The Hobbit is The Great Fantasy Novel!

After nearly two months of nominations, The Ranting Dragon’s search for The Great Fantasy Novel is almost at an end. All that remains is to decide which of the nominations deserves to win the title of The Great Fantasy Novel. Two months of searching have accumulated eighteen nominations—twelve made by authors, bloggers, and Ranting Dragon writers, as well as six nominations made by you our readers. Now it’s up to you to pick your favorite in the poll below.

If you’re unfamiliar with this project, the title of The Great Fantasy Novel stems from an obsession of sorts in American literature. For many Americans, “The Great American Novel” is a nice title for a book that was used to torture us in high school English classes. No sooner has a new work been stamped with critical acclaim and called “The Great Novel of Our Time” then it’s on to the search for the next. After their moment of glory, and maybe a Pulitzer Prize, these titles are primarily relegated to the classrooms of America where they will be mostly underappreciated by high school and undergraduate students.

But why should such reading have to be dry, boring, and somewhat unaccessible? Why can’t it be fun, with a bit of magic? In their formative education in American public schools, many young Americans hardly ever see speculative fiction on their reading list. Yet every year, authors such as N.K. Jemisin, Patrick Rothfuss, Peter V. Brett, Guy Gavriel Kay, Neil Gaiman, and many others blow us away with their incredible story-crafting and word-smithing capabilities. Can we truly say that their work is not on par with F. Scott Fitzgerald, more accessible to modern audiences than John Steinbeck, and more engaging than Herman Melville? What is so much better about Phillip Roth’s work that his book American Pastoral will be preserved for the life of the United States as a country, while Robert Jordan’s epic fades over time into obscurity?

That’s why, for the past two months, we’ve been searching for The Great Fantasy Novel. Of course, we realize it is neigh impossible to select one novel that represents the entire genre. Such a book simply doesn’t exist. There are many, many great novels that represent fantasy each in their own ways. We also realize this list may include some titles you disagree with or miss some titles you would have picked. You’re right, this is far from a complete list. Instead, this project—with its many wonderful posts—is aimed to start a discussion on the many wonderful gems of our genre. It is interesting to see your comments, especially those made on Reddit’s r/Fantasy (thanks everyone!), and it will be intriguing to see the results of the project in the poll.


Update! The fight was intense and it was a close call, but with a difference of six votes, our readers have determined that The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien is The Great Fantasy Novel. The Hobbit is closely followed by The Name of the Wind by Pat Rothfuss. See the poll at the bottom of this article for all results.

A big thank you to everyone who voted, and especially to everyone who nominated books! We also thank former RD staff member Janea Schimmel for all the effort she but into organizing this competition. It was a blast!


The following books were nominated by writers, guests and staff alike, as well as by our readers:


