The Top 15 Fantasy Books of the 1980s That Should Be Movies

The Top 15 Fantasy Books of the 1980s That Should Be Movies
Image credit: Legion-Media

Hollywood, just take note, would you?

Here some of the literary gems that are begging for their big-screen debut (or, in one particular case, a re-introduction).

1. Lyonesse: Suldrun's Garden by Jack Vance (1983)

In the Elder Isles, Princess Suldrun, daughter of King Casmir of Lyonesse, is relegated to a garden by her father, who wishes to use her for political gain through marriage. Suldrun, unhappy with her father's plans, finds solace in her secluded garden. Meanwhile, Prince Aillas of Troicinet is shipwrecked and ends up in Suldrun's garden. They fall in love, but their union is thwarted by Casmir, who imprisons Aillas – and it's all tragedy from here.

2. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (1983)

The story retells the Arthurian legends from the perspective of the women involved, primarily Morgaine (Morgan le Fay) and Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere). Morgaine, a priestess of the Isle of Avalon, struggles with her fate and the Christianization of Britain. Gwenhwyfar, married to Arthur, battles with her faith, infidelity, and the political implications of her actions. There's the rise and fall of King Arthur, the quest for the Holy Grail, and the tension between the old pagan and new Christian religions complicating things further.

3. Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce (1983)

Alanna of Trebond, a young girl, disguises herself as a boy, "Alan", to train as a knight while her twin brother Thom goes to study magic. In the royal palace of Tortall, she befriends Prince Jonathan and the King of Thieves, George. Alanna faces numerous challenges in her training, including dealing with bullies and mastering combat. She also discovers her magical healing abilities.

4. The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams (1988)

Simon, a kitchen boy in Hayholt castle, becomes apprenticed to the wizard Doctor Morgenes. When King John dies, his son Elias ascends the throne, influenced by the dark priest Pryrates. Simon accidentally witnesses the death of Morgenes and flees the castle. He discovers he is part of a prophecy involving three swords and the undead Sithi (elf-like beings). The story follows Simon's journey as he meets various characters like the troll Binabik, joins a rebel prince, and prepares to face Elias.

5. Legend by David Gemmell (1984)

The Drenai Empire faces invasion by the barbaric Nadir people, led by the warlord Ulric. The story centers on the defense of Dros Delnoch, a fortress protecting the Drenai. Druss the Legend, an aging but formidable warrior, arrives to inspire and lead the defense. The fortress is undermanned and the defenders, including the untested commander Rek and the mystical Thirty (a group of warrior monks), face overwhelming odds.

6. Magician: Apprentice by Raymond E. Feist (1982)

Pug, an orphan in the Kingdom of Crydee, finds his life turned upside down when he's chosen as an apprentice to the magician Kulgan. His studies in magic are intriguing but challenging. Meanwhile, an alien race, the Tsurani, invades through a mysterious rift in the fabric of space. Pug and his friend Tomas, a squire, are swept up in the ensuing war.

7. The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers (1980)

The story is set in 1529 Vienna, a city on the brink of siege by the Ottoman Turks. The central character is Brian Duffy, an aging Irish mercenary. Duffy is hired by Aurelianus, an enigmatic magician, to serve as the bouncer at the Zimmerman Inn. But this isn't just any inn; it's the brewing site of a legendary beer known as the Herzwesten beer, crucial to the fate of the Western world.

8. Little, Big by John Crowley (1981)

Smoky Barnable travels to Edgewood to marry Daily Alice Drinkwater. As he integrates into the family, Smoky learns of their deep connections with the world of Faerie. The Drinkwaters have long been involved in a mysterious pact with Faerie, and various family members have had direct interactions with faerie folk.

9. The Book of the New Sun (Series) by Gene Wolfe (1980-1983)

This series chronicles the journey of Severian, an apprentice in the guild of Torturers, exiled for showing mercy to a victim. He travels through a dystopian world far in the future, where the sun is dying. Severian becomes involved in various adventures, carrying a sword called Terminus Est. He discovers he possesses a unique ability to revive the dead and is destined to become the Autarch, ruler of his land.

10. Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock (1984)

The story is set in Ryhope Wood, a small forest in England that harbors mythagos – manifestations of mythic figures generated by the human psyche. The protagonist, Stephen Huxley, returns to his childhood home adjacent to the wood, where his brother Christian has been researching these mythagos. Stephen discovers that his father and brother have been consumed by their obsession with the woods and its mythic world.

11. The Witches of Wenshar by Barbara Hambly (1987)

Sun Wolf, a mercenary captain, and Starhawk, his lieutenant, find themselves in a pickle when Sun Wolf is magically summoned to train a coven of witches in the art of war. The witches, led by the formidable Fawn, reside in the desert city of Wenshar. Sun Wolf, initially skeptical of magic, begins to experience strange visions and discovers his own latent magical abilities. Meanwhile, Starhawk investigates mysterious deaths in the city, uncovering a sinister plot involving ancient, dark magic.

12. Tea with the Black Dragon by R.A. MacAvoy (1983)

Martha Macnamara, a quirky musician, receives a cryptic message from her daughter Elizabeth, prompting her to travel to San Francisco. There, she meets Mayland Long, a charming gentleman who, intriguingly, claims to be a 2,000-year-old Chinese dragon in human form. When Elizabeth disappears, Martha and Mayland team up to find her, delving into a world of technology and mysticism.

13. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King (1982)

We've already gotten one Dark Tower adaptation – but it tanked so spectacularly, that every Stephen King will agree: we need another attempt at this. In The Dark Tower, Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger in a world that has 'moved on,' embarks on a relentless quest to reach the mysterious Dark Tower, a place said to be the nexus of all universes. His journey takes him through a desolate landscape, encountering various characters, including the enigmatic Man in Black and the young boy Jake, whom he forms a bond with.

14. Guardians of the West by David Eddings (1987)

Set five years after the Belgariad series, Belgarion, now the King of Riva, faces new challenges. The mysterious prophecy speaks of a looming danger from the West. Belgarion, along with his sorcerer grandfather Belgarath and Aunt Polgara, investigates disturbances involving dark magic. Meanwhile, his friend Garion's son, Geran, is kidnapped, sparking a quest to rescue him.

15. Soldier of the Mist by Gene Wolfe (1986)

Latro, a mercenary in ancient Greece, suffers from a unique form of amnesia: he cannot remember his past and loses his recent memories each day. Gifted (or cursed) with the ability to see and interact with gods, ghosts, and mythical creatures, Latro navigates the complex political and spiritual landscape of the era. He records his daily experiences on a scroll to remember his journey. Through his eyes, we explore the intricacies of Greek politics, warfare, and religion.