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"Essential" Epic Fantasies: Wrap-up

639px-Scriptorium-monk-at-workThis week's listing activities have been a lot of fun - and goes to show that the internet loves a list.

Between the four of us, Liz, Justin, Tansy and I selected 165 different "essential" epic fantasies with 201 picks (Liz took a bonus pick). I figured that, before I put the whip down and let the dead horse be, it was worth doing a bit of poking around in the numbers. 

Download all four lists as a CSV file here. 

Here's how the math works out:

Books with multiple selections:

Chosen by all four of us:
  • George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire (1996)
  • J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954)
Chosen by three of four (rebel in brackets):
  • Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel Trilogy (2001) [Jared]
  • David Eddings' Belgariad (1982) [Liz]
  • Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth (1994) [Tansy]
  • Homer's Odyssey (8th century BC) [Justin - who was perverse, and chose the Iliad]
  • The Dragonlance Chronicles (1984) [Liz]
  • Joe Abercrombie's The First Law (2006) [Tansy]

18 were chosen by two people. 

Below the jump... selections by gender, authors with multiple selections, how the bloggers overlapped and a few personal thunks about all the stuff I got wrong.

Authors with multiple selections:

Several authors 'split the vote' with their own books. Authors that were received mentions for different works: Piers Anthony, Terry Brooks, Kate Elliott, Simon Green, Homer, N.K. Jemisin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Stephen King, Ursula K. Le Guin, China MiƩville, KJ Parker, Terry Pratchett and Brandon Sanderson.

Ursula Le Guin made the list three times for three different books/series. Kate Elliott, Terry Brooks and Brandon Sanderson all made the list three times, for three different books/series, across three different decades.

By decade:

Chart_2This is not weighted (e.g. Lord of the Rings is counted once, not four times).

The most popular years were 2010 (9), 1982 (8), 2012 (7), 2011 (7) and 2006 (7).

By author gender:

This is a nice, almost even distribution, but when you look beneath the surface, there's something odd (if, I suppose, expected) going on.

Chart_4It is interesting how we mirror one another. That's part of the reason we did this whole project - Justin and I knew that our reading experience was, to put it nicely... "narrow". Needless to say, we've got some reading to do.

By media:

Basically, 6.1% of our selections broke the rules. I wonder what would've happened if we'd done this exercise without specifying books - would we have picked up more movies and games, for example?

And a bit of naval gazing:

Overlap between lists:

  • Jared/Justin: 11
  • Liz/Justin: 9
  • Liz/Tansy: 7
  • Tansy/Jared: 7
  • Liz/Jared: 5
  • Tansy/Justin: 4

And the reverse - unique picks (selections made by one person that don't appear on any other lists):

  • Justin: 29
  • Tansy: 35
  • Jared: 36
  • Liz: 39

So, as expected, Justin and I overlap the most (despite his Rothfuss/Brett/Kay selections), and Liz is the most perverse unique.

Personal stuff:

Finally, given a few days for the dust to settle, what would I change about my list? Probably very little. I'm surprised that The Lies of Locke Lamora has gotten so much discussion as to its "epicness". On other forums, the Reddit crew have been fixated on the presence of the Bible, but I expected that. The names that have come up that have given me pause for doubt:

  • T.H. White's The Once and Future King (I'd love this, but my list is so incredibly Arthurian already - I can't imagine removing Bradley or Broaddus to make room for it)
  • E.R. Eddison - if I could just include the last two pages of The Worm Ouroborus, maybe. But I'm not sold on the rest of the book as particularly "essential", and I've not read any of his others.
  • Stephen Donaldson's Mordant's Need - great suggestion. Arguably Thomas Convenant belongs on the list - it is commercially successful, groundbreaking, etc. But I haven't read enough of it and, for all its proto-grimdarkness stature, I'd rather recommend Martin or Abercrombie. Mordant's Need, however, adds a lot to the discussion of the chosen one, with a protagonist that is simulataneously agent and object. Painful to read (all of Donaldson's stuff is brutal), but a really interesting series.
  • Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast - Is it weird that I don't think about it as particularly epic? I deliberately chose Harrison's Viriconium series instead, as I believe that directly addresses the nature of epic fantasy. But Gormenghast was first and probably more influential, more broadly? I'm not sure I'd change this pick, but I don't know. #losessleep
  • Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun - I read it as a kid, fooled by the cover into thinking it was something Dragonlancey. It... wasn't. I may have found the entire experience traumatic and blocked it from my mind. Probably needs some re-reading.
  • Diana Wynne Jones: I don't know if this is a cultural thing (growing up in America), but I've still not read very much of her. Ms. Jones was mentioned repeatedly in the comments surrounding the "Essential" SF Lists as well. I've read a few of her books now, and I wonder, rather rudely, if it is a matter of growing up with them? I'll press on...

I've got a shopping list of over a dozen books based on this, mostly thanks to Liz and Tansy's efforts to showcase the great work by female epic fantasy writers (from all over the world). So not only has this been a lot of fun, it has been expensive/worthwhile.