The Locus Awards were established in 1972 and presented by Locus Magazine based on a poll of its readers. In more recent years, the poll has been opened up to on-line readers, although subscribers’ votes have been given extra weight. At various times the award has been presented at Westercon and, more recently, at a weekend sponsored by Locus at the Science Fiction Museum (now MoPop) in Seattle. The Best Fantasy Novel Award dates back to 1978, when it was won by J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. The award was not presented in 1979, and when it was reinstituted in 1980, this time permanently, Patricia A. McKillip won the award for Harpist in the Wind. In 1980. The Locus Poll received 854 responses.
The 1980 award season seems to have been a good year for final books in trilogies. Just as Dragondrums, the final volume of Anne MCCaffrey’s Harper Hall trilogy received the coveted Balrog Award, the final volume of Patricia A. McKillip’s Riddle-Master trilogy, Harpist in the Wind, won the Locus Poll for Best Fantasy Novel. Apparently, it was also the award season for musically-oriented fantasy novels. One of the biggest differences between Dragondrums and Harpist in the Wind is also what makes McCaffrey’s novel easier to read on its own.