1. The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
“The extraordinary narrative from the perspective of a strong and independent woman who stands up for those she loves and displays an amazing amount of courage in a world unrewarding of such behavior, combined with the philosophical and current themes central in this novel, make The Broken Kingdoms a true gem of fantasy literature and a truly unique reading experience recommended to any reader. Part of my love for the fantasy genre comes from the fact that it allows authors to continuously push the boundaries of imagination. There is no greater example of such a feat than N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Kingdoms, and I believe it is destined to become a fantasy classic—and perhaps even a literary classic.”
Read Stephan’s nomination here. Buy this book from Amazon Find this book on Goodreads
2. The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett
“Published in 2008, The Warded Man remains eerily relevant four years later, with the whistleblowers Bradley Manning, and now Edward Snowden, rocking the national conscience and challenging systems designed, rightly or wrongly, to help their society cope with fear. The War on Terror has utterly changed the world, and the constant presence of uncertainty has colored our government, society and interpersonal relationships. [..] The Warded Man is a highly courageous and relevant example of what fantasy looks like in this new world.”
Read Myke Cole’s nomination here. Buy this book from Amazon Find this book on Goodreads
3. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
“Aside from the content, whose themes I feel will endure for the ages, the prose itself is breathtaking. [..] [Kay] has a way with description and worldbuilding that makes it seem like he has spent months researching. And he has. [..] This book is so well-written, so deep, so incredible that I refuse to spoil any element of it in the hopes of using that to entice you to read it. I want you to be able to enjoy each part for the first time just as I did. To laugh and gasp and maybe even cry as this incredible world and story unfolds.”
Read Dan’s nomination here. Buy this book from Amazon Find this book on Goodreads
4. The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs
The Face in the Frost had a formative influence on my ideas about fantasy storytelling in many ways. It’s both wondrous and prosaic. [..] 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, the story 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, The Face in the Frost has a wonderful atmosphere that makes me want to crawl inside the world of the story 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 excruciatingly laborious worldbuilding.”
Read Laura Resnik’s nomination here. Buy this book from Amazon Find this book on Goodreads
5. The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe
The Hum and the Shiver is exquisitely written. [..] The prose lives up to the evocativeness of the title, leaving behind a book that is as magical as it is musical and completely lacking in traditional fantasy clichés while using a few familiar elements to ground it in the genre. The Hum and the Shiver is a rare example of the fantasy genre. It’s perfectly placed during the early twenty-first century in a small community in Tennessee struggling to survive into the next generation. The fears, hopes, and motivations of each character ring true to that scenario, as do the challenges they face. The writing is impeccable; so much so that this book has remained clear in my head years after I read it.”
Read Janea’s nomination here. Buy this book from Amazon Find this book on Goodreads
6. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit isn’t an intricate story filled with political scheming or gritty warfare, it’s a straight-up adventure story—it’s clean, classic fantasy. Its formula of taking a peaceful character and sending him on a dangerous quest has been copied time and time again in fantasy literature, but The Hobbit remains the originator and definitive work written in such a style. Is it old-fashioned? Absolutely. Does is seem simplistic when put side-by-side with more modern works? Sure. Regardless, The Hobbit hasn’t lost any of its magic or its all-ages appeal. There is no doubt in my mind that it will continue to be read and enjoyed by millions of people for years to come, and there is no doubt in my mind that it is the definitive fantasy novel. The Hobbit is a story for the ages.”
Read Aaron’s nomination here. Buy this book from Amazon Find this book on Goodreads
7. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Leguin
“LeGuin’s Earthsea books make the grand case for a fantasy series: the fantasist tells the story of a world, the story of many peoples, and you can’t do that in a single book with a single protagonist. In LeGuin’s hands, the fantasy series becomes more than a single story chopped into pieces; it serves as a stage for perspectivism and contrast. [..] If I had been asked to name the best fantasy novel, I’m not sure if I would have given the same answer [..] but I was asked to nominate The Great Fantasy Novel, the book that stands in the same relation to fantasy as Moby Dick and The Grapes of Wrath and maybe Infinite Jest and Song of Solomon stand in relation to the American novel, a book that is not so much of its own kind as it is an exemplar of our tradition, and well, I think A Wizard of Earthsea is that book.”
Read Max Gladstone’s nomination here. Buy this book from Amazon Find this book on Goodreads
8. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
“Was Bradbury making a commentary about how things were simpler when he was young and coming of age? There’s certainly an aspect of nostalgia in the book. However, the ending is filled with hope for the future, not despair. [..] I think he wrote Something Wicked This Way Comes as a message of encouragement. I think he wrote it to let us know that there would always be the power of love—no matter how dark life might become, no matter the mistakes or bad choices, and no matter what horrors might randomly be visited upon them by outside forces. I think that’s a message that all Americans want to believe in. We don’t just want the happy ending, we expect the happy ending.”
Read Stina Leicht’s nomination here. Buy this book from Amazon Find this book on Goodreads
9. Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
