10 Classic Fantasy Books No Reader Should Miss

    Revisit the books that started it all.

    Fantasy is one of the oldest genres of fiction, and it has produced its fair share of memorable works. Though decades (even centuries) have passed since the publication of The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia, such classics continue to captivate readers around the world—and influence today's biggest authors. You can't open a contemporary fantasy novel and not spot the influence of Tolkien or Carroll.

    The list below is a celebration of those classic fantasy books—from widely-read staples to lesser-known gems. With incredible worldbuilding, unforgettable characters, and complex plots, each one has helped shaped the genre we know and love.

    Buy Three Hearts and Three Lions at Amazon

    Three Hearts and Three Lions

    By Poul Anderson

    Three Hearts and Three Lions begins as a historical fiction but, with a magical sleight-of-hand,  expands to include alternate history and out-and-out fantasy. We open in the midst of World War II just as Holger Carlsen, a resistance fighter, is injured on a mission. But instead of reawakening in a 20th century hospital, Holger finds himself in unfamiliar surroundings: a medieval world of knights, dragons, and werewolves. Partly drawn from Anderson's childhood in wartime Denmark, Three Hearts and Three Lions featured a class system and species of troll that significantly influenced Dungeons & Dragons.

    Related: 10 Books on Tyrion Lannister's Reading List 

    Three Hearts and Three Lions

    By Poul Anderson

    Buy Camber of Culdi at Amazon

    Camber of Culdi

    By Katherine Kurtz

    Camber of Culdi kicks off a 1970s fantasy series that, like many of the genre’s landmark works, is a feat of Tolkien-esque worldbuilding. The kings and kingdoms may be standard fare, but Kurtz’s invention of the Deryni—a race of creatures with psychic powers—sets the novel apart, and makes it a must-read modern classic. 

    Camber of Culdi

    By Katherine Kurtz

    Buy Beauty at Amazon

    Beauty

    By Robin McKinley

    Fantasy authors can’t resist reimagining fairy tales and classic stories for modern audiences. But before Wicked and Cinder, there was this 1978 novel, which offers a fresher, more mature take on Beauty and the Beast.

    Related: 10 Enchanting Beauty and the Beast Retellings 

    Buy The Crystal Gryphon at Amazon

    The Crystal Gryphon

    By Andre Norton

    The Crystal Gryphon is part of the massive Witch World project, which includes dozens of novels and short stories written over the course of several decades. Though not the first book in the series, Gryphon is a remarkable sword and sorcery adventure in which two lovers must harness the powers of a magical necklace, and save their world from destruction.

    Related: 10 Andre Norton Books Everyone Should Read  

    The Crystal Gryphon

    By Andre Norton

    Buy Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at Amazon

    Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

    By Lewis Carroll

    Carroll’s memorably bizarre children’s book is an absurdist fantasy masterpiece. Its topsy-turvy logic has appealed to young readers for centuries, but it also inspired 1960s psychedelic rock bands—most notably, Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 album, White Rabbit. This is the first of the Alice books, and the journey continues in Through the Looking Glass

    Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

    By Lewis Carroll

    Buy The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at Amazon

    The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

    By C.S. Lewis

    Any list of classic fantasy books has to include The Chronicles of Narnia, though the second book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is arguably the most famous. Since its 1950 publication, the novel has become one of the most iconic works of 20th century fiction—and has certainly shaped our perspectives on wardrobes and Turkish delight.

    The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

    By C.S. Lewis

    Buy The Lord of the Rings Trilogy at Amazon

    The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

    By J.R.R. Tolkien

    Few fantasy works have made as large an impact as Tolkien’s trilogy. It has been over 60 years since The Fellowship of the Ring hit bookstores, and the saga has since popularized the fantasy genre, inspired role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, and spawned countless copycats. Today, the second book remains one of the best-selling novels ever written—and there’s more to come. In addition to an upcoming TV adaptation, a previously unpublished Middle-earth adventure is set to release later this year. 

    Related: 15 Interesting Facts About the Man Behind Middle-earth 

    The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

    By J.R.R. Tolkien

    Buy A Game of Thrones at Amazon

    A Game of Thrones

    By George R.R. Martin

    Though HBO's Game of Thrones adaptation has become a worldwide phenomenon, the A Song of Ice and Fire saga has actually been around since 1996. The first book, in particular, is a showcase of Martin’s bold worldbuilding and infamous tendency to kill beloved characters (RIP Ned Stark). Now if he’ll just hurry up and finish of The Winds of Winter

    Related: Game of Thrones Season 8 Predictions 

    A Game of Thrones

    By George R.R. Martin

    Buy The Phantom Tollbooth at Amazon

    The Phantom Tollbooth

    By Norton Juster

    Thank goodness for distracted writers! Norton Juster was supposed to be working on something else—a kids’ book about cities, for which he had received grant money—when he wrote The Phantom Tollbooth. Not since Lewis Carroll’s Alice series had a children’s book featured such wacky conceits, characters, and settings. Juster’s story follows a restless boy as he travels across a world in which idioms aren’t figurative, but literal. 

    The Phantom Tollbooth

    By Norton Juster

    Buy The Once and Future King at Amazon

    The Once and Future King

    By T.H. White

    It doesn’t get much more classic than the story of King Arthur, Excalibur, and Merlin. And since T.H. White’s The Once and Future King is the definitive retelling, it only makes sense that it would round out our list of fantasy classics. The Once and Future King combines White’s previously unseen work with his published short fiction—though it all comes together to form a unified, unputdownable account of the King Arthur legend. 

    The Once and Future King

    By T.H. White

    This post is sponsored by Open Road Media. Thank you for supporting our partners, who make it possible for The Portalist to continue publishing the stellar stories you love.

    Featured still from "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" via Walt Disney Pictures

    KEEP SCROLLING FOR MORE FANTASY STORIES

    classic fantasy booksfantasy books


    scroll up