When I wan in high school I started reading. Not that I *couldn't* read by that point, but I didn't get any desire to read until then. The book that sucked me in was "The Sword of Shannara" by Terry Brooks. I then read the sequels to that book (I think back then there were only two), and followed up with Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone books, and on and on. Eventually I tackled the Lord of the Rings (right after The Hobbit), and up until about four or six years ago was reading and writing the fantasy genre pretty much exclusively.
I do have a book in the works that is about 120K words, but I have more or less abandoned it, perhaps to return to it eventually. Pretty much all of the work that I've done has been done in the name of RPG (yeah: I'm that geeky) within a close circle of friends.
But of late, I have had no taste at all for the fantasy genre. It's a broken genre, in my estimation. To be fair, perhaps I just need to look deeper for better books, but it seems to me that there is one basic story floating around with different characters and different subplots (if there are any of those), and different writing styles.
That story is:
This young person (most usually an early teen girl, but sometimes an early-to-late-teen girl or boy) finds themselves inexplicably tied up in a confusing array of goings-ons perpetrated by a very, very powerful antagonist. Through a series of harrowing adventures, running for their life, perhaps being guided by a bunch of older, experienced "professionals", and working against impossible odds to overthrow that very, very powerful antagonist, this youthful protagonist discovers an unknown power within them and saves the whole damn world.
To put it another way, its:
Antagonist: Some extremely powerful antagonist who has the cards stacked so far in his favor (and it's usually a male) that his victory is triple-assured. He may be a sorcerer, or a warlord, an evil king, whatever. He ALWAYS has huge armies and resources at his command, and often has some super-powerful pet like a dragon.
Protagonist: A yute (as Vinny Gambini would say) who's been working on a farm or is a serving wench in her parents' inn, or is a cobbler or leads some other mundane life who has never left his little village in her or his life, and has no idea how to go fist-a-cuffs let alone has any military training.
Plot: Turns out (very surprisingly) that the Protagonist is the last descendant of some forgotten Wizard King, or was chosen by The Powers Above (see that weird birthmark that is strangely shaped like a Winchester rifle?) and must be cajoled into leaving the inn or farm to save the planet or race (sometimes the universe).
Put down that rake, boy, we need you to save everybody else in existence. Over and over and over.
I read, and very much enjoyed, David Eddings' "The Belgariad". Farm boy knows nothing about where he came from, Child of Light, Child of Dark, go save humanity.
I also read David Edding' "The Mallorean". Another series that I enjoyed. New Child of Light who doesn't know who he is, Different Child of Dark who knows everything about both sides, go save humanity.
Much later I read Mr. Eddings' "The Ellenium". Different characters entirely, but same story (except that this time, the chosen hero was at least a Paladin). "The Tamuli" Same thing.
"Wheel of Time". Farm boy, didn't know what powers he had, go save everyone. That series wasn't the same series over and over, it was the same BOOK over and over.
The first series of Dennis L. McKiernan's that I read was "The Iron Tower" trilogy. This series is about a kingdom at war, and the main antagonist (the king's brother, who is possessed by a demon, as I recall, but it was a long time ago) is causing all kinds of mayhem. The primary protagonist is what Mr. McKiernan calls a "Warrow", which is a humanoid creature of small stature (something like two or three feet tall), and they live in a small sequestered community. Three of these little fellows end up embroiled in a great war to overthrow the bad guy.
In Mr. McKiernan's "Hell's Crucible" duology we find two of these little fellows hard at work thwarting yet another uber-powerful sorcerer who has a huge army of foul things / undead at his command.
I recall that at the end of that series, Mr. McKiernan expressed that he wanted to tell a story wherein normal people were pivotal in great schemes, because you never see that in fictional literature.
Really? You never do? Isn't that what happened in The Hobbit? In The Lord of the Rings? The Sword of Shannara (and all the Shannara sequels that I read)? All the books that I list above? There are many others that I've read that have the same basic story (Tad Williams "Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn comes to mind).
Just so that I've given them fair due, these writers also have books and stories that DON'T quite follow this mold:
I very much enjoyed reading the Belgariad. David Eddings writes excellent characters and I did get to feel that I knew all the players in a very complex and comprehensive setting. I'd just like to get a different story.
Dennis L. McKiernan also wrote The Silver Call Duology, which was a love story and was very good.
Terry Brook's "Magic Kingdom for Sale: SOLD" was a fun book too.
Piers Anthony's Xanth series is fun and clever, and I also enjoyed the Apprentice Adept trilogy.
But overall, it seems like this is the only story that sells in the fantasy genre these days. And this is what has pushed me into historical fiction for the last several years. In my old age I'm more drawn toward the "King and Country" mindset like The Three Musketeers.
The Count of Monte Christo was a great (great, great) story, and very much unlike the movie. I stumbled on The Scarlet Pimpernel Series and highly recommend it (my favorite is "The Laughing Cavalier", the second in the series). I've been reading classics that I ignored in my misspent youth: King Soloman's Mines, Treasure Island, Scaramouche, and others of this sort.
Books have taken a turn much like movies: back in the day, they had stories; today, it's all special effects. I like old movies too. :)
- I'm a life-long New Englander, father of 4 challenging kids (I know: I'm supposed to say "wonderful", but while that'd be true, technically speaking, it'd also be misleading), and fortunate husband to my favorite wife of more than 20 years. I've got over 20 years experience breaking things as a test engineer, quality engineer, reliability engineer, and most recently (and most enjoyably) a Product Safety / EMC Compliance Engineer. In the photo, I'm on the left.