“Like the city, like the story, like the very themes of the book—every one of these aesthetics can be appreciated on its own, but the true majesty of Perdido comes from seeing it as a whole: a book written in a precarious, stupefying, wondrous and staggering style that is uniquely its own. [..] There are great books—books that are, indeed, very good. Themes. Characters. Emotional impact. You find them several times a year, and perhaps more frequently than that. And there are great books—books that loom over the landscape, dominate it, define it. Perdido Street Station is one of the latter. It isn’t a Great Fantasy Novel, it is a Great Novel, full stop.”
Read Jared Shurin’s nomination here. Buy this book from Amazon Find this book on Goodreads
10. The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe
“[G]iven that The Shadow of the Torturer is the first book of not only a four volume series, but an entire cycle of stories and novels, it might seem unfair and unreasonable to call this one book the Great Fantasy Novel. Nevertheless, a suite of stories and novels must start strongly or never be written. The Shadow of the Torturer is equaled and surpassed in some of the subsequent novels of the series. However, the stature of those later novels, in every case is dependent on it being a follow up, ultimately, of The Shadow of the Torturer. Thus, standing first, The Shadow of the Torturer is the greatest of the series and the cycle. With its ambiguous and odd ending, The Shadow of the Torturer also stands alone as a volume that engages and allows the reader to fill in the blank at the end.”
Read Paul Weimer’s nomination here. Buy this book from Amazon Find this book on Goodreads
11. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Mists of Avalon was such a sensation for me when I read it as a young woman. Women were no longer scenery by which the men passed on their way to greater deeds. The women plotted and moved through the story with their own rhythm and motives. I read it again in my thirties and forties, and each time, the story took on new dimensions. When I was asked to contribute to this series, this is the first novel that popped into my mind and it remains as one of my all-time favorites more than thirty years after I first read it. I find something different and new each time I read The Mists of Avalon, and it is that very timelessness that makes this one of the greatest fantasy novels that I have ever read.”
Read Teresa Frohock’s nomination here. Buy this book from Amazon Find this book on Goodreads
12. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
“Most of all, what keeps me coming back to The Name of the Wind again and again and again, is because it is a tragedy, and worse, it’s a tragedy that has already happened. We don’t know what, yet. But from the moment we meet Kvothe, a man ready for death, sadness fills the room. [..] But truly the most heartbreaking thing about The Name of the Wind, why the piece wins my nomination, is the terribly vicious hope that maybe it won’t be a tragedy. That somehow by the end of the story, there will be some redemption, some saving grace. That hope that Rothfuss gives us is so very bittersweet, and it is what makes The Name of the Wind my great fantasy novel pick.”
Read Martin’s nomination here. Buy this book from Amazon Find this book on Goodreads
13. Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson
Deadhouse Gates is the second book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Set in a brilliantly realized world ravaged by dark, uncontrollable magic, this thrilling novel of war, intrigue and betrayal confirms Steven Erikson as a storyteller of breathtaking skill, imagination and originality—the author who has written the first great fantasy epic of the new millennium.
This is a reader nomination. Buy this book from Amazon Find this book on Goodreads
14. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Days before his release from prison, Shadow’s wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America. Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm of preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break. Scary, gripping and deeply unsettling, American Gods takes a long, hard look into the soul of America. You’ll be surprised by what and who it finds there…
This is a reader nomination. Buy this book from Amazon Find this book on Goodreads
15. The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub
One of the most influential and heralded works of fantasy ever written, The Talisman is an extraordinary novel of loyalty, awakening, terror, and mystery. Jack Sawyer, on a desperate quest to save his mother’s life, must search for a prize across an epic landscape of innocents and monsters, of incredible dangers and even more incredible truths. The prize is essential, but the journey means even more. Let the quest begin.
This is a reader nomination. Buy this book from Amazon Find this book on Goodreads
16. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
Orphan Locke Lamora leads elite thieves “Gentlemen Bastards” trained by priest Chains. In Venice-like city, as the “Thorn of Camorr”, he stings the wealthy nobles. But the Gray King kills mobster Capa Barsavi’s trusted, and uses Locke as his pawn to take control. Locke vows revenge, but is best skilled at lies. His opponent has more money, men, and power.
This is a reader nomination. Buy this book from Amazon Find this book on Goodreads
17. Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling. A rare epic fantasy that doesn’t recycle the classics and that is a complete and satisfying story in one volume, Elantris is fleet and fun, full of surprises and characters to care about. It’s also the wonderful debut of a welcome new star in the constellation of fantasy.
This is a reader nomination. Buy this book from Amazon Find this book on Goodreads
18. Suldrun’s Garden by Jack Vance
The Elder Isles, located in what is now the Bay of Biscay off the the coast of Old Gaul, are made up of ten contending kingdoms, all vying with each other for control. At the centre of much of the intrigue is Casmir, the ruthless and ambitious king of Lyonnesse. His beautiful but otherworldly daughter, Suldrun, is part of his plans. He intends to cement an alliance or two by marrying her well. But Suldrun is as determined as he and defies him. Casmir coldly confines her to the overgrown garden that she loves to frequent, and it is here that meets her love and her tragedy unfolds. Political intrigue, magic, war, adventure and romance are interwoven in a rich and sweeping tale set in a brilliantly realized fabled land.
This is a reader nomination. Buy this book from Amazon Find this book on Goodreads


