Locus Online on the Best Fantasy Novels of the 20th and 21st Centuries

Locus Online on the Best Fantasy Novels of the 20th and 21st Centuries

lord-of-the-rings‘Tis the season for Top Ten lists. David E. Harris kicked it off here this morning with his Arbitrary Top 10: Fantasy Films (which missed Watership Down and It’s a Wonderful Life, but at least had the good sense to include Jumanji), but similar lists have been popping up all over the blogosphere.

Locus Online conducted a poll to determine the best novels and short fiction of the 20th and 21st centuries last month, with five categories: science fiction novel, fantasy novel, novella, novelette, and short story. Since all votes were write-ins counting has taken a while, but on Friday Mark Kelly announced the results for the novel categories. The complete poll includes the Top 50 winners; here are the Top 10 Best Fantasy Novels of the 20th and 21st Centuries:

20th Century Fantasy Novel

  1. Tolkien, J. R. R. : The Lord of the Rings (1955)
  2. Martin, George R. R. : A Game of Thrones (1996)
  3. Tolkien, J. R. R. : The Hobbit (1937)
  4. Le Guin, Ursula K. : A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
  5. Zelazny, Roger : Nine Princes in Amber (1970)
  6. Lewis, C. S. : The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
  7. Mieville, China : Perdido Street Station (2000)
  8. Rowling, J. K. : Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)
  9. Crowley, John : Little, Big (1981)
  10. Adams, Richard : Watership Down (1972)

21st Century Fantasy Novel

  1. Gaiman, Neil : American Gods (2001)
  2. Clarke, Susanna : Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004)
  3. Rothfuss, Patrick : The Name of the Wind (2007)
  4. Mieville, China : The Scar (2002)
  5. Martin, George R. R. : A Feast for Crows (2005)
  6. Rowling, J. K. : Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)
  7. Bujold, Lois McMaster : The Curse of Chalion (2001)
  8. Mieville, China : The City & the City (2009)
  9. Fforde, Jasper : The Eyre Affair (2001)
  10. Bujold, Lois McMaster : Paladin of Souls (2003) and Pratchett, Terry : Night Watch (2002) (tie)

There’s some confusion as the list includes both series (e.g. The Lord of the Rings, A Game of Thrones) and individual novels in series (e.g. Nine Princes in Amber, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). It’s especially hard to understand how the votes broke down when the series in question cross the threshold between centuries (eg: A Game of Thrones, Harry Potter). At least, I’m confused.

Mark promises that results in the Short fiction categories will be available “as soon as possible.”

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I think it is easier to just look at them all as individual novels. The only “series” listed is The Lord of the Rings (and could that not be seen as one large novel broken up into a “trilogy”?). A Game of Thrones refers to the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire, I think. Otherwise, why not use the name of the series? And don’t forget the Bas-Lag series has an appearance on both lists.


The Lord of the rings is one novel that was split up into three parts for publishing reasons. And I don’t see A Game of Thrones series listed I see the first novel to the series.


Top ten lists in fantasy should all just be by series. Even if Lord of the Rings is one novel, with three books, most of the other works listed are going to be multi-volume. including the whole series simplifies things, and keeps an author from taking up multiple spots on the list.

Also, would you really only recommend one book in a series? I think it’s implied that it was the series that was influential, not just the one book. If you’re recommending “A Game of Thrones,” you’re recommending A Song of Ice and Fire.


I’m sorry to say I wound up skimming THE CITY AND THE CITY. Going back to the 20th Century, I think it’s high time I checked in with LITTLE, BIG. I must be missing something!

Sarah Avery

The Silmarillion ranks at #22 on the novel list, above Mythago Wood and Bridge of Birds. Sigh. I love The Silmarillion. It is many things, some of them awesome, but it is not a novel. It could make sense as a collection of short fiction, but I suppose that category wasn’t on offer.

Al Harron

While I’m glad to see Robert E. Howard included, I’m a bit confused as to which book they are referring to:

Howard, Robert E. : Conan the Barbarian (1950)

Is that the 1950 “Conan the Conqueror” (the Gnome Press edition of “The Hour of the Dragon,” Howard’s only Conan novel) or the 1954 “Conan the Barbarian” (Gnome Press collection of several stories)?

If the former, they should clarify whether they mean novels purely in terms of a work, or whether they mean individual books. If it’s the latter, you could consider more collections and anthologies: if the former, then The Silmarillion, The Swords of Lankhmar and The Dying Earth shouldn’t count, since they aren’t, strictly speaking, novels.

Al Harron

Argh, wait, Swords of Lankhmar WAS a novel, I meant Martian Chronicles.

David E. Harris

Pretty good lists, though I am embarassed not to have read China Melville. I’m surprised to see American Gods atop the 21st Century list. I didn’t even think it was the best of Gaiman’s books (I loved “Neverwhere”). My personal 20th-Century sleepers would have been “The Shattered World” by Michael Reeves, and Zelazny’s “Jack of Shadows.” I’m also surprised that Lloyd Alexander’s Taran Wanderer series was not included.

Joe H.

I’d add a vote for Shattered World (and continue to dream that someday Reaves might write a third book in the series). I’d also try to squeeze Michael Shea onto the list somewhere.

Sarah Avery

I was about to speculate that Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain were omitted from the list because they were written and published for children. They’re specifically middle-grade chapter books, which is a stage younger than YA. Then I checked, and the list includes The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, some J.K. Rowling, The Little Prince, and A Wrinkle in Time. So I shrug in bafflement. Why not Taran?

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