A 'classic fantasy' primer
The Easton Press is an American publisher specializing in high quality leather-bound books. They often publish large series of books, but one of their lesser-known collections was a set known as the ‘Masterpieces of Fantasy’ that they produced between 1996 and 1998, which included about 40 classic fantasy novels.
Each volume in the series has a distinctive cover design on both front and back along with a hubbed spine, satin ribbon page marker, smyth sewn pages and elegant gilded page edges. The books come with a certificate of authenticity and a 4 page background and introduction to the book. They also feature endpapers with a pattern designed especially for this series and a color frontispiece by a contemporary fantasy artist.
The series originally included signed editions of several volumes, with one signed book being sent out for every eight regular books purchased.
When the series was discontinued, some of the remaining signed copies were sold off at a much higher price, swapping in moire fabric endsheets instead of the series endpapers. Others were bundled or expanded into larger sets, such as the Tolkien classics set.
It was an excellent selection of classic fantasy books. The video above shows each book in the series and associated illustration, while the complete collector’s guide below includes a short plot summary, along with links to the EP books on Abes, as well as some contemporary editions of the novels on Amazon and Book Depository in case you’re just interested in finding a copy to read.
Easton Press Masterpieces of Fantasy
The Malacia Tapestry by Brian Aldiss
In this Italianate romantic fantasy, rogue, actor and Renaissance man, Perian de Chirolo finds himself at the center of a maelstrom as festering violence threatens to explode in the opulent and magical city of Malacia.
First published in 1976. EP edition 1996. Frontispiece by Ron Walotsky.
Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson
This novel is a pastiche of interwoven stories that draws on varied European legends including Arthurian romance, Spenser’s Faerie Queen and German mythology. It’s a magical parallel universe fantasy in which Danish engineer Holger Carlsen is transported to another Earth, where he is destined to play a part in the war between Law and Chaos along with his companions Alianora, a swan maiden, and Hugi, a dwarf.
First published in 1961. EP edition 1998. Frontispiece by Bob Eggleton.
A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony
This is the first book in Anthony’s lighthearted and humorous Xanth series about an enchanted land where magic rules – every citizen has a special spell only they can cast. However, protagonist Bink is exiled to Mundania because doesn’t seem to have any magical talent. The Chameleon of the title is a woman whose intelligence and beauty vary depending on the time of the month – it’s rather hilariously sexist.
First published in 1977. EP edition 1999. Frontispiece by Don Maitz.
The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle
This high fantasy novel follows the tale of the Unicorn who learns she is the last of her kind, and undertakes a quest with a bumbling magician called Schmendrick in order to discover what has happened to the others. This particular edition is one of the most expensive to find second-hand.
First published in 1968. EP edition 1996. Frontispiece by Doug Beekman. *Rare*
The Devil’s Day by James Blish
This edition includes two books, Black Easter and The Day After Judgment. It tells the story of white magician monks who desperately try to close the Pandora’s box opened by a weapons dealer who hired a black magician to unleash all the demons of Hell the day before Judgment Day. Many of the monks are actually named after the author’s science fiction writing friends, such as Father Vance after Jack Vance, Father Anson, which was Robert A Heinlein’s middle name, and Father Selahny after Samuel Delaney.
First published in 1968. EP edition 1996. Frontispiece by Alan Clark.
The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks
This epic heroic fantasy is the first book of the original Shannara Trilogy. The novel interweaves two plots into a fictional world called The Four Lands. One follows Shea Ohmsford on his quest to find the Sword of Shannara so he can fight the Warlock Lord, and the other follows Prince Balinor’s attempt to oust his insane brother from the throne. The plot is clearly reminiscent of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Easton Press at one point advertised that they were producing the whole trilogy as a set, but the plan was abandoned and only this volume was produced.
First published in 1977. EP edition 1997. Frontispiece by Doug Beekman and map by the brothers Hildebrandt. *Signed by the author.
Little, Big by John Crowley
This romantic urban fantasy novel is also known as The Fairies’ Parliament. It begins with the story of Smoky Barnable, who travels from ‘the City’ to a magical house called Edgewood in New York to fulfill a prophecy that he will marry a girl called Alice Drinkwater. It then follows several generations of their family as they discover that Edgewood is a portal to the realm of Faerie and they must protect it.
First published in 1981. EP edition 1997. Frontispiece by Alan Clark.
The Complete Compleat Enchanter by L Sprague de Camp & Fletcher Pratt
This edition is an omnibus of five fantasy stories in the Harold Shea series, including The Incomplete Enchanter, The Castle of Iron and Wall of Serpents. Psychologist Harold Shea and his colleagues to various magical parallel worlds that can be reached by aligning one’s mind to their mythologies using symbolic logic. The stories variously explore Norse, Finnish and Irish Mythology, as well as worlds inspired by Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and the epic Italian poem Orlando Furioso.
