrick Rothfuss‘s blog, who’s an author I enjoy too… looking forward to his 2nd book!

    Given more time I could probably think of more, but that’s what I can come up with off the top of the head!

    Peace. ^.^

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