Remember how we were accused of somehow having rigged all the popular polls that chose The Lord of the Rings as the most popular novel, or even one of the most popular novels, of the last century?
Well, it looks like the crafty Tolkien Society must have suborned 81 distinguished foreign critics choosing the 100 greatest British novels of all time, because there it is, in no. 26, not an undistinguished place.
The big news from the list is that 4 of the top 5, 6 of the top 10, and some 40% of the total, are by women, a record other lists don’t come close to achieving. And they’re distinguished and renowned women, too: George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, the Brontës. The relevance of this to our interests is, I think, that it shows these critics are open to greatness from outside the traditional Leavisite canon (which is not by any means neglected: D.H. Lawrence gets two).
Other books of interest to fantasy and science-fiction readers, and lovers of children’s literature, include:
9. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818)
12. Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell, 1949)
26. The Lord of the Rings (JRR Tolkien, 1954) [yes, it’s really there]
33. The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame, 1908)
40. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll, 1865)
55. Gulliver’s Travels (Jonathan Swift, 1726)
62. Animal Farm (George Orwell, 1945)
65. Orlando (Virginia Woolf, 1928)
67. Crash (JG Ballard 1973)
68. A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess, 1962)
79. His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman, 1995-2000)
97. The Chronicles of Narnia (CS Lewis, 1949-1954)
David Bratman is co-editor of Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review, and former editor of Mythprint, the bulletin of The Mythopoeic Society. He likes to write about Tolkienian biography and bibliography.