The votes have been cast and NPR’s list of the Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy novels of all time has been revealed.
Glen Weldon summarizes a few interesting aspects of the list, such as author demographics, how movies and television tie-ins have affected position on the list, and when the most popular novels seem to have been written. (Apparently, older is better.) Like Weldon, I think this Top 100 would have looked quite different if the Young Adult novels had been allowed for consideration. You can’t help wonder where Harry Potter, Earthsea, and the Narnia books might have landed…
Here are some random thoughts that came to mind as I perused the list:
1. Lord of the Rings – Of the roughly 60,000 votes cast, this three-book series received a vote from almost one out of every two people. Pretty impressive. Of course, I’m sure having three recent blockbuster movies added to the franchise didn’t hurt. I’m one of the half who didn’t vote for this series. While these books exposed me to some of the first strong female characters – Eowyn being my favorite – I always felt like I was trudging through the pages of world-building way too slowly to make Lord of the Rings a favorite of mine. But it’s a classic, and I’m not surprised by its number one ranking.
4. The Dune Chronicles – The Dune franchise is older than I am, winning a Hugo Award in 1966 and the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. It hit the big-screen in 1984 and the small-screen in 2000 as a mini-series. I started reading the books shortly before seeing the movie, as did just about every other kid I knew in high school. This series defined a lot of geekiness for the kids of the 1980s.
5. A Game of Thrones – I think this series has the benefit of being a hot topic, with a current television show and a new book. I’d like to see how it ranks in a decade when NPR gets back around to voting on this and hopefully after Martin wraps it up. If it’s still a never-ending story, it’ll probably lose fans and votes.
6. 1984 & 13. Animal Farm – Who didn’t read these? Sadly, some kids aren’t these days.
11. The Princess Bride – Honestly the movie is more memorable than the book in my mind. I recall sitting in the Duke University Theater, which was so packed the Fire Marshal came to forcibly remove students out of the aisle. The movie hit just the right tone for college kids working their way out of childhood and into the real world. It was our Rocky Horror Picture Show. We were all reciting lines at the screen, laughing riotously and enraptured as True Love and High Adventure played itself out.
Inigo Montoya: My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.
Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Inigo Montoya: Who are you?
Westley: No one of consequence.
Inigo Montoya: I must know.
Westley: Get used to disappointment.
Vizzini: You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is: “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.” But, only slightly less well known is this: “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!”
20. Frankenstein – Mary Shelly is the first female author to appear on the list. She wrote her story of a modern Prometheus over a three year period, finally publishing the book in 1823 at the age of 21. Talk about being ahead of her time.
22. The Handmaid’s Tale – A dystopian story about women who become pawns in a religious theocracy, I saw the brutality of this book’s message in a vivid, first-hand experience. Parts of the movie were filmed on Duke’s campus. One scene was filmed in front of the beautiful Duke Chapel – gallows were erected and fake bodies strung from nooses for a scene where the handmaids who had broken the laws of this brutal government were executed. I remember being ill when I saw this scene for the first time. That’s sort of the point of the book, though: to make you disgusted with the things mankind can do.
24. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Who hasn’t seen this film? Classic. The book is, as they often are, a little more expositional. Either way, movie or book, still a great story.
31. Starship Troopers – Honestly, I didn’t read the book, but I liked the movie. Neil Patrick Harris, anyone?
32. Watership Down – On the other hand, I read this book at least 20 times.
41. The Mists of Avalon & 47. The Once and Future King – Arthurian legend from the male and female perspective. Great reads both.
55. The Last Unicorn – I met Peter S. Beagle at San Diego Comic-Con this year. Apparently he has written tie-in stories to The Last Unicorn. I look forward to reading them.
70. The Time Traveler’s Wife – I liked this book, but I didn’t expect it to be on the list. It’s another one that benefits from a recent high-profile movie, and has me wondering if it will hold up over another decade or two.
80. Wicked – This is just fanfiction, of a sort, and it shows where stories we read as children can inspire adventuring minds to go. If you saw the musical and want to pick up the book, it’s not going to be what you expected. The book is much grittier and raw, but enjoyable. (Not a book for children like The Wizard of Oz, either.)
88. The Thrawn Trilogy – I’m glad to see Zahn’s Star Wars series get this nod. In my mind, it should be a bit higher on this list. But maybe I’m partial. This is a must-read for any fan of the Star Wars movies.
There is an open thread on the Top 100 in the Cantina, for anyone who’d care to discuss.