The Rural Fantasy Reading List

In response to the debate generated by the previous post on Rural Fantasy, which was reposted on io9.com, I’ve compiled a starter list of Rural Fantasies (both adult and children titles), for anyone interested in reading more – and it’s worth adding that this isn’t a comment on quality either. I’ll edit this post continually, adding more titles, so do pop further suggestions in the comments section. (I want to keep it to books that don’t merely use the rural setting as a backdrop, but actually engage with it in some way.)

Richard Adams – Watership Down
Piers Anthony – Xanth novels (warning: horrific gender politics)
James Baylock – The Elfin Ship
Lois McMaster Bujold – The Sharing Knife books
Orson Scott Card – The Tales of Alvin Maker
G.K. Chesterton – The Flying Inn
John Connolly – The Book of Lost Things
John Crowley – Little, Big
Stephen Donaldson – The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever
Lord Dunsany – The King of Elfland’s Daughter
Neil Gaiman – Stardust
Alan Garner – The Owl Service
Kenneth Grahame – The Wind in the Willows
Barbara Hambly – Dragonsbane
Robin Hobb – The Farseer series
Robert Holdstock – Mythago Wood (and the rest of the Rhyope series)
William Horwood – The Duncton Chronicles
Brian Jacques – Redwall series
Guy Gavriel Kay – Ysabel
Paul Kearney – A Different Kingdom
Greg Keyes – The Briar King
Stephen King & Peter Straub – The Talisman
Ursula Le Guin – Always Coming Home
Charles de Lint – Someplace to be Flying, The Little Country, Over Sea Under Stone
Jeremy Love – Bayou (graphic novel)
Patricia A. McKilliip – The Forgotten Beasts Of Eld, The Changeling Sea
Arthur Machen – The Great God Pan
Hope Mirlees – Lud-in-the-Mist
William Morris – Well at the World’s End
Garth Nix – The Abhorsen Trilogy
Flannery O’Connor – A Good Man is Hard to Find
Nnedi Okorafor – Zahrah the Windseeker
Terry Pratchett – Lancre sub-series of Discworld
Spider Robinson – Time Pressure
Mary Stewart – The Crystal Cave
Thomas Burnett Swann – The Forest of Forever
J.R.R. Tolkien – The Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit, Tales from the Perilous Realm, Smith of Wootton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham
Manly Wade Wellman – The “Silver John” books
Sean Williams – Books of the Change
Terri Windling – The Wood Wife

Note: a lot of horror novels cross the threshold, particularly books by Stephen King, which are set in rural locations, but I’ve kept them out of the list for the time being. There’s just the one King novel on there for now.

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About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.


  1. There’s some borderline ones I’m still considering (such as the Narnia books), but a definite omission in my view is Watership Down (although there may be some debate as to whether it is fantasy or not?)

  2. Tales from the Perilous Realm collection by Tolkien also springs to mind 🙂

  3. If you had to pick 5 from the list, to recommend to someone looking to explore the sub-sub-sub-sub-genre, which would they be?

  4. Adrian and Zoe: added!

    Aidan – definitely not a sub-sub-sub-sub genre at all. Check out the previous post – this is most definitely a headline category of fantasy as much as Urban Fantasy(albeit one that’s overlooked). But I would pick the Mythago Wood, The King of Elfland’s Daughter and Lud-in-the-Mist as being three key titles. Possibly The Forgotten Beasts Of Eld, which I’m reading now actually. Maybe the LOTR, but that’s in it’s own league.

  5. If Fantasy’s a sub-genre of Speculative Fiction (which is, I suppose, a sub-genre of Fiction itself), and Urban Fantasy’s a sub-genre of Fantasy, and Rural Fantasy’s a sub-genre of that, it’s a sub-sub-sub-genre, no?


    Thanks for the list!

    I’ve got Mythago Wood waiting near the top of my reading pile. Waiting until camping season, though.

  6. How can Rural be a sub category of Urban?! It’s at least on par… 🙂

  7. Fair enough. Until Rural Fantasy gets gobbled up and Urban Fantasy cuts down all the trees, fills all the streams and lays down concrete!

  8. On another note, you could likely add Greg Keyes’ Kingdom of Thorn and Bone series, which is Epic Fantasy that deals heavily with the themes often tackled by Rural Fantasy.

  9. Yup – good call. I enjoyed the Briar King. Will add.

  10. Good to see you included the O’Connor, or else I was prepared to chew you out for anti-Southern bias! 😛

  11. Or until Rural Fantasy reclaims the crumbling remains of the cities, and oak saplings thrust up through the broken pavements!

    Tolkien’s Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham also spring to mind (or possibly just “Tolkien, passim”), and Nnedi Okorafor’s Zahrah the Windseeker, which is an into-the-woods portal-quest. On the YA front, there’s also Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse, which is manor-house fantasy.

    There’s a strong backwoods tradition in US writing, but that usually involves a lot of urban/rural contrasting, so it’s a nice set of edge cases. Charles de Lint’s Someplace to be Flying (and others, but that’s pretty exemplary I think) and Spider Robinson’s Time Pressure occur to me.

  12. Larry – I feared the squirrels. 🙂

    Updated, Sam – some fantastic suggestions. Regarding the lint – do you know if it’s setting is the city or a less urban area? From my quick look-up (I’m afraid I’ve not read it) it suggests that, despite the elements of mythology, it’s a city setting…

  13. I can sense that my TBR is elongating as we speak. I have been meaning to read the Briar King for a long time.

    BTW, how does Tolkien fit with LoTR? I understand that a great deal of the quest involves nature as they travel through the wilderness. But after all isn’t the bigger theme here the epic good vs. evil and doesn’t the series share more touching points with epic fantasy?

  14. Well… the Piers Anthony Xanth novels are pretty obvious rural fantasy candidates. They’re an embarrassment these days, true, but the first few are pretty decent (if you can get past the horrific gender politics).

  15. Mark, the De Lint is a city setting, but with a lot of visits (including extended flashbacks) to the country, from what I recall. His The Little Country is set in a small Cornish village, with around the same level of rural-ness as Over Sea Under Stone.

    You might also want to look into the stories of the Mabinogion, which are a lot more self-consciously fantastic than most myths, and of course mediaeval Wales didn’t do urban.

  16. Harry – because it’s not even considering if something is epic or not. Merely whether the novel is a fantasy that deals with rural elements (in JRRT’s case, Ents, Shire, Tom Bombadil)

    Hi Anne, embarrassment or otherwise, I shall add it to the list…

    Sam – I shall put those on in that case!

  17. Missed Ursula le Guin’s “Always Coming Home”. (Or is that post-apocalyptic rather than rural?)

  18. Mike – I think that’s a definite inclusion. Consider it added.

  19. The “Silver John” stories are by Manly Wade WELLMAN.

    A number of his stories were the basis for some of the best classic TWILIGHT ZONE stories.

    He also wrote some really excellent YA novels. I hope they are still in print.

  20. Hi Marilynn – thanks, consider it adjusted! 🙂