Which of these is The Great Fantasy Novel according to you? The voting ends on Monday September 2nd. Vote wisely!


[poll id=”27″]

About Stephan van Velzen

Stephan van Velzen
A 31 year-old Communications student, Stephan loves publicity and design, particularly web design. When he’s not designing websites, he can be found in a comfy chair reading a fantasy book. In The Ranting Dragon, he has found a way to combine these passions and discover a new love for writing to boot. Stephan lives in a small town in The Netherlands with his wife Rebecca, an editor for The Ranting Dragon, and their two cats.

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  1. Where is Feist’s Magician? You can’t just leave the winner off the poll!

  2. Michael R Mathias

    Missing Link, if Feist, C.S Lewis, and Lloyd Alexander, are not on the list, then Donaldson, Eddings, Brooks, and Homer obviously wouldn’t be, and there you have it. Seven of the best fantasy writers that ever lived were not nominated. What does that tell you?

    • What it should tell you is that “Best fantasy writer who ever lived” is both highly subjective, and not necessarily congruent to “Fantasy author whose work you would most hold up as the ideal first book to read in the genre”

  3. “The Shadow of the Torturer” is a science fiction novel, but then again, there is no agreed-upon demarcation between the two genres.
    Now, Gene Wolfe’s “Book of the New Sun” is the most accomplished, demanding, and rewarding wrork on this list – a very strange list indeed. But if ‘The Great Fantasy Novel’ should serve as a good introduction to fantastic fiction, then Wolfe’s book is not that ‘Great Novel’: It is relatively difficult to understand, demanding quite a lot of knowledge to be properly appreciated. And at the same time, it is so very well written that it will spoil readers. Who would want to read much of what the fantasy genre consists of after having read “The Book of the New Sun”?. Then again, the same is true for Borges, Peake, and someday maybe even Mieville…

  4. By the way, it is – as always – both laughable and sad to see anglophone readers (even bloggers and other self-styled critics) being entierly unaware of the works by russian, polish, even spanish (!) writers. While this provinicality is ubiquitous in the science fiction genre (where many anglophone readers still dare to talk about their countries’ “golden age” hacks as ‘great writers’ without ever having read Stanislaw Lem or the Strugatzky Brothers), it is almost as visible wherever people talk about fantasy fiction.
    A list of supposedly ‘great’ fantasy novels containing not a single (!) non-english work? People seem to be eager to embarrass themselves…

    • While it is certainly unfortunate that many non-English writers find themselves underrepresented when you poll most internet-present people (Who, you know, are overwhelmingly English speaking even if as a second language to a mother tongue) You should also bear in mind the restrictions put on this event. If my purpose is to pick the one book I would select, alone from among all works in the genre, to present to my own country’s schoolchildren, I’m going to almost invariably select a writer who wrote in English as their Mother Tongue over a work in another language, or in translation.

      I’m glad you’ve come to a site run by someone for whom English is not their first language (Who personally nominated a book by a non-white author [albeit an American one]) to attempt to claim some kind of moral high ground just because none of the people who chose to respond to the very far-reaching call for submissions, happened to not select, with a whopping 18 out of literally tens if not hundreds of thousands of possibilities, someone who didn’t write first in a language besides the most widely spoken language on earth.

