This week we return to our growing list of the greatest fantasy novels of all time. The entries on our list are selected using objective data rather than personal opinion.
Each novel is evaluated based on the awards it has won, its commercial success, and its cultural impact. Many amazing novels were written before all of the modern awards were established.
In this week’s entry, we will explore a new aspect of writing. Some propose that there is nothing new under the sun. They suggest that there are seven basic plots or insist that there are only thirty-six dramatic structures.
Famous award-winning authors readily admit that they have borrowed characters, themes, and plots from other famous works. Some might suggest that this is a form of plagiarism, while others simply call it a retelling of a classic story. If there is nothing new and only a finite number of plots exist, then in essence all fiction is simply a retelling.
The fine line between plagiarism and borrowing seems to fall somewhere into the realm of time. If the work borrowed from is in the public domain and old enough, it is fair game. Likewise, if a popular fantasy novel borrows the exact plotting from Star Wars, then it appears acceptable as long as all the names and places are changed.
Authors borrow from authors. This will never change. We can hope that they bring something new to the telling.
Now we find ourselves approaching this week’s entry on our list of the greatest fantasy novels of all time. Before we get into the details, let us look back at the rest of our list.
The Greatest Fantasy Novels of All Time
- The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien (Best Novel Awards: International Fantasy Award 1957, Prometheus Hall of Fame Award 2009)
- Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold (Best Novel Awards: Hugo 2004, Locus 2004, Nebula 2004; Nominations: Mythopoeic 2004)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling (Best Novel Award: Hugo 2001)
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
- A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin (Best Novel Award: Locus 2001, Geffen 2002, Ignotus 2006; Nominations: Nebula 2001, Hugo 2001)
- The City & The City by China Miéville (Best Novel Award: Locus 2010, Clarke 2010, World Fantasy 2010, BSFA 2009, Kitschies 2009, Hugo 2010; Nominations: Nebula 2010, Campbell 2010)
- Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (Best Novel Award: Time 2004, Hugo 2005, World Fantasy 2005, Locus First Novel 2005, Mythopoeic 2005, British Book Newcomer 2005; Nominations: Man Booker 2004, Whitbread 2004, Guardian 2004, British Book Literary 2005, Nebula 2005)
- The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe (Best Novel Award: BSFA 1981, World Fantasy 1981, Campbell 1984, Locus 1982, Locus 1983, Nebula 1982, Derleth 1983; Nominations: Balrog 1981, Balrog 1983, Balrog 1984, Campbell 1981, Locus 1981, Locus 1984, Nebula 1981, Nebula 1983, Nebula 1984, BSFA 1982, BSFA 1983, World Fantasy 1982, World Fantasy 1983, Hugo 1982, Hugo 1983, Mythopoeic 1982)
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
The Once and Future King by T. H. White
Author: T. H. White
First Year Published: 1958
The Once and Future King by T. H. White is a retelling of the Arthurian legend. The legend of King Arthur dates back to the 5th century, when the most famous British ruler was said to have fought against invaders.
The truth of Arthur is lost somewhere in unreliable histories. No matter the truth, Arthur and his court define chivalry and the romantic notion of knights.
Over the centuries many authors have written about this legendary figure. Sir Thomas Malory wrote Le Morte d’Arthur in the 1400s. His tale wove together many of the myths and legends surrounding King Arthur. His work served as the principal inspiration for T. H. White.
The Once and Future King represents a collection of four tales written by White. The Sword and the Stone was first published in 1938. It wasn’t until 1958 that it was joined with The Queen of Air and Darkness, The Ill-Made Knight, and The Candle in the Wind to form The Once and Future King.
In his combined novel, T. H. White made the Arthurian legend accessible to a much wider audience. His amazing storytelling ability brought the myth to life like none had before. White himself considered the first part of his novel as a prequel to Malory’s work.
The character of the young Arthur, known as Wart, was so finely crafted that famous authors such as J. K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman have confessed to borrowing elements of the character for their own stories.
Rowling’s Dumbledore is even said to be greatly influenced by White’s Merlyn.
Not only has The Once and Future King influenced and assisted some of the most popular authors of today, it has helped firmly establish the Arthurian legend in our culture.
Few tales transcend the genre barriers more than Arthur, Merlyn, Excalibur, Guinevere, and Lancelot. A large share of that credit is owed to White.
The great Lin Carter called it “the single finest fantasy novel written in our time.” The novel is considered poetic with deep intellectual strands that offer comedy and the fantastic. Many modern fantasy masterpieces owe their creation to the inspiration derived from The Once and Future King.
If you have never read T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, it is time to move it up your reading list. It is truly one of the greatest fantasy novels of all time.
Catch up on the other Greatest Fantasy and Greatest Science Fiction novels of ALL TIME! (images link to the posts)