“Fantasy: A general term for any kind of fictional work that is not primarily devoted to a realistic representation of the known world. This category includes several literary genres describing imagined worlds in which magical powers and other impossibilities are accepted.” – The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms
When I tell people I write contemporary fantasy, sometimes they say, “wow, cool” and sometimes they say, “I read the Chronicles of Narnia when I was little, but know little about the genre.”
There are so many types, styles, flavors an sub-genres in fantasy, the wealth of material out there to read is often hard to explain to those wanting to know more. I agree with Terry Pratchett when he says that “Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can. Of course, I could be wrong.” However, here are a few links and ideas that are a bit more specific.
Wikipedia has a decent article on fantasy that works as a starting point. (Click on the graphic to read it.) The main article branches off into a series of additional links for sub-genres, books, and authors.
When people want to know more about the types of fantasies, I often send them to sites like Focus on Fantasy for a quick overview and Top 50 SciFi & Fantasy Novels blogs where they can sample some of the viewpoints and commentary out there.
I like Best Fantasy Books because it introduces newcomers to fantasy by listing books in various groupings and then, for each book, showing others that are similar to it. If you look at this site, you’ll find stand-alone books, books in a series, influential books, and a cool list called “Fantasy That Blows Your Mind.”
To keep up with recent books and new titles, you can subscribe to Amazon’s list via RSS. This puts it on your browser where you can click on it easily and see the names of the titles. You’ll find recent fantasy book reviews on Fantasy Book Critic. This site also displays an excellent blogroll that will send you off on an exploration of fantasy blogs, most of which links you to more blogs.
Once you find a favorite author and genre, s/he will often be another source via comments, interviews and viewpoints in a personal blog or web site. Fantasy is so diverse, that it’s really hard to nail it down and say that any one book of series is representative of the genre. Personally, I like contemporary fantasy the best because it overlaps are known world as J. K. Rowling did with her Harry Potter series. Rowling, though, is apples and oranges different from, say, Tolkien, or Erin Morgenstern’s recent The Night Circus or Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic Earthsea series.
Kindle, Nook and other e-readers make it easy to sample a variety of fantasy books at a lower cost before adding your newly discovered favorites to your bookshelf in hardcover or paperback. You can even find some of the older fantasies available on Project Gutenberg and other sites as free downloads. Happy exploring!
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy, including “The Sun Singer,” “Sarabande,” and the upcoming “The Seeker” (March 2013).