Thanks for letting me take over your blog for the day, Reads & Reels!
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Christina “DZA” Marie, and I run the blog Dragons, Zombies & Aliens. In addition, I’m also a fantasy writer, as well as a YouTuber, knitter, and recent college survivor. On November 16th I have the start of my new graphic novel series Sovadron coming out, an epic fantasy based on a world inspired by post-colonial America.
So to celebrate, Reads & Reels were kind enough to let me share my top five books and top five movies in the epic fantasy genre.
Side-note: finding epic fantasy movies that I actually like was surprisingly difficult. Maybe it’s a budget thing, but most fantasy movies that cater to adults—or at least, not exclusively children—tend to be urban fantasy. (You could argue that Star Wars is fantasy because of all the Force nonsense, but then everyone would murder you, so don’t.) So if you’re wondering why four of my five picks of favorite epic fantasy movies are Disney/Dreamworks, that’s why. Moving on.
Lord of the Rings trilogy
Here’s how hard-core geek my family is. Instead of reading me Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty for my bedtime stories, my dad read Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. When The Fellowship of the Ring came out when I was six, Dad did the only thing any geek parent would do: he smuggled me into the theater to see it. (Note: there was no emotional trauma involved. Except embarrassment for my dad when everyone who had not yet noticed the six-year-old suddenly did when my response to the Aragorn vs. Lurtz fight was a loud “Howy cwap.”)
I love these movies on almost every level. The acting is incredible, the fighting is intense, and seeing my first ever fantasy heroine Eowyn in battle was a literal dream come true.
Also, there are no prequels. None at all. The Hobbit trilogy does not exist.
This is one of those movies that gets better ever time you watch it. I wasn’t that impressed at first, but every time I see it again I keep noticing smaller details and liking it more and more. The fact that they managed to put in a metaphor for date rape in a Disney movie, condemn the attacker, and have her totally crush him in the end doesn’t hurt, either.
Also, Angelina Jolie.
Also also, true love’s kiss did not involve the guy that Aurora met less than twenty-four hours ago.
Nightmare Before Christmas
It’s a classic for a reason. It’s also one of the very few musicals I can actively enjoy rather than just tolerate. This is probably because the songs are not only good but actually serve a purpose within the story. A lot of musicals (think classic Disney) have a bunch of songs and try to fit the story around it. You could literally cut all the musical numbers and the story would remain intact. But good musicals, such as Nightmare, actually use the songs to further the story, either exposition (“This is Halloween”) or showing actual character development (“Poor Jack”).
And while Jack is a narcissistic ass (seriously Sally, what the hell do you see in him?) watching him totally ruin Christmas and then work to fix it is just…mesmerizing.
How to Train Your Dragon
Out of the hundreds of movies based off of books that I’ve seen, there are only two that are either as good as or better than the books: The Help and How to Train Your Dragon.
The movie kept the central conflict—that is, Hiccup trying to relate to and impress his father Stoic—but scrapped everything else. The dragons that were once cute little pets are now massive beasts at war with the Vikings. The natural solution for Hiccup’s problem is to of course kill a dragon, but when he actually gets the chance, he can’t do it, and instead the two become best buds and have to find a way to stop Vikings and dragons from killing each other.
The cherry on this cake is Hiccup’s sarcasm. It’s a thing of beauty.
Another musical! And one of the few Disney movies that focuses on a platonic relationship rather than a romantic one. (Zootopia does that, too, and is another one of my favorites. But that’s considered alternative sci-fi rather than epic fantasy, so it didn’t make the list.)
The reason I prefer Frozen over Tangled (another very good one) is that Frozen makes fun of itself a lot. And in fact, it makes fun of the tropes that Disney itself has set! Namely with: “You can’t marry a man you just met.”
Avatar: the Last Airbender graphic novels
If you haven’t seen ATLA the show, go do that now. It is iconic television, and some of the best storytelling I’ve ever seen. My only complaint about the show was that it had a couple of loose ends, namely the fate of one of the main character’s mother.
And then the came out with the graphic novels!
Not only does it tie up the loose ends, it also deals with the immediate aftermath of war that is so often overlooked in popular culture. The whole premise of the show is that the entire world has been swallowed by war for the last hundred years, and of course ends with that war coming to a close. But that’s not actually the end of the story. As we see in these comics, the real struggle is only just starting.
Throne of Glass series
Okay, I’ll admit it: I actually haven’t finished this yet. But that’s because I’m still reading the other book I started only just received book seven (the final installment of the Throne of Glass series) in the mail.
But, I have read books one through six, as well as the prequel anthology, so it’s safe to say that this is a damn good series. My one complaint is that there are too many romantic subplots, several of which are completely unnecessary.
Everything else, though? Pitch perfect. We’ve got a rich world filled with engaging cultures, several characters that we get very invested it in very quickly, and some truly mind-boggling plot twists that even someone like me—who tends to see stuff like this coming a mile away—gets blindsided every time.
Technically this is sci-fi, but I’m putting it in with the fantasy because it’s set in a totally made-up world. In place of “actual” magic, however, the main science and magic system used is alchemy.
Also technically, this is a manga series rather than an “actual” book. But rules are dumb, so it’s on the list.
Two teen brothers—Ed and Alphonse—done fucked up a while ago trying to bring their dead mother back with alchemy. They failed, and also royally screwed up their bodies: Ed lost two limbs (and had them replaced with metal prosthetics) while Al lost his whole body and had his soul transferred to a suit of armor. They’re now traveling the country, trying to find the Philosopher’s Stone, which is supposed to be able to fix their bodies.
This series is very engaging because it tackles a variety of issues ranging from the horror of war, revenge, and friendship/brotherhood, and it handles them very well.
Also, this was made into two separate animes (shows). If that’s more your speed, watch Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. That’s the good one.
Game of Thrones
Obviously we have to have George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series on here. The show has gotten a little iffy lately, but while the book series is incomplete, they’re still incredible. The sheer vastness of it, the number of storylines and history of the world, are just unreal. And also why Martin is taking forever to come out with book six, so give the man a damn break.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, first of all, what hole have you been living in? Can I join you? It sounds like a great place for a vacation.
Second, Game of Thrones is a modern classic grimdark series. That is, “gritty” fantasy or “realistic” fantasy. You know how stories like Lord of the Rings kind of glosses over a few key details like what happens to all the societies—orc and human—after the war, the fact that good people do not necessarily make good leaders and vice versa, and all those pesky little things called consequences that in the real world ensure that stupid decisions always get punished? Yeah, that’s grimdark. It’s not so much “everything sucks” so much as “this is a sucky situation and everyone’s going to suffer for it at least a little.”
Also there are ice zombies.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone series
Technically this is urban fantasy, because the Earth is involved. But there are also other worlds that play the most critical role, so we’re putting it on the list.
Basically, demons and angels—or chimaera and seraphim, respectively—are real, and have been at war for centuries. I can’t go into much other detail due to spoilers, but I can say that it’s a very intense read. It’s basically grimdark for young adults, in that it plays by a lot of the same rules as George R. R. Martin. But since the major theme of the series is hope, and several characters have a tendency to come back from the dead, it’s more of a diet grimdark.
-Christina “DZA” Marie
Come visit me on my blog!