18 Fantasy Authors to Read Instead of J.K. Rowling

  • L. Frank Baum
  • J.G. Ballard
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • William S. Burroughs
  • L. Sprague de Camp
  • Angela Carter
  • Philip Jose Farmer
  • M. John Harrison
  • Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Fritz Lieber
  • Richard Matheson
  • China Mieville
  • Michael Moorcock
  • Mervyn Peake
  • Jack Vance
  • Connie Willis
  • Gene Wolfe
  • Roger Zelazny

[UPDATE: And here are 18 more from Ms. Bond, who is more knowledgeable of this genre than I am. I too would add Kelly Link to the list, along with Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, George R.R. Martin, and Philip Pullman — to name but only a few.]

[UPDATE 2: A call from Matt Cheney for Harry Potter alternatives.]

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  1. I don’t suppose it would be possible to read these authors and J.K. Rowling.

    Oh, and Ed, Marion Zimmer Bradley? Really?

  2. You could read Rowling and these authors. But I’d venture to say that you’d have a better reading experience with any of these eighteen. And what exactly is wrong with Marion Zimmer Bradley?

  3. Well, I only have The Mists of Avalon to judge by, but it was one of the very worst books I read last year. 1000 pages of conniving, manipulative women and foolish men having the same conversation over and over and over again and not coming to any conclusion. And for a so-called ‘feminist’ story, it certainly didn’t give a damn about the lives of women. The characters go on and on about how the loss of Goddess worship is horrible for ordinary women, but we never meet any of them. We don’t know what their lives are like, or how the loss of Goddess worship changes them. The entire book is merely an excuse to peddle Bradley’s revisionist history.

    It’s possible that Mists is an aberration, but from what I’ve heard of the plots of Bradley’s other books (she was a priestess of Avalon. He was a Roman legionnaire. Their love was forbidden. OR WAS IT?) I doubt it.

    As for the other writers on you list, it’s been while since I read L. Frank Baum, but from what I remember the Oz books are insipid and so goody-goody that the Judy Garland movie is actually a spiced up version of The Wizard of Oz. Connie Willis… Well, she’s funny, but to my mind she’s never written her masterpiece. Passage was boring; Doomsday Book was a kind of Frankenstein creature – a tragedy and a farce sewed together to make a horrible abomination that is neither funny nor touching, and also quite boring; To Say Nothing of the Dog is funny but frothy and insignificant.

    Much as I’ve tried, I don’t have the Ursula K. Le Guin gene. A Wizard of Earthsea was beautiful but uninvolving, the characters merely faint pencil sketches on the page. I had a similar reaction to Wolfe’d The Shadow of the Torturer.

    I’ve read and very much enjoyed Carter, Harrison, Miéville, Link, Gaiman and Pratchett, and with some reservations also Lieber and Peake.

    Philip Pullman is the antichrist.

    Are there better fantasy writers than J.K. Rowling? Certainly (in fact, I don’t think of the HP books as fantasy in any meaningful way). Are the Harry Potter books, nevertheless, damn fine reads? Just as certainly.

  4. I’m sorry but I have to agree. Mists of Avalon was one of the worst books I too have read. It felt like trudging through hours of mud to get to the end and I did finish it but definitely a horrible experience

  5. Interesting list. Personally, I’d suggest Lawrence Watt-Evans, Terry Pratchett and Philip Pullman. But not ‘instead’, perhaps :)) Even if I’m not especially delighted with the last HP book, still, 3rd and 4th HP were, in my opinion, magnificent.

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