Highbrow Fantasy Books

Fantasy books that explore philosophical or creative themes that transcend basic storytelling and push the boundaries of what is considered "fantasy"

Absolutely no self-published, YA, or children's fiction (exception made for Lewis Carroll).
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15

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16

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17

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18

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19

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20

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21

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22

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23

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24

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really liked it 4.00 avg rating — 231,531 ratings
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25

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26

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27

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28

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4.51 avg rating — 783,334 ratings
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29

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3.58 avg rating — 243,848 ratings
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30

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31

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32

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4.27 avg rating — 514,679 ratings
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33

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34

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4.14 avg rating — 60,968 ratings
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35

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4.22 avg rating — 10,389 ratings
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36

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37

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38

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3.95 avg rating — 334,667 ratings
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39

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40

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4.22 avg rating — 2,298,286 ratings
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41

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3.83 avg rating — 720,546 ratings
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42

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3.87 avg rating — 78,074 ratings
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43

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4.17 avg rating — 422,965 ratings
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44

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4.25 avg rating — 207,374 ratings
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45

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46

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47

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3.69 avg rating — 33,549 ratings
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48

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4.36 avg rating — 1,727 ratings
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49

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3.92 avg rating — 79,149 ratings
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50

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3.91 avg rating — 16,770 ratings
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51

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51

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53

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54

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55

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56

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57

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58

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59

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60

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61

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62

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63

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64

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65

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66

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67

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68

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69

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70

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71

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72

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73

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74

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75

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76

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77

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78

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79

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80

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81

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82

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83

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84

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85

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86

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3.93 avg rating — 10,556 ratings
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86

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3.97 avg rating — 402,212 ratings
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88

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89

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3.92 avg rating — 1,418,291 ratings
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90

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3.90 avg rating — 5,677 ratings
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91

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3.98 avg rating — 44,733 ratings
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92

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4.20 avg rating — 23,588 ratings
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93

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3.77 avg rating — 3,039 ratings
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94

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3.89 avg rating — 5,778 ratings
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95

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4.12 avg rating — 7,431 ratings
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96

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3.87 avg rating — 68,197 ratings
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97

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4.65 avg rating — 20 ratings
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98

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3.92 avg rating — 1,558 ratings
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99

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4.02 avg rating — 540 ratings
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100

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412 books · 633 voters · list created July 9th, 2009 by Greyweather (votes) .
212 likes · 
Lists are re-scored approximately every 5 minutes.


Greyweather 2660 books
71 friends
Bettie 15637 books
124 friends
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads 3263 books
860 friends
Bridgit 3901 books
157 friends
Lynda 20562 books
290 friends
John 755 books
49 friends
Kristen 1658 books
55 friends
Hanna 7322 books
80 friends

More voters…


Comments Showing 1-24 of 24 (24 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Greyweather (new)

Greyweather This list is based on Jeff VanderMeer's original "essential fantasy reading" list.


message 2: by Antoine (new)

Antoine Should magic realism count? There is a lot of it here.


message 3: by Morgan (new)

Morgan F Why no YA? What if its GOOD YA?



message 4: by Antoine (new)

Antoine I agree. The earthsea trilogy is YA. Or do we really mean "no Harry Potter"?


message 5: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Lord of the Rings isn't highbrow, but Watership Down is?


message 6: by Jenn (new)

Jenn Wheres the Shannara Trilogy? Where are The Dragonlance Chronicles? Or The Belgariad? Oooooh, Im going to have to do something about this....


message 7: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Antoine wrote: "Should magic realism count? There is a lot of it here."

I think Antoine that 'highbrow fantasy' may be code for magical realism, or aka 'snob fantasy'. Not that magical realism isn't full of great literature, but it is unfortunately often a guilt-free way of pretencious readers enjoying fantasy without compromising their imagined good taste in books. I personally think that often dismissed authors such as Tolkein and Le Guin to be of much literary merit and people who sneer at genre fiction to be rather small-minded and misinformed.


message 8: by Antoine (new)

Antoine See, I love both genres, but I don't see any real reason to call "One Hundred Years of Solitude" (for example) a fantasy, even a snob fantasy. It has a dreamy improbable quality, but it takes place in a world which is recognizably our own, without any obvious trappings of fantasy: no magic, no swords, no imaginary kingdoms or lost civilizations, no higher (or lower) reality. I can see why a fantasy fan in search of respectability might be drawn (as I am) to magic realism; but that doesn't make them the same thing.


message 9: by Antoine (new)

Antoine Jenn{OuR lAdY pEaCe LuVa!!!} wrote: "Wheres the Shannara Trilogy? Where are The Dragonlance Chronicles? Or The Belgariad? Oooooh, Im going to have to do something about this...."

