The fantasy section of the bookstore is such a wasteland of derivative, unimaginative, indulgent storytelling. And I say that as someone whose house is full of fantasy volumes, and who spends many hours every week working on fantasy stories. It’s such a rich tradition, but holy Merry Brandybuck, it can be tough to find true inspiration and enchantment amidst so much disposable and recycled material.

I laughed and cheered all the way through this hilarious list of fantasy-lit pet peeves, even as I checked to see how many lazy conventions I’d perpetuated in my own work. If you were to eliminate the books guilty of these cliches, the Fantasy Department of most bookstores would become the Fantasy Shelf.

What are your fantasy-literature pet peeves?


By request, here are a few fantasy authors whose work I always find worthwhile. It’s not a comprehensive list, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a great place to start.

  • Tolkien, of course.
  • C.S. Lewis.
  • Madeleine L’Engle
  • Patricia McKillip
  • Mervyn Peake
  • Guy Gavriel Kay
  • Robin McKinley
  • Michael Ende (especially “Momo”)
  • Jane Yolen
  • Frank Herbert (His books usually qualify as science fiction, which is a different thing to me than “fantasy.” But Herbert’s works seem more like fantasy than sci-fi to me, because he seems much more interested in myth than technology.)

I’d rate Richard Adams’s Watership Down second only to The Lord of the Rings in my list of fantasy favorites. And Walter Wangerin’s The Book of the Dun Cow is a masterpiece.

I’ve recently discovered Gina Oschner (People I Wanted to Be, The Necessary Grace to Fall), who sometimes writes short stories of magical realism, and I’m deeply moved and impressed. Some would add Stephen R. Donaldson, but I’ve struggled with his books and I have mixed feelings about them.

Anne could add several more names to this list, as she reads fantasy voraciously. I’ll ask her.

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