Either by the cold hand of Hollywood or the colder truths of reality, there's no denying that the fantasy and science fiction genres are at the forefront of entertainment today. Many a contemporary author has tried to emulate the works of a certain J.R.R Tolkein, but failed to reproduce the intricacies and complexities of The Lord of the Rings. Subsequently, the literary market has become saturated with volumes upon volumes of predictable plots and one-dimensional characters. So, without further ado, here are the eight books that prove that one can delve in the realm of fantasy without suffering tawdry plot devices and nonsensical gimmicks.
The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King
Spanning across eight novels, The Dark Tower presents a post-apocalyptic world where the last remaining 'gunslinger', Ronald Deschain, is on an epic quest to the nexus of the universe, the Dark Tower. Stephen King cites his inspirations as a mixture between Arthurian legends, The Lord of the Rings and Clint Eastwood's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. These influences are obvious throughout the books, right down to the concealed agenda of the gunslinger and the dark magic present in the world that King has created.
The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan
Comprised of 14 volumes, The Wheel of Time incorporates mythologies present in European and Asian culture, as well as drawing from a few spiritual beliefs found in Hinduism and Buddhism. The world represented in the series is one of immense detail and profound visualisations that encapsulate humanity in its simplest forms. The Wheel of Time starts with the creation of the wheel that governs time, and how 'the Dragon' was summoned to fight the evil released by members of the guild who control the spokes of the wheel.
Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
Narrator, John, reflects back to a time when he had planned to write a novel about what famous Americans were doing on the day that the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. During his research for the book, John develops an interest in Felix Hoenikker; a scientist credited with the development of the bomb, and his children. A series of events involving a substance created by the late scientist, called ice-nine, ensues and John and Hoenikker's children travel to the fictional island, San Lorenzo. Here they find themselves caught up in the on-going struggle between the president of the island and the founder of Bokonon, a new religious movement.
Sagas of Icelanders by Various Authors
Fantasy isn't all about make-believe and clear definitions of good and evil; Sagas of Icelanders is a collection of stories passed down by the first settlers of Iceland, the Vikings. Also known as Family Sagas, the compilation discusses the lives of the families scattered throughout the country and contains every element required in a good story: lust, ambition, greed, death, honour, betrayal and bloody brawls. What makes these sagas so timeless are the characters; each person mentioned within the pages can be traced back to actual people who struggle with all the strengths and weaknesses of the human race. As is the case in most folklore, a lot of the stories are 'heightened' by old Norse religion, superstitions and magic.
Iliad / Odyssey by Homer
The Iliad and Odyssey are both epic poems; Iliad depicts the last days of the Trojan War and Odyssey tells the tale of Odysseus' ten year trip back home to Ithica. Although based on an actual historical conflict, in typical Grecian fashion, Homer dramatised the war by adding many elements of Greek mythology and incorporates all the essentials required for a truly exciting adventure. Hailed by scholars as the foundation of modern Western Canons, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey represent a moment in history that once honoured great achievements by even greater legends.
Beowulf by Unknown
Set in Scandinavia, Beowulf tells the story of a hero of the Geats, who later became king through his triumphs over the monster 'Grendel' and his mother. Beowulf then goes on to kill a dragon that once terrorized his realm and is mortally wounded in the process. The poem is a classic example of the storytelling style typical of Scandinavian lore, in which they glorify the deeds of a mighty man deemed worthy of recognition.
The Divine Comedy by Dante
The Divine Comedy is an Italian canto that is split up into three parts; Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. It tells the tale of Dante's journey through these three layers associated with the Catholic beliefs of the afterlife. Discussing the mortal affectations of sin, virtue, and theology, Dante also manages to incorporate some scientific themes of his time. What makes Dante's The Divine Comedy an essential read is the manner in which he addresses the fear and hope that constitute man's existence. He answers the immortal questions on man's mortal mind in a manner that promotes redemption within discovery.
Awaj bin Anfaq by Zakariya Al-Qazwini
Physician, astronomer, geographer and author; Zakariya Al-Qazwini's proto-science fiction novel tells of a being who travels to Earth from a distant planet. The extra-terrestrial man observes the human race, only to find himself confused by the inexplicable things that this seemingly intelligent species does. This 13th century book is a prime example of the origins of science fiction from minds that were well ahead of their times.