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  1. #1

    That tingling feeling of ancient mysteries...

    I believe that I started a thread like this a couple years ago, but reading The Judging Eye has encouraged me to start another with a more specific focus. I'm nearing the end and Achamian and his crew has entered Cil-Aujas; the entire book I've been looking forward to this sequence and so far I'm loving it.

    Here's what the thread title refers to: the feeling that fantasy writers sometimes (too infrequently, imo) inspire: it is akin to the classic scifi "sense of wonder," but I would call it a "sense of mystery." Not mystery as in Agatha Christie, but as in ancient history, myth, lost civilizations, reference to a past that no longer is, elder/dead races, mythic creatures and gods, artifacts, ruins, and so forth.

    R Scott Bakker does a good job invoking this - in particular his two ancient races, the Nonmen and Inchoroi, but also Cil-Aujas. Another author that is good at this is Steven Erikson; his references to a deep history, and in particular the elder races of the Jaghut and others evoke this sense of mystery. And of course J.R.R. Tolkien set the bar - the mythic history, the fantastic locations, especially the Moria sequence and perhaps most especially the Balrog itself. Le Guin's Earthsea and McKillip's Riddlemaster also had strong elements of this, particularly through their dense atmospherics.

    So my question is this: What authors and books do this for you? As a secondary question, how important is it to you, as a reader? For me it may be the most important quality of a book. If a book has other strong qualities but little sense of mystery, I might still read it; on a very rare occasion I might even love an author that doesn't specialize in this (Guy Gavriel Kay), but that author has to be very good at other qualities (which Kay is). But overall this really is my favorite spice in the fantasy soup.

  2. #2
    Heritage, Not Hate DennisC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alchemist View Post

    ...

    of course J.R.R. Tolkien set the bar - the mythic history, the fantastic locations, especially the Moria sequence and perhaps most especially the Balrog itself. Le Guin's Earthsea and McKillip's Riddlemaster also had strong elements of this, particularly through their dense atmospherics.

    ...
    Believe it or not, Dragon Riders of Pern and The Chronicles of Amberdid that for me. At a much younger age, Terry Brooks did so as well. Though re-reading some of his earlier works hasn't carried the same gravitas as they did when I was 12.

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    Would be writer? Sure. Davis Ashura's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DennisC View Post
    Believe it or not, Dragon Riders of Pern and The Chronicles of Amberdid that for me. At a much younger age, Terry Brooks did so as well. Though re-reading some of his earlier works hasn't carried the same gravitas as they did when I was 12.
    Seconded for all three of those. Thomas Covenant did as well, but the one that really stands out for me is Robert Jordan. For me, his use of history was actually more impressive that Tolkien's, at least in the sense of mystery that it evoked. I miss that feeling.

  4. #4
    I just found that in the least expected place - Abercrombie's First Law trilogy. When they enter the House of the Maker, I found myself wishing he would write about 20 more books about it and the mythos around it. I thought First Law would be all in the present with no real mythology and history, but it seems that Abercrombie has hundreds of pages of notes about the history of his world. It added a huge amount of depth to the stories and made everything seem more anchored and real.

  5. #5
    Couch Commander Danogzilla's Avatar
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    I love that sense of ancient mystery. I'm currently in the middle of Michael J Sullivan's second Riyria omnibus and I'm getting some of that there. As was said earlier The Wheel of Time delivers a nice dose of that too. I haven't yet read Malazan Book of the Fallen, but I'm hoping that has a strong sense of ancient mystery as well. Also Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastard Sequence seems to be building some of that with the Elderglass remnants. Oddly the place where I may have felt that the strongest (that I can think of at the moment anyhow) may have been in a video game, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. All the ruins and artifacts of the Makers really awed me at the time.

  6. #6
    It never entered my mind algernoninc's Avatar
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    Sean Russell - Moontide and Magic Rise duology has heaps of the stuff: World Without End and Sea Without Shore. There are two more books set in the same world that I haven't read yet.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Radone View Post
    Seconded for all three of those. Thomas Covenant did as well, but the one that really stands out for me is Robert Jordan. For me, his use of history was actually more impressive that Tolkien's, at least in the sense of mystery that it evoked. I miss that feeling.
    I'll second Robert Jordan, I felt he did it very well, probably the most impressive and the first I thought of when I saw this thread. Also agree with Pern and the Shannara books, though obviously at a different level and I was much younger.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Alchemist View Post
    So my question is this: What authors and books do this for you? As a secondary question, how important is it to you, as a reader?
    Michelle West and Michelle Sagara (same person). Between her two main series, the various works in the Essalyien world and the Chronicles of Elantra, she includes all of the elements that you mentioned: "ancient history, myth, lost civilizations, reference to a past that no longer is, elder/dead races, mythic creatures and gods, artifacts, and ruins". Some of that is more prominent in certain books than in others, but there's enough of a sense of history in those worlds that I very much get the sense of a great deal of very original world-building.

    I also saw a few of these elements in Robert V. S. Redick's The Red Wolf Conspiracy. Though I've only read the first one, so I don't know if their presence increases or decreases as the series continues.

    And Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicles. Though you've likely heard of this series already.

    I'll second Michael J Sullivan.

    I also found many of these things in Janny Wurts' The Wars of Light and Shadow, though I've only read the first book, and had some issues with it in other areas.

