Elegiac Fantasy
September 11, 2015 9:41 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for fantasy that is at least partially about the fact that the world is leaving some of kind of Golden Age or has lost something vital and everyone is sad about it.

Examples of works that have the sort of tone I'm looking for include: The Lord of the Rings (of course), The Last Unicorn, the Gormenghast trilogy (at least the bits that deal with Lord Groan and the endless traditions that have to be performed, even though their meaning is lost), and the end of the Sandman series, especially The Kindly Ones and The Wake.

Basically, I want to read things that will make me cry because the Elves are sailing to Valinor, never more to be seen by mortal men. Do you have any suggestions?
posted by darchildre to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
There's a fantasy/SF genre called Dying Earth (named after the eponymous Jack Vance novels) that you may enjoy. My favorite are the Viriconium novels by Harrison.
posted by griphus at 9:48 AM on September 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale did this for me.

Also Crowley's Little, Big

The Magicians trilogy deals with this to some extent as well, especially the final book.
posted by Mchelly at 9:50 AM on September 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

Also this skews closer to post-apocalyptic SF than fantasy but you may also enjoy A Canticle for Leibowitz.
posted by griphus at 9:51 AM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Rumors of Spring by Richard Grant is a lot like this.
posted by OmieWise at 9:53 AM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is almost everything that Guy Gavriel Kay writes - and I keep loving it. Try the Lions of Al-Rassan for his best in my opinion. The Last Light of the Sun even alludes to your trope in its title - also excellent.
posted by slide at 9:59 AM on September 11, 2015 [8 favorites]

It's YA but Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain fits the bill here.
posted by Otis the Lion at 10:08 AM on September 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

Jo Walton's first series is loosely based on the Romans leaving Britain and taking the comforts of civilization with them -- it starts with The King's Peace.

NK Jemisin's new release The Fifth Season is all about a world going into a long time of uninhabitability (and is terrific to boot).
posted by pie ninja at 10:14 AM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Larry Niven, The Magic Goes Away.
posted by bq at 10:16 AM on September 11, 2015

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
posted by SassHat at 10:25 AM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

In addition to Crowley's Little, Big, you should definitely take a look at his Aegypt series.
posted by Lemmy Caution at 10:27 AM on September 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is a prevalent theme in Stephen King's Dark Tower cycle; "The world has moved on" is a phrase used repeatedly to describe how things have fallen apart in the main story world, which is a strange postapocalyptic future and/or parallel universe to our late 20th/early 21st century.
posted by usonian at 10:31 AM on September 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I remember The Once and Future King feeling like this.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:47 AM on September 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

Okay listen this answer is gonna seem completely off-base, but if you like the series and stick it out, "everything must change and the world can never stay the same" is one of the longest and strongest themes throughout: Glen Cook's The Black Company novels. It's definitely the grimdark fantasy version of this, however, about as far on the other end of the spectrum from LoTR as you can get. But it's there.

“In the night, when the wind dies and silence rules the place of glittering stone, I remember. And they all live again.”
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:53 AM on September 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

A big part of Game of Thrones is about summer being over and winter drawing in. I didn't get on with the TV series (too much of a wimp for graphic sex and violence) but the books are amazing!
posted by Peetree at 10:59 AM on September 11, 2015

The extremely idiosyncratic series by John Garner that begins with The Weird-stone of Brisingamen has this as a central theme of the first book and the latter two deal with loss in very different ways (the first two are YA, but the third is directed toward adults). Taken as a whole, the trilogy is almost unbearably sad.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:10 AM on September 11, 2015

Hmm. "Children's" literature more often than not is hella elegiac; are you open to this? I've forgotten most of the fantasy titles I've read, but children's books are quality literature. The Tale of Despereaux? Hans Christian Andersen? Philip Pullman? Susan Cooper? Tove Jansson? Ursula K Le Guin? Lian Hearn? Robert Jordan? Katharine Kerr? Orson Scott Card? Frank Herbert? G. R. R. Martin (heh)? Margaret Atwood? George Orwell? China Miéville! Michael Moorcock! etc. etc. You should also look into dystopian lit, within and beyond genre fantasy.

Obligatory non-AngloWest-centric recommendations, not strictly genre "fantasy", nonetheless tremendously fantastic: myths and tragedies: Greek, Norse, Slavic, Aboriginal, South Asian, Central Asian, Near-Eastern, Eastern, etc...

Your local librarians are your friends! Libraries are at your service!
posted by pos at 11:15 AM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

How about "Station Eleven"? by Emily St. John. Its signature sentence ("I looked back on the ruins of my former world, and remembered the sweetness of life on Earth") has engraved itself on my brain.
posted by mmiddle at 11:21 AM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

The melancholy tone of Tolkien's writing can be found in other older fantasy authors, notably Lord Dunsany. The King of Elfland's Daughter definitely has some of that feeling. James Branch Cabell wrote novels that were very bawdy and whimsical but very often had unexpectedly wistful conclusions.
posted by selfnoise at 11:26 AM on September 11, 2015

Mary Gentle, & Gene Wolfe
posted by pos at 11:33 AM on September 11, 2015

As mentioned by pos (great list, that comment), Ursula K. LeGuin often has this as a theme in her works--from books like those comprising the Earthsea Quartet to short stories like The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. I also second T.H. White's "The Once and Future King," which makes me cry to the point I usually can't finish it--it's just so hard to leave the magical world of Merlin and the animals for disappointment and double-crossing and death...
posted by spelunkingplato at 12:19 PM on September 11, 2015

Oh, Merlin. Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy got me there as well.
posted by Mchelly at 12:57 PM on September 11, 2015

N.K. Jemisin's inheritance trilogy deals with the end of the old order, and the second and third books have an elegiac quality.
posted by freshwater at 1:03 PM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another source that is pretty much built to answer this question: TvTropes. Which flavor of End of an Age best hits the spot? Signs of the End Times? A little further along, Just Before the End? They have the departure of the elves in LOTR as both a Götterdämmerung and an example of The Magic Goes Away. Deadly Decadent Court (as listed on the Gormenghast page) might also have some hits.
posted by yeahlikethat at 2:15 PM on September 11, 2015

It's YA but Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain fits the bill here.

Seconding this. It's unusually good YA. And the closing where the Elves sail to Valinor, so to speak, doesn't just close magic on the world. There's also an explicit handoff from the epic struggle where mighty heroes and dark forces incarnate face off... to the more mundane everyday struggle of keeping promises, trying to bring about justice, and alleviating need.
posted by weston at 3:18 PM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Handmaid's Tale is chock full of this kind of feeling.
posted by zug at 3:38 PM on September 11, 2015

The Earthsea series.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:09 PM on September 11, 2015

The Once and Future King, for sure.
posted by easter queen at 8:36 PM on September 11, 2015

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