The Most Popular Fantasy Novels


“As you review the list in search of your favorite book or series, it may help to keep in mind that, despite its rather grandiose name, the Top 100 Science Fiction/Fantasy Novels of All Time Summer Readers’ Survey isn’t, of course, a measure of literary quality, or boldness of ideas, or richness of detail — it’s a popularity contest.” — Glen Weldon in Monkey See

If you enjoy science fiction and fantasy, you’ll find a lot of old favorites on NPR’s list of the top 100. This list came about as a result of an NPR poll in which some 60,000 people voted for their favorites. The book sitting on the top of the list is The Lord of the Rings published between 1937 and 1949. Perhaps it’s popularity in the voting is due in part to Peter Jackson’s well-received trilogy of featue films released between 2001 and 2003. It’s a good choice, though, with over 29,000 votes in the poll. (The poll did not include young adult books; if it had, you can be sure J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series would have made the list.)

Lord of the Rings isn’t the only old book on the list. Weldon notes in his blog post that “only four titles in the top 20 have been published in the past ten years: George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series at #5; Neil Gaiman’s American Gods at #10; the last few volumes of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series at #12; and Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle series at #18.”


I’m somewhat surprised by this. Definitely, the older books on the list have staying power even if they got a boost in the poll in part from Hollywood–as was the case with William Goldman’s 1973 The Princes Bride that was adapted for the screen in 1987 by Rob Reiner. Rounding out the top five in the poll were The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Adams), Ender’s Game (Card), The Dune Chronicles (Herbert), and A Song of Fire and Ice Series (Martin).

For me, the results for fantasy are somewhat skewed because the poll included science fiction. While there’s often a lot of overlap between the fantasy and science fiction genres that makes it difficult to categorize some novels as either one or the other, I would have enjoyed seeing the poll separated into two. That might have produced more representative results. For example, the inclusion of science fiction in the mix is partly responsible for the fact that The Mists of Avalon (Bradley) is sitting at 42 and that The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (Donaldson) didn’t even make the list.

Nonetheless, the list is interesting. If you’re in the mood for a popular fantasy or a popular science fiction novel, it’s a good place to look. Next year, NPR plans to run a survey looking for people’s favorite young adult novels. I wonder how many times a Harry Potter book will make the list.


Fantasy with a Sharp Edge

3 thoughts on “The Most Popular Fantasy Novels

  1. Pingback: The Most Popular Fantasy Novels « Malcolm’s Round Table | Malcolm's Book Bits and Notions

  2. Smoky Zeidel

    I’ve never understood why polls place fantasy and SciFi in the same category. Yes, SciFi is fantasy, but not all fantasy is SciFi–far from it. How can you compare The Mists of Avalon to all the new Star Wars Novels that have flooded the market? You can’t, of course. They should not be the same category.

    Of course, then you’re left with the problem of how you define SciFi. Would it have to include technology? Space ships? Things blowing up?

    1. The definition difficulty steps into the picture when fantasy novels are set in science fiction worlds and vice versa. Then, what do we do. We can count words, I suppose and see how many inches of fantasy we have and howmany inches of sci fi we have.

      I guess it come down to knowing it when we see it. 🙂

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