Now this is exactly the stuff that I think this particular list was designed to exclude. However, that is only one readers opinion.


message 10: by Jenn (new)

Jenn Ok, if this list was trying to exclude those books and series, do you mind explaining to me why? Im not trying to be rude or anything, just you seem to know why, mind sharing?


message 11: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Antoine wrote: "See, I love both genres, but I don't see any real reason to call "One Hundred Years of Solitude" (for example) a fantasy, even a snob fantasy. It has a dreamy improbable quality, but it takes place..."

I love both genres too, but I don't think it is fair that one should be valued over the other. I see no reason whatsoever to classify Magical Realism as the 'high brow' fantasy. Both genres are equally capable of great literature for those who take the time to know them both, but many people are in the habit of dismissing 'high fantasy' as lowbrow genre pulp. Sci-Fi also suffers from similar treatment, although not as harshly from my experience.


message 12: by Antoine (new)

Antoine I agree with you Amanda. I don't value one (magic-realism) over the other (fantasy). But that doesn't make them the same thing either... and I don't see why magic realism belongs on this list. BUT if eight people think One Hundred Years of Solitude is a fantasy, who am I to disagree with them?

And Jenn, my comment about Terry Brooks, David Eddings and co. was a moment of out-and-out snobbery on my part. I have always felt that those authors were riding the coat-tails of others who came before them, instead of staking out some really new territory. But you are completely entitled to feel differently... and vote accordingly!


message 13: by Scott (new)

Scott Yeah, I thought this stuff would be excluded too, but I see it snuck onto the list anyway. Not bad mouthing anything. I've read and enjoyed all the books mentioned. They just are not what I consider "Highbrow". I don't think they fit the list's description either, as they are more traditonal storytelling, and frankly are already on 500 lists or more.


message 14: by Michael LeSueur (new)

Michael LeSueur Why is Twilight on this list?


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Because Twilight seems to creep onto all lists!


message 16: by John (new)

John Burns Don quixote is fantasy? i can't recall anything fantastical happening in it. Can someone refresh my memory?


message 17: by Amanda (new)

Amanda I don't know if they are refering to his delusions - ie. trying to fight windmills?


message 18: by Beth A. (new)

Beth A. Excellent sounding list...full of fantasy that is not a thirty book series!
It rightfully has series and such but I am glad to have come across a more interesting than usual list. As to books not being fantasy,while I believe the intent of this list is probably traditional fantasy,I have heard some talk about the subjectiveness of the term. That is to say a more literal dictionary definition. Thus,some of the odder choices...still I wouldn't choose them.


Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship Well, there's some stuff on here I definitely wouldn't call "highbrow" (Jordan, Goodkind, freaking Dragonlance....), aside from some I just don't find well-written at all (Neverwhere and the Night Circus for instance), but all in all, not bad for a GR list. It includes some seminal books and some genuinely well-written stuff. I like that it has both magic realism and more traditional fantasy--I think the point of calling it "highbrow" is that it's meant to be a list of more literary books with speculative elements, rather than just pulpy entertainment.


message 20: by Katerina (new)

Katerina Dennison I guess it's a matter of opinion. I didn't find Interview with a Vampire well written at all. Neverwhere on the other hand is one of my favorite books and i have the deepest respect for Gaiman's writing. I think highbrow is an extremely vague definition. Do we mean "literary" fantasy as opposed to "genre" fantasy?


message 21: by Andrew (last edited Oct 24, 2014 03:10PM) (new)

Andrew Obrigewitsch Dungeons and Dragons books and anything by David Eddings do not qualify please remove.

And if Terry Goodkind and Terry Brooks are on here they need to be removed too, I didn't see them though.

Yeah, interview with a Vampire is quite bad.


message 22: by Andrew (last edited Oct 24, 2014 03:16PM) (new)

Andrew Obrigewitsch Jenn wrote: "Ok, if this list was trying to exclude those books and series, do you mind explaining to me why? Im not trying to be rude or anything, just you seem to know why, mind sharing?"

Look up the definition of highbrow. Those series are not that.


message 23: by Vrixton (new)

Vrixton Phillips To be honest, I don't see why the Prince of Nothing series is on here, myself, but maybe I'm just too much of a snob for my own good...


message 24: by [deleted user] (last edited Oct 21, 2015 08:28AM) (new)

I see fantasy books mixed with gothic, science-fiction and magical realism. It's a bit of a mess.

But the main hindrance to this list is that everyone comes with a different definition of "highbrow". Some people thinks it means of better quality or better written.
For exemple, I thought it meant "intellectually engaging, giving food for thoughts", hence my surprise to see A game of thrones, The Hobbit, The wheel of Time, The name of the wind, and so on, which surely are great books, very popular, amazingly entertaining, but of limited philosophical, scientifical or sociological value.


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