POLL — Fantasy Fans: What’s your “Gateway” Book?

Months ago, I was at an event with my husband. We were sitting at a table with some people we knew through others. In other words, it was a friendly environment but we didn’t really know anyone. At some point my husband mentioned that I was a writer and that I wrote “adult fantasy,” which, of course, is true, but…

that label evokes different associations depending on who hears it. Sure enough I was then immediately asked, “Oh, so your books are like Fifty Shades of Grey”?

Um, no. Not really. Yes, there’s romance in them. And, no, I don’t always close the bedroom door. But the world within which my stories are written is very different from Christian and Anastasia’s. Without thinking, I blurted out:

“No, more like Lord of the Rings.”

But then I thought about it, and realized that comparison wasn’t any more appropriate than the Fifty Shades one. My writing is as similar to Tolkien’s as it is to E.L. James’. (In other words, it isn’t. And that’s a good thing. Every writer should try to develop their own style.)

The people we were talking to were genuinely curious about what I wrote. They weren’t avid readers and they were simply trying to relate to the type of stories I write. And when people do that, they tend to make references to people, places, and things that EVERYONE has heard of. Otherwise, there’s no bridge, no connection. There’s no jumping off point, no basis for discussion. It’s just people talking at each other, instead of to each other.

But the experience made me think. And even after all this time, I haven’t really answered the question it raised, which is basically:

What’s my gateway book?

So I’m curious if anyone else struggles with this.

Writers – when you are talking to someone who isn’t a fantasy fan (or who may not even be a reader at all), which book do you compare your work to?

Readers – when you meet someone who isn’t a fantasy fan (or who may not even be a reader at all), which book do you use as a well-known example of the genre?

Before we get to the fun part, an acknowledgement:

Yes, I know fantasy is replete with subgenres and endless iterations. I’m aware that your answer to this question is highly dependent on your own reading preferences. But that’s why you must choose something that has a 90% chance of being known by someone who is NOT ALREADY A FANTASY FAN AND POSSIBLY NOT EVEN A READER AT ALL. (In other words, this is not a post about all of the stories people should have heard of because they are great examples of the genre, but rather it’s a post about the books we use to start a discussion in the first place.)

So, here are some choices. But I’m also very interested in hearing from you. I can’t possibly have listed all the options…

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Published by

Jill Archer

Jill Archer is the author of the Noon Onyx series, genre-bending fantasy novels including DARK LIGHT OF DAY, FIERY EDGE OF STEEL, WHITE HEART OF JUSTICE, and POCKET FULL OF TINDER.

8 thoughts on “POLL — Fantasy Fans: What’s your “Gateway” Book?

  1. I added The Tempest by Shakespeare…. Hmm, maybe I should have listed Camelot/The Once and Future King…

  2. My ‘other’ was Terry Brooks’s Shannara books. Maybe now that there is going to be the tv show *prays silently to any deity that will listen MTV doesn’t screw it up* it will be even more mainstream/well-known.

  3. Great post! I’ve been struggling with this recently – It was my turn to pick the book for my suburban book club, and I wanted to pick a Fantasy since that’s what I primarily read and write, but it occurred to me how inaccessible a lot of my favorite fantasy books might be to someone who didn’t grow up reading this genre. For example, I adore Kim Harrison’s “The Hallows” series or Gail Carriger’s “The Parasol Protectorate,” but if someone is previously only used to bookclub books like The Kite Runner, I think these books would feel like entering another country where you don’t know the language. I tend to recommend The Hobbit, not TLoTR as a starter Fantasy book – as for “Game of Thrones,” I sometimes recommend the TV show first, because I think particularly non-readers often find the length of the books intimidating (much as I try to assure them they’re a quick read.)

    1. Well, if they’re already readers and are open to new stuff, why not introduce them to Kim Harrison or Gail Carriger? Your comment got me thinking: how much fun would it be to be in a book group where each person loved one particular genre and when it was their turn they picked something they loved to intro to the group?

      If you swing back by, I’d love to know what you picked for them to read. 😀

      Thanks for the great comment!

    1. Hi Beth–

      Thanks for putting your “other” answer in the comments. I don’t think everyone can see people’s alternate answers when they view the results.

      I love Anne McCaffrey! I still remember exactly where all her books were in my old middle school library. I reread DRAGONFLIGHT a few years ago. And if I were making a list of significant, defining SFF works, I’d definitely include her, but I’m not sure how well known she is outside of sf/fantasy circles…? But that’s likely to change soon since Warner Bros. optioned the series: http://www.themarysue.com/dragon-riders-of-pern-warner-bros-movie/

      CAN’T WAIT!!

      Other “other” answers people gave were:

      Andre Norton’s WITCH WORLD
      Cassandre Clare’s CITY OF BONES
      ALICE IN WONDERLAND

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