This week, having finished all the reading I needed to do for the Hugo, I decided it was time to re-read the Earthsea novels - I had the collected edition of the first four and also a copy of Other Winds, though I'm not sure if I've ever actually read past the first three. That started me thinking about the books I read when I was first getting into fantasy, some good and some downright terrible, and how well they've stood the test of time.
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Leguin is one of the first books I remember reading in this genre, then The Tombs of Atuan (which, as I write this post, I started reading last night) scared the crap out of me. My version of the first book had the wonderful UK paperback artwork that you'll find partway down this page, even though I didn't really take on board at the time that it whitewashes Ged and his fellow wizards, not to mention that the scene depicted doesn't actually happen anywhere in the book.
Another formative influence for me when it came to fantasy was the wonderful books of Alan Garner. If you've not had the chance to read them, don't hesitate - probably the best to start with are The Owl Service (which owes a heavy debt to the Mabinogion) and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. These were required reading at school though I wonder if he's as well known outside the UK?
It wasn't all good, however. I remember reading the Belgariad and the Thomas Covenant books (little realising at the time just how rapey the latter was), as well as having a brief period of being smitten with Anne McCaffrey's dragon books. Since I'd also gone through a period of reading any horsey books I could get my hands on, the dragon books probably weren't too much of a step on from that.
And then there was Katherine Kurtz, another whose first trilogy at least I still have a copy of on my bookshelf. It had its weaknesses, that I won't deny at all, but that didn't stop me from loving the very idea of the Deryni, people with powers who looked just like everyone else, the same way I'd loved Zenna Henderson's stories of The People.
There's also a few folks I read at the time who are much less well-known now, some not even in print any longer - mostly women, it has to be said. I have fond memories of stalking the local library shelves in desperate search for the latest book in Nancy Springer's Book of the Isle series, since we didn't have the internet back then to tell us what was coming out soon, not to mention series by Geraldine Harris and Elizabeth A. Lynn.
At WorldCon in London, I had the profound pleasure of buying a signed copy of In the Red Lord's Reach by Phyllis Eisenstein and the bookseller casually mentioning that he knew her and would tell her he'd sold it. I don't think he realised how delighted I was to discover she was still around and I asked him to pass on that she's not forgotten, not at all, and I'm pleased to see Wikipedia says she's still writing, even if publication issues have caused all sorts of difficulties with her longer works.
Anyway, that's my history when it comes to fantasy. I read some SF too, partly because my brother had a collection of Asimov, Brunner and others of that ilk, but they never really 'grabbed' me the way the books I've mentioned did. By the way, I'm really enjoying visiting Earthsea again...