    I definitely enjoy reading about such things, but characterization is my main attraction. For me, this sense of history is great to have, and I think that I might liken it to a really enjoyable dessert. I can certainly eat without these elements and still have a fine experience, but that experience is often quite enhanced with them present.

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    Registered User Zsinj's Avatar
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    Ah dude, you're preachin' to the choir with me on that stuff! One of my favorite elements of fantasy! If you haven't already, defenitely check out Tad Williams' "Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn Trilogy" and Robert E. Howard's "Conan" stories. They're filled to the brim with those elements!

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Zsinj View Post
    Ah dude, you're preachin' to the choir with me on that stuff! One of my favorite elements of fantasy! If you haven't already, defenitely check out Tad Williams' "Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn Trilogy" and Robert E. Howard's "Conan" stories. They're filled to the brim with those elements!
    I've hesitated to add non-epic fantasy suggestions, but since you mention Howard, I guess I'll chime in with my usual response: H. P. Lovecraft ("At the Mountains of Madness," several of his Dunsanian fantasies, and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath) and Clark Ashton Smith (for instance, his story "Tsathoggua" or the Zothique cycle).

    I also get this feeling from some of Caitlin Kiernan's work, like Threshold or her short story, "Valentia."

    Lovecraft's "...Mountains..." and Kiernan's Threshold are border-line s.f., but the flavor of the writing and their connections to the writers more fantasy-like works might make them of interest.

    Randy M.

  11. #11
    This thread is worth resuscitating. Any more suggestions?

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Alchemist View Post
    This thread is worth resuscitating. Any more suggestions?
    I really empathize with your mention of this as your favorite fantasy-spice. It's what I felt often when reading Lovecraft early on. Again, non-epic fantasy:

    Caitlin Kiernan: The Red Tree & "Le Peau Verte"

    Laird Barron: The Croning & "Old Virginia"

    Sarah Monette: The Bone Key, specifically her story "Bringing Helena Back," though I think a couple of others may offer a similar feel. (I'm not as certain on this suggestion as on the others)

    I had the feeling you describe in the first chapter (or maybe it was the prologue) of The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. Once the scene shifts to Washington, D.C. that feeling dissipates, though there are plenty of other feelings to replace it.

    I think, if you're open to short stories, you'd also find this feeling in some of the early works of Thomas Ligotti ("The Frolic" among others) and in Fred Chappell's "Lineus Forgets", a truly wonderful fantasy short story. And maybe to a lesser degree in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Lot 249" and "Ring of Thoth." There's also an air of mystery, though not quite the historic mystery you're alluding to, in Algernon Blackwood's "The Willows." Perhaps closer to the mark, Arthur Machen's "The Novel of the Black Seal" and, if that works for you, try Elizabeth Hand's "Near Zennor." (The Blackwood, Machen and Doyle stories are all on-line if you want to sample.)

    There is also a bit of this feeling in William Hope Hodgson's The House on the Borderland and in his short story (novella?) "The Hog." Stetching things a bit, I'm rereading Richard Matheson's Hell House and the history of Belasco's mansion chimes a similar note for me.

    Both of Ramsey Campbell's novels, Ancient Images and The Grin of the Dark evoke something similar in me since both deal with old movies, the former a "lost" Karloff/Lugosi collaboration, the latter the collected works of a "lost" master of comedy, Tubby Thackery. I think Grin... does a better job of sustaining that feeling throughout the novel.


    Randy M.
    Last edited by Randy M.; July 10th, 2013 at 11:00 AM.

  13. #13
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    This is also the single most important factor in determining whether I enjoy a fantasy book.

    Funnily enough, the first two authors you mention are also my favorites.

    I believe you’ve hit the nail on the head with your scfi “sense of wonder” versus fantasy “sense of mystery” analogy. Authors that tap into the sense of mystery tend write the very books that started me on my lifelong love affair with fantasy, all those years ago…

    Other authors that I find have this quality are in addition to some that are mentioned above:

    J.V. Jones – The Sword of Shadows. The Clan, Stone Gods are just dripping with it.

    Janny Wurts – The Cycle of Fire. Read it a long time ago and will not reread to in order to preserve the magic, heh . Her War of Light and Shadow’s less so, it had more of a fairy tale/fable feel to it which diminished my enjoyment.

    Charles de Lindt – Practically all of his books

    Julian May – Saga of the Exiles. Fantasy masquerading as scfi.

    Great thread…

  14. #14
    sapper-in-chief Whiskeyjack's Avatar
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    Great thread! This is also my favorite fantasy "element." I'll add something not really in the genre, but which has a similar ancient history feel: Michael and Kathleen Gear's North America's Forgotten Past series (first book, People of the Wolf). These books follow the peopling of the North American continent following the last major glaciation, and have that same ancient, mysterious, other-worldliness feel to them. Ditto for Jean Auel's Earth's Children books, which are of a similar time period.
    Last edited by Whiskeyjack; July 12th, 2013 at 12:19 PM.

  15. #15
    What have we learned? Skynjay's Avatar
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    I can think of several books in which I am MORE interested in these mysteries than the actual book. When reading Mistborn I found myself more interested in the history lessons at the beginning of the chapters than anything else. In alt-history steampunk yarns (Cherrie Priest's Boneshaker for example) I want a nice little history book of how the world is different.

    I also once wanted more history from Pern, but when I was actually given it I kinda regretting my wish.

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