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A Book That Makes You Yearn to be Stranded on a Desert Island: Modern Classics of Fantasy edited by Gardner Dozois

Sunday, July 9th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Modern Classics of Fantasy-small Modern Classics of Fantasy-back-small

Like most of you folks, I used to have more reading time. Like, a ton more reading time. Whole summer vacations just lazing around with my feet on the furniture and my nose in an epic fantasy. Nowadays I’m lucky to negotiate a three-day weekend and, believe me, that kind of reading time is much too precious to devote to a single author. Yes, reading vacations still tend to be devoted to big books — I haven’t broken that habit– but these days more often than not they’re thick anthologies that let me sample a wide range of writers. And usually anthologies curated by an editor who’s earned my trust.

That’s why I’m so partial to Gardner Dozois. He’s got great taste, for one thing. For another, he produces big books, the kind you can plan a vacation around. One of my favorites is his massive survey anthology Modern Classics of Fantasy, which is the kind of book that makes you wish you could be stranded on a desert island. Sure, I’d probably go hungry and miss the internet. But if it meant I finally had 15 uninterrupted hours to read this thing cover to cover, it’d totally be worth it.

I’ve dipped into this volume countless times over the 20 years that I’ve owned it. I can’t remember if this is the book that first introduced me to Manly Wade Wellman’s John the Balladeer and Keith Roberts’ Pavane, but it’s certainly possible. It also contains a Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser novella by Fritz Leiber, a Dying Earth tale by Jack Vance, and stories by Roger Zelazny, R. A. Lafferty, Peter S. Beagle, Poul Anderson, Avram Davidson, T. H. White, Howard Waldrop, Lucius Shepard, Gene Wolfe, James P. Blaylock, Tanith Lee, Ursula K. Le Guin, John Crowley, Michael Swanwick, and many others.

The Unknown edited by D R Bensen-smallIn his Preface, Gardner tells the tale of the magical paperback anthologies that first introduced him to Conan, Elric, and Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

By the late 1950s, although I was an avid consumer of science fiction, I didn’t know a lot about fantasy… by the early 1960s, this had begun to change. One of the first cracks in the armor, for me, anyway, happened in 1962, when an SF mass-market line named Pyramid Books published a paperback edition of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s The Incomplete Enchanter… it made a huge impression on me… In 1963, Pyramid brought out an anthology of stories, edited by D.R. Benson, from the by-then long extinct fantasy magazine Unknown, where the de Camp and Pratt “Harold Shea” stories that had gone into making up The Incomplete Enchanter had originally appeared; sensitized by this connection, I bought the anthology, one of the first anthologies I can remember buying. In its pages, [I] encountered for the first time Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, as well as discovering the work of Manly Wade Wellman and H.L. Gold. A few months later, I came across another Pyramid anthology, this one edited by L. Sprague de Camp and called Swords & Sorcery, a deliberate attempt by de Camp to preserve at least, and perhaps revive, a then-Endangered Literary Species called “swords & sorcery” or “heroic fantasy.” Here was another Gray Mouser story, and here for the first time I also encountered Robert E. Howard’s Conan and C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry, first read the work of Lord Dunsany and H.P Lovecraft, and first read the fantasy work — I was already familiar with his science fiction — of Poul Anderson; a later de Camp anthology, The Spell of Seven, introduced me to Michael Moorcock’s Elric…

If you’re interested in learning more about the anthologies and collections Gardner mentions above, we’ve discussed each of them in detail at some point in our history:

The Incomplete Enchanter, by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt
Unknown, edited by D.R Benson
Swords & Sorcery edited by L. Sprague De Camp by Fletcher Vredenburgh
The Spell of Seven, edited by L. Sprague de Camp

Here’s the complete TOC for Modern Classics of Fantasy.

