Six Stories for the Fantasy Newbie

Jorge Luis Borges. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Hilary Armstrong is a literature student at U.C. Santa Barbara and a Longreads intern. She recently shared six stories for the science-fiction newbie, so next up, she’s tackling fantasy. 

George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series is a crossover hit. However, there are still skeptics who view fantasy as children’s fables and tales exclusively for young adults—or you might just find GRRM’s enormous tomes a little intimidating.

Luckily, fantasy short stories offer us the depth of narrative we require and the fantastic elements we crave. Here is a collection of my favorite new and old gems, available online for free.

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1. Prudence and the Dragon, Zen Cho (2012)

A story about love and friendship that won’t leave a cloying taste in your mouth. The matter-of-fact approach to the supernatural reminds me of Terry Pratchett, a superstar of the genre. From here, I’d go right to his Discworld series.

2. The Circular Ruins, Jorge Luis Borges (1940)

Borges is a must-read for anyone interested in magical realism. This story is one of his that is most closely aligned to the fantasy genre, as it involves a wizard and his dark gods. If you liked this, both Borges and Gabriel Garcia Marquez will have many more stories for you.

3. How to Talk to Girls at Parties, Neil Gaiman (2007)

Current rock star of the genre, Gaiman is a novelist and poet on top of being a mean short story writer. Magical realism mixed with boys being boys.

4. The Specialist’s Hat, Kelly Link (1998)

This story starts creepy and gets creepier—it concerns ghosts, horror, and (shudder) children. The focus on card games hints at the occult; the story progresses in a slow, haunting churn. Once you start, you won’t be able to stop until you finish, and if you aren’t then satisfied, go on to another one of hers: Some Zombie Contingency Plans.

5. Tiger Stripes, Nghi Vo (2012)

A calm, intensely visual story about a woman and her relationship with a tiger. This story reminds me of Avatar: The Last Airbender, not only because of its Chinese influence, but also its vivid worldbuilding. This pick in particular stands up to frequent re-reading.

6. The Kiss, Elizabeth Herald (2010)

Herald is a relatively new kid on the block, but this story is old and heady. It’s difficult to summarize—it involves a woman’s slow decline and both her natural and supernatural relationships. I felt sympathy for every single character, and came out of it drained, but satisfied.

For more fantasy short stories, head over to this post. Interested in a young adult fantasy novel? You can’t go wrong with Diana Wynne Jones.