Fantasy special. Because you should always judge a book by its cover.
If your local bookshop (Waterstones. Not too many others left in the UK, to be fair) is anything like mine, they just throw all the fantasy books in with the sci-fi even though it’s not the same thing. Basically suggesting that all works of imagination should have to conform to scientific standard and discounting the possibility of magic in the world even here in the one area where it IS possible, because imagination shall always be secondary to pragmatical bean counting. Tells you all you need to know about the modern bookshop, in my opinion.
Book covers: Fantasy
Here are two covers for M John Harrison’s Viriconium stories. The left hand side is in the Fantasy Masterworks series, which is almost all good stuff in my experience. I’ve been carrying it around since my early days working in the Oxfam bookshop in Colchester (RIP) in the early millenium. It took me about two years to read, but it was 100% worth it – the impressionistic cover echoes the spacey prose of the stories within, that loosely concern a futuristic fantasy land that is written dead seriously at first and becomes more playful as time goes on (peep the right hand cover, by Linda Garland). I love the second illustration just as much, even if it looks like the wall texture was created by studying the inside of Aero bars.
Another cover for the stories in this sequence that I saw memorably featured a giant wasp.
Nowadays (at time of writing) you can follow M. John Harrison on Twitter, which slightly takes some of the mystery out of his Peake-like genius.
Book cover: Tolkien
There are many amazing illustrations for Tolkien out there, not least those done by the author himself. This isn’t one of them.
I don’t know why this cover, from the collected edition, is so awful. It just is.
I don’t think this is an Alan Lee illustration, because his are usually really good. I won’t shame the illustrator who did it by naming them, because I’ve lost the book anyway.
I think I just hate it because it shows you that this book will have a Wizard in it, but so do 1 billion other books. It’s actually not particularly good or bad, but aggressively mediocre. And that’s unforgiveable. I would rather see a crowd of larping cosplayers on the cover.
OK, please make it go away now. That witch king is dope, though. Also, the guy in the front seems to be in the wrong photo.
Book covers: Moorcock
I can’t talk about fantasy without talking about Michael Moorcock. What he hasn’t produced in terms of quality, he more than made up for in quantity over the years. He wrote the lyrics for Hawkwind, and he’s also written (almost) straight-up historical novels that are actually good! Is there nothing this man couldn’t do??
These collected editions are OK, as Moorcock goes. Personally I prefer the psychedelic madness of the Cornelius books, or some old-school Elric.
If you get the original Panther paperbacks, I think the illustrations were just stock pictures knocked out by some studio somewhere that were assigned to a book at random in some cases.
This one isn’t even fantasy, but straight-up historical fiction concerning the Arthurian legend. So I guess it is fantasy, in the sense that it is based on a myth. Arthur probably never existed, but if he read this I bet he would have loved it! This is a book club edition, 1960s, but they did a fairly nice job of printing the jacket.
In a similar vein, I have collected a fair amount of books on Norse Myths over the years, including a recent one by Neil Gaiman, but the cover is boring AF – just a big picture of Thor’s hammer, on a choice of black or white backgrounds. Disappointing considering Gaiman’s connections in the comics industry, who could surely knock together something much nicer, if he asked them to. They’re not doing much else at the moment.
The best one to get is probably the Penguin version of Sagas of the Icelanders, which is a big old book with those lovely deckled edges. I don’t have a copy here at the minute, so I stole a pic from ebay – but I keep the Sutcliff laying around because I like to pick it up and look at it now and then, and never read it.
next time: more bibliophilia if the mood takes me.