Preface by Gardner Dozois
“Trouble with Water” by H. L. Gold (Unknown, March 1939)
“The Gnarly Man” by L. Sprague de Camp (Unknown, June 1939)
“The Golem” by Avram Davidson (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1955)
“Walk Like a Mountain” by Manly Wade Wellman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, June 1955)
“Extempore” by Damon Knight (Infinity Science Fiction, August 1956)
“Space-Time for Springers” by Fritz Leiber (Star Science Fiction Stories No. 4, 1958)
“Scylla’s Daughter” by Fritz Leiber (Fantastic Stories of Imagination, May 1961)
“The Overworld” by Jack Vance (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1965)
“The Signaller” Keith Roberts (Impulse, March 1966)
“The Manor of Roses” by Thomas Burnett Swann (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1966)
“Death and the Executioner” by Roger Zelazny (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, June 1967)
“Configuration of the North Shore” by R. A. Lafferty (Orbit 5, 1969)
“Two Sadnesses ” by George Alec Effinger (Bad Moon Rising, 1973)
“The Tale of Hauk” by Poul Anderson (Swords Against Darkness, 1977)
“Manatee Gal, Won’t You Come Out Tonight” by Avram Davidson (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1977)
“The Troll” by T. H. White (Gone to Ground, 1935)
“The Sleep of Trees” by Jane Yolen (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, September 1980)
“God’s Hooks!” by Howard Waldrop (Universe 12, 1982)
“The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule” by Lucius Shepard (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 1984)
“A Cabin on the Coast” by Gene Wolfe (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, February 1984)
“Paper Dragons” by James P. Blaylock (Imaginary Lands, 1985)
“Into Gold” novelette by Tanith Lee (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, March 1986)
“Flowers of Edo” by Bruce Sterling (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, May 1987)
“Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight” by Ursula K. Le Guin (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1987)
“A Gift of the People” by Robert Sampson (Full Spectrum, 1988)
“Missolonghi 1824” by John Crowley (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, March 1990)
“Bears Discover Fire” by Terry Bisson (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, August 1990)
“Blunderbore” by Esther M. Friesner (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, September 1990)
“Death and the Lady” by Judith Tarr (After the King: Stories in Honor of J. R. R. Tolkien, 1992)
“The Changeling’s Tale” by Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s Science Fiction, January 1994)
“Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros” by Peter S. Beagle (Peter S. Beagle’s Immortal Unicorn, 1995)
“Beauty and the Opéra or The Phanton Beast” by Suzy McKee Charnas (Asimov’s Science Fiction, March 1996)
Recommended Reading

Modern Classic Short Novels of Science Fiction-smallModern Classics of Fantasy is part of a series of anthologies edited by Gardner that also includes:

Modern Classics of Science Fiction (1992)
Modern Classic Short Novels of Science Fiction (1994; also known as The Mammoth Book of Contemporary SF Masters)

Our previous coverage of Gardner Dozois includes:

Gardner Dozois on the New Sword & Sorcery
Gardner Dozois on the 2013 Hugo Nominations
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Second Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Third Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Fourth Annual Collection
The Good Old Stuff and The Good New Stuff
Explorers and The Furthest Horizon
Worldmakers and Supermen
4,976 Pages of Asimov’s Science Fiction (and a Cat)
Old Venus, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Old Mars, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Rogues, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Warriors, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Songs of the Dying Earth, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Multiverse: Exploring the Worlds of Poul Anderson, edited by Greg Bear and Gardner Dozois
Finding the Best: An Interview with Year’s Best Editors Ellen Datlow, Paula Guran, Rich Horton and Gardner Dozois by BryanThomasSchmidt

Modern Classics of Fantasy was published by St. Martin’s Press in January 1997. It is 670 pages, priced at $35 in hardcover and $18.95 in trade paperback. The cover is by James Gurney.

I recently bought a brand new trade paperback reprint at discount site BookOutlet for just $5.89, nearly two-thirds off the cover price.

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.


  1. I’ve always wanted this book (among many others), and I see it’s still fairly easily available.

    The sometimes hazy distinction between science fiction and fantasy is nicely illustrated by the inclusion of “Bears Discover Fire”, which Gardner also included in his Year’s Best Science Fiction series!

    Comment by dolphintornsea - July 9, 2017 1:49 pm

  2. Good point! Roger Zelazny’s “Death and the Executioner” (which eventually became part of his finest novel, Lord of Light), is also pretty clearly SF… but maybe only in wider context.

    Comment by John ONeill - July 9, 2017 2:42 pm

  3. It’s also now available on Kindle for $7.99 if your reading runs that way.

    This really is a great collection; if nothing else, it’s the book that _finally_ got me to sit down and read Zelazny’s Lord of Light (one of whose components is the Zelazny story in the collection); for whatever reason, I’d always bounced hard off Lord of Light until I read the story, which kind of gave me a way into the book.

    (And I’m kind of hoping that the Delany piece in Paula Guran’s Swords Against Darkness will provide the same service for the Neveryon books.)

    Comment by Joe H. - July 9, 2017 3:05 pm

  4. This one’s definitely a keeper.

    Comment by Nick Ozment - July 10, 2017 6:19 pm

  5. I’ve had this one for a while. Great book. I should flip through it again.

    Comment by CMR - July 10, 2017 8:24 pm

  6. WOW! What a fantastic collection! I’ve read over half these, but that’s not going to stop me from getting my hands on a copy of this book!

    Comment by Joe Bonadonna - July 17, 2017 7:30 am

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