Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

The 200 Greatest Adventure Novels of All Time
June 14, 2014 8:57 AM   Subscribe

One man's favorite adventure novels published before the '80s. "Why does my Top Adventures List project stop in 1983? Primarily because I figure that adventure fans already know which adventure novels from the Eighties, Nineties, and Twenty-Oughts are worth reading; I’m interested in directing attention to older, sometimes obscure or forgotten adventures." (Hat-tip: DGStieber)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (29 comments total) 72 users marked this as a favorite

I definitely want to read this one: Alfred Jarry’s ’pataphysical adventure Gestes et Opinions du Docteur Faustroll, Pataphysicien. Faustroll and his monkey butler travel around Paris — on a mythical register — in a high-tech boat/vehicle.

This site is a great find. "Radium Age Telepathic Lit"?! "Hooker Lit"?! "Scrabble Lit"?!
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:27 AM on June 14

Oooh thanks for this, this should fill out my summer reading list.
*cmd-f Kidnapped* Check. *cmd-f Scarlet Pimpernel* Check. Okay carry on!

A little too much Buchan, Hannay is a bit too much of an ass for me. And I'd actually put some of the Little House books on there. But it's a great list, can't wait to read:

1898. Alfred Jarry’s ’pataphysical adventure Gestes et Opinions du Docteur Faustroll, Pataphysicien. Faustroll and his monkey butler travel around Paris — on a mythical register — in a high-tech boat/vehicle. Published posthumously, in 1911.

Monkey butler!

On preview: yeah, that one catches the eye!
posted by Erasmouse at 9:30 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]

So this is A Find.

His definition of Adventure Novel is clearly very very broad - you might as well read this as "200 exciting novels" - but you won't catch me quibbling over definitions because he hits a ton of really exciting good reads including a bunch that are aren't so well-known.

I'm going to go and order a bunch of these - might as well stock up on the Eric Ambler and Geoffrey Household if nothing else...!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:32 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]

A little too much Buchan

Yeah, I found Thirty-Nine Steps incredibly boring.

I'm sad that there's no Alvaro Mutis on the list. On a quick scan, it seems almost all of the books are from England/US/France.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:34 AM on June 14

I've read 27 of the first 30, to my surprise, because I only picked up books like these when I'd exhausted every possible source of science fiction.

I remember Conan Doyle's The White Company as especially good.
posted by jamjam at 9:43 AM on June 14

I was pleased at how many of these books I'd already read, and also pleased at how many remain.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:51 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]

And I'd actually put some of the Little House books on there. 10 Stars to you, would favorite again. The Little House books meant so much to me as a little girl for precisely that reason.
posted by barchan at 10:01 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]

Well, I for one am just going to have to read everything pre-1924 on this list via the magic of public domain.

There were a few points of disappointment. I mean, I was hoping that Abraham Merritt or Andre Norton or Michael Moorcock or Jack Vance or any of a handful of other sci-fi/fantasy authors would make this list. Not having any Norton on a list of adventure books seems particularly poor to me.

It feels thin on women. I mean, genre fiction gives you so many women to pick from, and I know they're not always as "big name" as their male counterparts, but there is a lot to choose. Sure there's Le Guin and Butler, but what about Norton or Leigh Brackett or C.L. Moore or C.J. Cherryh or Margaret St. Clair? All were active and up to the level of what made it on this list.
posted by graymouser at 10:11 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]

Could use a lot more swashbuckling. Moar Sabatini, plus (to borrow from Jessica Amanda Salmonson's canonical list) Jeffery Farnol, Marjorie Bowen, Robert Neilson Stephens, and the great Stanley Weyman.
posted by Iridic at 10:35 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]

Hodgson Burnett's The Lost Prince is a book you don't see mentioned every day. It's a... very weird book. Sort of Little Lord Fauntleroy meets Prisoner of Zenda, but somehow boring? There's an amazing sidekick character, a street kid called The Rat who is crippled by polio (I guess?) and also a genius and also conveniently obsessed with this random invented country in the Ruritarian vein. The plot is both preposterous and uneventful at the same time. It's an interesting book nevertheless; but I'd swap it out with the equally crazypants but much more exciting A Lady of Quality to get more female energy.

It feels thin on women.

Well, I'll add a du Maurier, probably Frenchman's Creek, Little House on the Prairie, which IS an omission!, aaand.. how about some Nesbit? If Wind in the Willows is on there definitely Railway Children.
posted by Erasmouse at 10:48 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]

Note for those missing writers like C. L. Moore or A. Merrit: there are separate genre lists too.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:41 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]

Well, I learned some new phrases today. After the third occurrence of "radium age" I had to run the text through a counter. Some highlights:

"radium age" (21 ocurrences)
"sardonic inversion" (13 ocurrences)
"ironic homage" (5 ocurrences)
posted by Verg at 11:50 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]

No Ian Flemming? The Bond books will never be confused with great literature, but, Damn!, they practically define "a real page-turner"!
posted by TDavis at 11:54 AM on June 14

Wow, this is amazing.

