Some pretty gritty stuff in Watership Down, actually, including fights with rabbits getting their throats torn out. Don’t know how many GRRM fans would be willing to pick up a book about talking rabbits, though.
I agree, the talking rabbits thing must be overcome, but it’s worth it.
N. K. Jemisin
“the talking rabbits thing must be overcome”
I would like to put this on a bumper sticker.
Tangent: Did anybody ever read Tailchaser’s Song? It was even more epic fantasy-ish, and got a little Cthulhu near the end, but it was about (talking) cats.
Oy, shades of the summer-movies topic. I followed fantasy in all of its varieties up to a couple decades ago (in fact, wrote a dissertation on it), at which point the new stuff started looking to me like the old stuff with lots of water. (Something similar happened to the hard-boiled mystery, though that’s a genre with a rather more limited set of possibilities to explore and exploit.) I’m not sure how much of this has to do with ordinary aesthetic fatigue and how much with an unwillingness to sort through large volumes of mediocre and/or commercial material in search of something that rises above the level of a one-season TV sitcom.
In any case, there’s plenty of heroic or high or epic or crypto/quasi-medievalist fantasy for a recommended-reading list, if one is willing to go back far enough. I would revert to my pedantic base personality and start with the earliest material that I find reasonably readable and work up to Tolkien and a very few of the post-Tolkein works that strike me as least me-too. Or maybe just point to the Ballantine Adult Fantasy program edited by Lin Carter, which includes a whole family tree reaching back to the Victorians (whose work I find not particularly readable).
The titles I recall most fondly* (and that fit the magic-in-a-premodern-world implication of “high fantasy”) include:
Poul Anderson, The Broken Sword, Three Hearts and Three Lions, A Midsummer Tempest
Harry Harrison and John Holm [Tom Shippey], The Hammer and the Cross, One King’s Way, King and Emperor
Ursula Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan (I never got to the rest of the books)
Phillip Mann, A Land Fit for Heroes cycle: Into the Wild Wood, Stand Alone Stan, The Dragon Wakes, The Burning Forest
Fletcher Pratt, The Blue Star
Jack Vance, the Dying Earth and Lyonesse cycles
Some of the recent non-high/medievalist fantasy I like best has come from some of my favorite SF writers: Michael Swanwick’s Iron Dragon’s Daughter and The Dragons of Babel, Walter Jon Williams City on Fire and Metropolitan, Heinlein’s “They” and “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.” Then there’s the SF-disguised-as-fantasy of Karl Schroeder’s Ventus, Williams’ Implied Spaces, and even Charles Stross’s Merchants series. (And I would argue that even the Laundry stories smuggle SF thinking into Lovecraftian fantasy–which is actually horror SF in fantasy drag anyway.) Then there are writers whose SF I quite admire and enjoy but whose fantasies I can’t read, but that’s a different conversation.
*To jog my memory I used various Wikipedia lists as well as my list of books reviewed over the last three decades, which leads me to a pair of observations: 1) I seem to have near-zero familiarity with the titles, series, and writers I take to be popular enough to be Wiki-able and 2) this does not bother me. About the only popular/prominent reasonably current title I came up with is Richard Morgan’s The Steel Remains, which I’m still not sure how I feel about, in a way not unlike my feelings about Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories.
Some of the suggestions so far have been things that I have always mentally considered Sword & Sorcery (e.g. Glen Cook’s Black Company series)–which makes sense, because S&S has always had that dark and gritty side. In which case, would it be worthwhile to recommend Joanna Russ’ Adventures of Alyx and/or Leiber’s Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser series?