The first book was published in 1941. EP edition 1997. Frontispiece by Ron Miller.
Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen Donaldson
This is the first book in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series, another parallel world epic fantasy series. Covenant is a young author who is diagnosed with leprosy, who travels to an alternate world called The Land in which he is not only cured, but regarded as a reincarnation of their greatest hero Berek Halfhand. However, Covenant calls himself the Unbeliever because he thinks it must all be a delusion.
First published in 1977. EP edition 1998. Frontispiece by Vincent di Fate.
Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings
This is the first book in the 5-volume Belgariad series, an epic fantasy set against a history of seven thousand years of the struggles of Gods and Kings and Men. In this first volume, the protagonist Garion is a farm boy who discovers that a voice of prophecy speaks to him, and then goes on a quest with others including the sorcerer Belgarath and thief Silk. It’s a great series, and Easton later released a set of all five volumes. Each of the books has a title that combines a chess term with a fantasy trope, aligning with the ‘Game of Destiny’ motif that recurs throughout the story.
First published in 1982. EP edition 1997. Frontispiece by Ron Miller. *Signed by the author.
Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master by Raymond Feist
These two books form the first part of the Riftwar Saga series – it was published as a single book in the UK, but separated into these two volumes for the US market. It follows Pug, an orphaned kitchen boy who is apprenticed to a master magician and swept up into a conflict between Order and Chaos that sends him through a rift to a new world.
First published 1982. EP edition 1998. Frontispiece by Don Maitz. *Magician:Apprentice signed by the author. Uncommon set.
The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag by Robert A. Heinlein
In the titular science fantasy mystery story, Jonathan Hoag suffers from memory lapses, so he hires a detective team to follow him to find out what he is doing during the day. The novella was first published in Unknown Worlds magazine under the pseudonym ‘John Riverside’.
First published 1942. EP edition 1997. Frontispiece by Walter Valez.
Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock
This mythic fiction novel is the first in a series that all take place within or around an ancient British forest known as Ryhope Wood. Set after the Second World War, it tells the story of how a father’s obsession drags his two sons into a world of myths and legends.
First published in 1984. EP edition 1996. Frontispiece by Jill Bauman.
Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay.
Tigana is set in a fictional world that resembles renaissance Italy called the Peninsula of the Palm. The plot focuses on a group of rebels attempting to overthrow two powerful sorcerers who have conquered the Peninsula simultaneously but separately, dividing it into an uneasy balance of power. It’s a lovely book that explores shades of morality, and themes of identity, love and patriotism.
First published in 1990. EP edition 1998. Frontispiece by David Martin. *Uncommon.
Deryni Rising by Katherine Kurtz
Another first in series book, this introduction to the Chronicles of the Deryni is a historical fantasy novel is set in the fictional medieval land of Gwynedd, which has a population of humans and Daryni who are a persecuted race of psychics. It deals primarily with the struggle of young Prince Kelson Haldane to secure his throne from a Deryni usurper.
First published in 1970. EP edition 1997. Frontispiece by Jill Bauman.
Queen’s Own Volumes I and 2 by Mercedes Lackey.
These two volumes actually include several books in the Heralds of Valdemar series: Arrows of the Queen, Arrow’s Flight and Arrow’s Fall. They explore the adventures of Talia, who overcomes court intrigue by being chosen as a Herald by her telepathic magical horse Companion Rolan. The Valdemar series is known as one of the earliest queer-friendly fantasy series.
First published in 1987. EP edition 1997. Frontispiece by Pat Morrissey.
Wizard of Earthsea Vol I and II by Ursula K Le Guin
Easton released the first two volumes of the Earthsea series as part of the Fantasy masterpieces series, but they later expanded this to cover the whole series. Originally published as a children’s fantasy, today it would probably be marketed as young adult, as it is a coming-of-age story that features a young mage named Ged learning to cope with power and coming to terms with death. It also explores some Taoist themes about maintaining balance in the fictional universe of Earthsea, tied to the idea that language and names have power to affect the material world. These two volumes were later reprinted as part of a four-book set. Although many of the early covers depict Ged as a traditional white-skinned protagonist, fortunately the Easton Press illustrations reflect his actual identity as a person of colour.
First published in 1968. EP edition 1996. Frontispiece by Rebecca Guay, and drawings by Ruth Robbins. *Uncommon
Gather, Darkness! By Fritz Leiber
This speculative fiction novel tells the story of Armon Jarles, a man living in a post apocalyptic world run by the techno-priests of the Great God until the witches start a revolution. It was originally serialized in Astounding magazine.
First published in 1943. EP edition 1997. Frontispiece by Jill Bauman.
Lion of Ireland by Morgan Llywelyn
Also known as The Legend of Brian Boru, this is a historical fantasy set in the 10th century about the life of the High King of Ireland who unified the Emerald Isle against the Norse invaders. The tale mixes fact and fiction and includes druids, gods and goddesses. There’s a sequel called Pride of Lions that Easton didn’t publish.
First published in 1980. EP edition 1996. Frontispiece by Ron Miller.
The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia McKillip
This Celtic fantasy novel tells the tale of Morgon, the Prince of a small farming island called Hed. It opens with Morgon’s sister discovering he has a crown hidden under his bed that he won in a riddle game with the ghost of a cursed king, which sets him off on a quest along with the harper Deth. Easton only printed the first book in this trilogy, so be warned that it isn’t a stand-alone as it ends on a cliff-hanger.
First published in 1976. EP edition 1998. Frontispiece by Pat Morrissey.
Sheepfarmer’s Daughter by Elizabeth Moon
This is the first novel in the epic fantasy series The Deed of Paksenarrion. It follows the adventures of Paks, who may be sheepfarmer’s daughter, but she is sure she is someone special and she sets off to join the army and become a hero.
First published in 1988. EP edition 1996. Frontispiece by Keith Parkinson.
Witch World by Andre Norton
Andre Norton published novels in the high fantasy witch world series for over 40 years, and the series was continued by other writers after her death. The setting is a parallel universe where magic has superseded science, and this first sword and sorcery-style book describes the adventures of Simon Tregarth from Earth and the witch Jaelithe as they battle the Kolder.
First published in 1963. EP edition 1998. Frontispiece by Walter Velez. *Uncommon.
Gormenghast Novels Vol. I and II by Mervyn Peake
These two volumes incorporate the whole Gormenghast Trilogy Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone. This classic series follows the inhabitants of the decaying gothic Castle Gormenghast, ruled by the noble family of Groan. It’s not overtly fantastical, but is generally considered fantasy due to its pseudo-medieval setting and atmosphere. Peake was writing a fourth novel in the series at the time of his death, which was completed by his widow and released 50 years after the third book as Titus Awakes.
First book published in 1946. EP edition 1997. Frontispiece by Jill Bauman.
Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg
This is the first book in a series set on the planet Majipoor, and it combines science fiction and fantasy elements. The story follows the amnesiac Valentine who joins a troupe of jugglers and acrobats and gradually remembers that he has fallen from the highest state of grace.
First published in 1979. EP edition 1997. Frontispiece by Ron Walotsky.
The Hound and the Falcon by Judith Tarr
This omnibus historical fantasy trilogy includes The Isle of Glass, The Hounds of God and The Golden Horn. The books tell the story of Alfred – one of the fair folk raised among humans as a monk at St Ruan’s Abbey, and his struggles in coming to term with who and he is when he leaves the protection of the monastery. It is based in the time of Richard the Lionheart and the Fourth Crusade.
First published in 1985. EP edition 1996. Frontispiece by Walter Velez.
Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
For the most famous fantasy series ever, the Easton Press collection included Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and Return of the King. Easton Press sell a separate set which includes The Hobbit and The Silmarillion, but Easton Press have published at least 25 Tolkien ‘classics’ thus far so there are many to collect if you’re so inclined.
First book published in 1954. EP edition 1998. Frontispieces by Michael Hague.
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
White’s lovely retelling of the legend of King Arthur collects several earlier volumes that he published and is loosely based on Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. The book is set around the 14th century in Gramarye – White’s name for Britain – and it chronicles Arthur’s youth and education, his rule as king, and the tragic romance between Lancelot and Guinevere. A later Easton Press edition of this book was produced which includes an additional four black & white illustrations.
First published in omnibus in 1958. EP edition 1997. Frontispiece by David Martin. *Rare.
Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson
In this science fantasy action novel, an archaeologist returning from Mongolia announces that people exist who can turn themselves into animals, but suddenly dies of a mysterious seizure during his press conference before he can provide proof. The story follows the ensuing investigation into lycanthropy and witchcraft carried out by his journalist friend Will Barbee.
First published in 1948. EP edition 1998. Frontispiece by Jill Bauman.
Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny
In this first book in the classic parallel world fantasy series The Chronicles of Amber, Carl Corey wakes up in New York with amnesia. He escapes the hospital and discovers that he is really Prince Corwin of Amber, the ‘one true world’ of which our Earth is but a shadow. He is one of nine men who might rule Amber, but only if he can survive the rest of his Machiavellian royal family.
First published in 1970. EP edition 1996. Frontispiece by Ron Walotsky.
The Mists of Avalon, Vols I and II by Marion Zimmer Bradley
This is another Arthurian fantasy novel, one that relates the legends from the perspective of the female characters. It follows the life of Morgan Le Fay, known as Morgaine, who is depicted as a priestess fighting to save her Celtic culture in a world where Christianity threatens to destroy their way of life. And it tells the story of the women who influence King Arthur, including Gwenhwyfar, Viviane, Morgause and Igraine.
First published in 1983. EP edition 1996. Frontispiece by Doug Beekman and internal illustrations by Mel Grant. *Vol I signed by the author.