Esp like: Apophenia is the unmotivated seeing of connections, accompanied by an experience of an abnormal meaningfulness. All of us seek patterns in random information; apophenics are more likely than others to find such patterns.
posted by chavenet at 12:03 PM on June 14

I'm totally fine with the idea that books are "missing" from the list -- the start of the list admits that it's his personal list, not a claim towards a master list for all time.

But that 1983 cutoff? C'mon, man. Help a brother out. I'd love to see his list of post-83 books as well.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 12:06 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]

Monkey butler.
posted by trip and a half at 12:28 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]

Checked to make sure James Branch Cabell was on there, he was, good taste confirmed. Bookmarked for theoretical later perusal, although I will never finish even the books I already have at this point.

Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp’s fantasy adventure Land of Unreason. Oh man, I read this! A long time ago. It is indeed surprisingly good. Fletcher Pratt also wrote a couple of novels by himself that were really interesting fantasies, if maybe a bit labored. But pretty ambitious worldbuilding for someone I had scarcely heard of at the time.

The omission of Vance does seem odd, particularly given that his writing matches the flavor of a lot of the other books on the list more than some of the other SF novels.
posted by selfnoise at 12:36 PM on June 14

Anyone who gets stuck for a plot for their new adventure game/comic/short film should take their pick from any of the pre-1924 entries.
posted by rollick at 12:53 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]

The most glaring omission from my perspective is Owen Wister's "The Virginian." It virtually invented the modern western, is great literature and great adventure. "Riders of the Purple Sage" was included, an iconic work, but pulp in comparison.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:21 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]

Looking through the sci-fi and fantasy lists, it becomes obvious that separating the two before the 1970s is a foolish endeavor. And the omission of Andre Norton becomes totally unforgivable, even if the list is otherwise halfway decent. Especially given the "adventure" portion, considering her novels were pure adventure.
posted by graymouser at 1:52 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]

And the omission of Andre Norton becomes totally unforgivable, even if the list is otherwise halfway decent.

Wasn't this guy just listing his favorites?
posted by codswallop at 3:38 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]

The "radium age" series of books HiLo puts out are really amazing and (at least to me) completely unfamiliar. And the physical paperbacks themselves are really beautiful.
posted by escabeche at 3:38 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]

There is no mention of Jack Vance. His "Planet of Adventure" series, of course, but I particularly liked some of his more obscure ones like Big Planet. Jack's use of the English Language, his characters' acerbic dialog, and the unusual societies that they run into make him one of my favorite authors.
posted by Xoc at 5:40 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]

Some adventurous choices there, perhaps none more than Harold and the Purple Crayon. Some natural instinct to compartmentalization would have kept me from even thinking of it when compiling a list of this kind, but it's a great choice; a book of mysterious power that arises from its simplicity rather than in spite of it: one of those books that actually contributes to shaping a kid.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:58 AM on June 15

Wasn't this guy just listing his favorites?

Yes consider me to be shamelessly stealing his wonderful list and mutating my own from it, rather than saying his favourites are 'wrong'.

That is an amazing website, its like being led to a mysterious chamber by an urchin speaking an unknown tongue, which is revealed to contain a cabinet of wonders.
posted by Erasmouse at 2:41 AM on June 15

This is fantastic. Thanks so much for posting. Even just the covers are great.
posted by persona au gratin at 4:04 AM on June 15

Trevanian! Hell yeah!

The book was adapted into a weird, vapid 1975 movie directed by and starring Clint Eastwood.

Trevanian says as much himself, using the term "vapid," in a footnote in Shibumi. I like that this guy does his homework.
posted by valkane at 6:44 AM on June 15

The "radium age" series of books HiLo puts out are really amazing and (at least to me) completely unfamiliar.

You might find Odd John amusing in multiple ways; for example, [SPOILER] Stapledon's great universal genius undertakes a deep study of mathematics, and what does he conclude? That we should have chosen 12 rather than 10 as the base for our representation of numbers.
posted by jamjam at 9:30 AM on June 15

I'm curious to see the 80s, 90s and 00s list. Anyone have a place where such a list might be collected?
posted by JohnLewis at 8:39 AM on June 16

« Older The Vancouver School Board's controversial new gen...   |   Nathan Fielder's Ingenious Dum... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments