A classic book is a book accepted as being exemplary or noteworthy, either through an imprimatur such as being listed in any of the Western canons or through a reader’s own personal opinion.
– Wikipedia entry –
Since that’s a very vague definition–and since it ultimately becomes a subjective list chosen by a certain reader–I’m going to go ahead and choose my own definition of “classic,” which pretty much takes on the form of the previous Wiki definition, but tacking in the amendments of:
A) A book that I’ve read and re-read, and/or want to re-read in the foreseeable future.
B) A book wherein the story has stayed with me for years on end that I technically don’t have to re-read it to remember the gist of the tale.
C) Should probably have existed before the 1980s, because hey, it’s got to stand some time-test, right?
All that said, I’m splitting my list to 5 “fantasy classics,” and then 5 “typical classics.”
The Fantasy Classics
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
This story has always invoked a particular kind of visual aesthetic for people, whether in games or movies or shows. It’s the brain on some kind of drug. Whatever Carroll was having, I totally want.
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
I’d watched the animated movie first, but it was uncanny how almost close to the original the movie was from the book. Awesome stuff, and I’m still scared of Mama Fortuna’s animal showcase.
The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin
I had a weird reading process when I was younger, so I ended up reading books out of order. The Tombs of Atuan (#2 of Le Guin’s Earthsea series) was the first book I read of the series, but it’s still hands down my favorite, solely because it introduces the kick-ass Tenar, White Lady of Gont.
The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander
Also another series I read out of order, and another billdungsroman. #3 of Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, it was the first book I read of the world of Prydain, and I loved this particular book because as a kid, I warmed up to a girl who needed some rescuing, but managed to turn around and eventually rescue herself in the end. Oh, and Achren was one helluva badass enchantress, even if she was a villain.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Tesseracts! I still often quote L’Engle’s characters whenever it comes to listing off the first to fifth dimensions. It’s also one of those scifi-fantasy combos that make the book even more awesome. The series itself probably deserves a full highlight here, though the fifth book wasn’t my favorite.
*I would take this time to note that I could probably add several collections of fairy tales and consider those books classics, because they technically fit all manner of “classic” criteria that I just listed above. Still, it probably wouldn’t be fair if I list them all, because there’s a whole lot of them.
** Also, I notice the classic books I chose are largely children’s books. What can I say? I had a fabulously prolific reading childhood.
The Typical Classics
Inferno by Dante Alighieri
Admittedly, the translations (and occasionally, annotations) have a chance of making or breaking the story. Thankfully, the copy I have tried to keep as close to the Italian as possible, which is a big plus. I always found this concept of a tiered hell–and heaven–interesting. I’ve still yet to read the rest of Dante’s works, but I did really like this one.
The Odyssey by Homer
Another one that had to be translated, which could make or break the work. I must have read the story of Odysseus in several different occasions, each time a different version, and once or twice for a literature class. I still enjoy it, Odysseus has always been one of my favorite Greek heroes. My sister would know this, I used to give her quite a hefty narration of the stories back in the day.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
I re-read this recently (where “recently” means anywhere between a year or two ago). Oscar Wilde has a flair for drama, and I always feel like I’m chewing on something decadent every time I pick up one of his plays or read this book. Dorian Gray is the epitome of someone “wildin’ out.”
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Also another book that I read a few times, children’s abridged (yes, I still have my children’s version of this book) and unabridged. And not for class, either. Vengeance comes in the form of Edmond Dantes. You couldn’t get more of an effed up soap opera than The Count of Monte Cristo. Don’t watch the movie, though. It’s garbage.
Almost everything by Jane Austen
Yeah, I cheated here. My contemplation started off trying to figure out whether I should put Emma or Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility on the list, then I realized I’ve actually come to love Mansfield Park and Persuasion just as much. Of course, nobody can take Mr. Darcy’s place (Mr. Knightley does come close, though), but there it is. I think the only novel I didn’t like of Austen’s was the Gothic-ish Northanger Abbey. But don’t get me started on why.
*I would take this time now to say that I would have included one or two of Shakespeare’s plays above, but he’s an institution to himself, so I’ve decided not to. That said, Shakespeare is attributed to having written A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is every bit classic and fantasy and all-around awesome in my opinion.