More Author Influences: Other Great North American Epic Fantasists of The Early Commercial Boom

ARTWORK by chic2view from

Wotcha all. This article will be talking about the influences of North American authors from that initial boom of commercial Epic Fantasy that didn’t feature in this article. I will repeat the caveats from last article: this is a first draft and not exhaustively researched; it takes the authors at face value; I’m too lazy to reference everything properly right now (although the links will be included, and most of it comes from links).

I had originally planned to do American and Canadian separately in case there were great differences there, but ultimately I found that for the Canadians, the spread over time and genre made that a so-so proposition. Besides, what do you do with a guy like Joel Rosenberg, who I believe split his childhood between Manitoba and North Dakota, or Charles R. Saunders, born in Pennsylvania but ended up in Nova Scotia? So Guy Gavriel Kay, Joel Rosenberg, and Michelle Sagara West are brought into this. Also appearing will be Katherine Kerr, Janny Wurts, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, R.A. Salvatore, and Kate Elliott.

Margaret Weis fell in love with Tolkien at university, but never found any other fantasy she liked. In a way, she was the fan the new fantasy genre was looking to capture. They didn’t get her as a fan, but they got her as a writer after working as a book editor for TSR (i.e. D&D) led to writing Dragonlance. She’s listed her influences as Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Chaim Potok, Mary Renault, Rex Stout, Alexander Dumas.

Tracy Hickman is her partner in crime on Dragonlance, and he lists his influences as JRR Tolkien, Ursula K Le Guin, Samuel R Delany, Issac Asimov, Stephen King and Stephen Leacock.

Guy Gavriel Kay is also influenced by Tolkien, and in the deepest way as he spent a year helping to edit the Silmarillion, an exercise that helped lead to The Fionavar Tapestry. He has also mentioned his debt to the Eddas and Arthurian Cycles, Dorothy Dunnett, Carlo Ginzburg, Milan Kundera, Brian Friel; lists TW White as the greatest fantasist after Tolkien, has spoken admiringly of Ursula Le Guin, Marvin Borowsky, and Rosemary Sutcliff. My wording is deliberate as, as you can see in particular in the SFSignal interview, Kay tends to dodge the influence in terms of books question. That said, there he lists Tolstoy, Flaubert and Shakespeare as influences of a sort, and some of his favourite authors as George Garrett, Mary Renault, Hilary Mantel, Jane Gardam, Penelope Fitzgerald, E.R. Eddison, Alan Garner, Roger Zelazny, John Brunner, Arthur Conan Doyle, Herman Melville, Jennifer Egan, Chekhov, Isaac Babel, Gabriel García Márquez, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Philip Roth, and Toni Morrison.

Janny Wurts, famous for the War of Light and Shadow series and the Empire trilogy, is a lot easier to track down thanks to this fantastic article on Before We Go. Listed are Walter Farley, Fairy Tales and Myths, Irving Stone, Costain, Mary Stewart, Howard Pyle, Robert Louis Stephenson, Mary Renault, Morris L. West, Dick Francis, Daniel P. Mannix, Rosemary Sutcliff, Lindsey Davis, John D. MacDonald, Conrad, Clancy, Hemmingway, Jane Austin, Ngaio Marsh, Roger Zelazny, JRR Tolkien, Andre Norton, Ursula LeGuin, Stephen Donaldson, Tanith Lee, Jack Vance, Dorothy Dunnett, Joseph Kessel, Edith Pargeter.

R.A. Salvatore, he of duel wielding exiled bad guy fame, lists his influences as Ian Fleming, Arthur Conan Doyle, Fritz Leiber, J.R.R. Tolkien, the Romantic poets, Charles Schultz, Robert Cormier, Terry Brooks, James Joyce, Ta Nehisi-Coates and his earliest editors: Eric Severson and Mary Kirchoff. Other favourite authors include Mark Twain, Geoffrey Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dante, and Sartre.

Joel Rosenberg came up as a big old zero other than ancient stories and American folklore. Maybe without that Joel C. Rosenberg chap, and without dying over a decade ago.

Katherine Kerr is generally much more voluble about her influences from mythology than from any author – save Tolkien – but does list Tad Williams, Juliet McKenna, and Kate Elliott as her favourite genre authors. I’d call them influences but I think she might have published before all of them so not so much. Also I’ve just realised Kate Elliott should be on this list. Oooops. Kerr is well read and acquainted with the history of fiction, but influenced by it? It’s very hard to ay from her own words.

Michelle Sagara West (sometimes known as Michell Sagara or Michelle West) lists herself as unaware of her influences, but gives some of her favourite authors as Terry Pratchett, Robin McKinley, Patricia McKillip, Megan Whalen Turner, and Guy Gavriel Kay; that she started with Ursula Le Guin, Theodore Sturgeon, Frank Herbert, and Joanna Russ.

Finally, last but not least, thank god for Kerr, Kate Elliott, who has written more than enough very well thought of epic fantasy books to be on this list. She talk extensively of her knowledge and life as influences but finding her mentioning someone other than Tolkien took some work. However, here’s a list of authors she holds as important to her – Hans Christian Andersen, L. Frank Baum, Ray Bradbury, E. R. Eddison, William Shakespeare, Ursula K. Le Guin, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, T. S. Eliot, Evangeline Walton, Anne McCaffrey, C.J. Cherryh, Vonda McIntyre, Tanith Lee, editor Jessica Amanda Salmonson, the flood of women writers in the 1980s, and Alan Garner.

Now comes the part where I look at the data (such as it is) and try to find commonalities. Normally this doesn’t reveal much. But perhaps we have something here. This group is by far the most Tolkien influenced tranche I’ve found, with Weis, Kay, Kerr, and Elliott acknowledging particularly big influences. Le Guin is almost as big with six out of the nine acknowledging her in some form. Take those two out and start counting the SFF influence, and it seems different. It gets more difficult for the number of authors who kind of dodge the influence question and just list favourites, and you could say Hickman, Salvatore, and Wurts are the only authors to say “yes, I was influenced by SFF outside Tolkien”.

Even taking a broader view, there’s not much representation of the American pulp tradition outside Salvatore’s mention of Leiber. No Howard, no Lovecraft, no Clark Ashton Smith. Elliott mentions Bradbury, Hickman Delany, Kay Zelzany, Wurts a lot of name… perhaps I undersell it, but it feels slim compared to the other tranches. The double mention of E.R. Eddison and Alan Garner (Kay and Elliott) feels unusual. RA Salvatore joins Mercedes Lackey as an author who had mentorship from big authors of the time.

There is the usual slew of historical authors with Mary Renault, Rosemary Sutcliff and Dorothy Dunnett all being mentioned multiple times, along with the classics like Austen, Shakespeare, and Dickens and a smattering of modernist authors.

Really, this should all be folded into the other early Epic Authors list, and there’s a lot of similarities, but the embrace of Tolkien and Le Guin and relative downplaying of the Sword & Sorcery tradition feels different. Perhaps it’s partly derived from this list being more female led. I would also add that this group feels more connected to the taproot texts, with Kay and Kerr particularly loud about their primacy, and Elliott and Wurts both pointing to their importance. Maybe one day I’ll figure out if that makes a difference, but it raises interesting questions for now at least.


Click to access Chat-met-Margaret-Weis-19-december-2000.pdf


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