      • “Moral highground”? Certainly not.
        There is no moral obligation whatsoever to read ‘foreign’ literature (whether original or translated). But in order to answer the question “What is the Great Fantasy Novel?” one should know at least something about fantasy literature. That is, one should have read a variation of fantasy novels. And someone who only knows english books should exercise restraint and might want to broaden their horizon before arguing (if you can call it such) that – for example – a heavily critisised debut novel in a three-part series by Patrick Rothfuss should be regarded as great, let alone “the Great Fantasy Novel”. Get your shit together!

        • The fact that you feel for each of the 18 submitters, that “if only” they had bothered to spend any time venturing out of their terrified English-only holes and read anything, anything at all by someone who writes exclusively in another language, that they’d all see the error of their ways and nominate non-English books is incredibly arrogant.

          It is clear that you’ve not even considered the possibility that this collection of genre professionals (bloggers, authors, editors) HAVE read fantasy in languages besides English either in foreign language or in translation and, you know, happen to have liked one single English book better.

          That’s all it would take, you know. My top 10 could be 9 non-English novels for all you know, or clearly care to know, but because number 1 is a book in English, we’re all sad examples of some wicked Anglophone elite.

          So -yes- you are claiming a moral highground. Every inch of your tone implies that we are -bad people- for not doing something you have NO IDEA whether we have done or not, because you are so confident in the superiority of non-English fantasy that you cannot possibly accept that 18 whole individuals from the billions and billions on earth, happen to have picked an English book as the Fantasy novel they consider to be the exemplar of the genre.

  5. A thought to preface any angry posting:

    There does not exist a list so inclusive that nobody will angrily declare it a crime that somebody was left out.

    There does not exist a list so exclusive that nobody will angrily declare it a crime that somebody was included.

    If that’s all you have to say, don’t bother. We know it already.

    • If you are unable to see a difference between an list that is not inclusive towards everything and a list that is inclusive towards only one thing, you must be blind.

      Furthermore, your own supposed argument (that English is the world’s most widely spoken language) makes this list even more absurd: Because even though English is, in fact, the world’s most widely spoken language and the one with the most works of fantasy and science fiction, there are only a few anglophone writers (Wolfe, LeGuin, K Dick, Peake, someday maybe Mieville and Valente amongst them) in those genres who even compete with their colleagues from the Soviet Union, Russia, Poland, Argentina, Colombia and so forth). And yet, this list includes not one (!) novel written in another language than English.
      Quite disappointing.

      • Stop being an ass. You obviously didn’t read the preface to the list. If you had you would realize it was compiled by authors, bloggers, and the Internet at large. Which means you had a chance to contribute to this list and nominate whomever you would so choose. Since you failed to do so you have forfeited your right to complain or to bash those on the list.

        However I am sure everyone here shares a love for fantasy and would love to expand our libraries to include authors from all over the world. If you have a few to recommend I’m sure you could do that without being arrogant and condescending.


      • I’m sorry you felt that my explicitly general post, explicitly not in response to you or anybody else, was directed at you. It was a general statement, one that I’ve expressed many times in comment threads to lists of things. It just is a damage to discourse to clog up a discussion thread with 75% “What? no X?” or “Y is terrible why is it on this list?” with no further information or argument on the part of the poster.

        While you are certainly entitled to your opinion that there are only four English authors in the whole history of genre literature who can compete with any writers from any non-English part of the world, that is hardly a fact you can state.

        I can play this game too. The fact that you did not include Guy Gavriel Kay among your tiny select few English authors who can compete says to me that you are exactly as un-varied and un-informed as you accuse us of being. (Protip: Your accusation is ridiculous and none of us, yourself included, deserves to be browbeaten in the way you are doing.)

  6. I can’t decide between Tigana, which was just a beautifully written novel, The Name of the Wind which I think I probably enjoyed reading the most or The Deadhouse Gates which is great in it’s own right.

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