11 Preposterously Manly Fantasy Series

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What makes a book series manly? Is it the action? The violence? The lack of female characters? Is it male wish-fulfillment? Misogyny? Or a combination of all these things?


I don't know the answer for sure, but I do know that these 11 fantasy series are all in their own unique way, very, very manly. This is not necessarily a good thing... but neither is it necessarily bad. Just grab your axe and your favorite loin cloth while we journey to the manliest realms fantasy fiction has to offer.

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1) The Chronicles of Gor
There are 32 books in John Norman's Gor series, and they all have one thing common: sexy, sexy slave women. This fantasy series mostly stars Tarl Cabot, a British professor who just-so-happens to be a master swordsman, who is transported to the fantastic (although occasionally-invaded-by-aliens) land of Gor, which happens to be chock full of women who enjoy being dominated by men, sexually and otherwise. This would be somewhat less icky if the books didn't suggest female slavery was actually a pretty okay thing, or if the women didn't end up publicly humiliated in some fashion so much, or even just if the women didn't mind being beaten all the time. At any rate, when Daw Books decided to stop publishing the Gor series, author Norman suggested it was because of a vast feminist conspiracy in the publishing world, so… yeah.

2) Conan the Barbarian
The hulking, muscled barbarian known as Conan is male wish-fulfillment at its most basic: Conan is a killer of evil men and monsters, adventurer, thief, mercenary, pirate, king, and lover of ladies. Although he's giant and muscled, he still has the agility of a panther, which serves him well on the battlefield and in the bedroom; he's also genuinely smart and cunning, which many of his foes underestimate (and sometimes his media portrayals, too). Despite being a barbarian, he has a rigorous code of honor, making him more or less the ultimate man. And before you start comparing Conan to Gor, it should be noted the concubine Conan slept with he eventually married and made queen, and besides, she was a badass with a bow and arrow, fending a few would-be assassins. The Conan series has plenty of princesses in peril, but Conan's main love interest wasn't one of them.

3) The Sword of Truth
Terry Goodkind's 12-volume Sword of Truth series is a pretty standard fantasy story: A wizard makes Richard Cypher a Seeker of Truth, he gets a Sword of Truth, he fights the evil tyrant Darken Rahl, who [spoiler] ends up being Richard's dad. And then he fights some other folk. Along the way he falls in love with Kahlen, who who isn't awful or evil, but does end up a damsel in distress approximately 18 bazillion times over the course of the series. It's traditionally manly!

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4) The Drenai Saga
David Gemmell's first book was titled Legend, about 10,000 men defending a fortress and against an invading force of 500,000 barbarians — specifically, it's about two of them, Regnak Wanderer and the older warrior Druss, who basically lead the fortress' defense. Since Legend is one long battle, it's obviously full of fighting, blood, heroism, the comradery of men, blood, awesome before-the-fight pep talks and men being men around other men –- and the other 10 books in The Drenai Saga are pretty much about the same things. There are a few women populating the books, who actually tend to be badasses themselves, but they pretty much instantly fall in love with the male protagonists. That tends to happen when your characters are so damn manly, I guess.

5) The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
Stephen Donaldson's saga of leprous author Thomas Covenant begins with the titular character raping a woman, because he's pretty sure she's a dream. While Covenant misses the point, Donaldson doesn't, because he's trying to establish two things: 1) his protagonist Thomas Covenant is an intensely awful person and 2) this series is about Covenant's psychological journey, not anyone else's. The books follow Covenant as he tries to figure out whether the fantasy realm he keeps slipping into is real, while the series examines the question that even if it's not, do Covenant's actions matter? One shouldn't assume Donaldson is condoning anything Covenant does, but at same time, reading about the adventures of this awful, awful man isn't for everyone.


6) The Dark Tower
Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name trilogy include some of the manliest movies ever made, and they're probably the largest of the 18 million inspirations for Stephen King's sprawling Dark Tower series about Roland the Gunslinger's search for the titular tower. While a woman is one of the main characters, The Dark Tower's Mid-World is a definitely man's world, where death is cheap, monsters abound, bullets fly, demons rape women, babies eat succubi, and all sort of action-packed violence, horror and other manly shenanigans.

7) The Belisarius Series
The star of David Drake and Eric Flint's series was a real Roman general, but rest assured these books are still fiction, Published by Baen Books (purveyors of hyper-manly sci-fi and fantasy stories everywhere), this series follows the military exploits and adventures of Belisarius, whose Eastern Roman Empire legions fight the Indian Malwa Empire, which happens to be controlled by an evil cyborg from the future. Oh, and Belisariius is helped by crystal people, also from the future. This makes it partially sci-fi, but the sixth century setting makes it feel like fantasy — at any rate, the manliness is unquestionable. Belisarius is a master of the battlefield but in action and in strategy, and he's equally skilled at playing politics or getting his hands dirty. It might not shock you to know that Belisarius' badass wife was previously a courtesan, just so you know she and Beli have lots of awesome sex, you know, when he's not busy saving the world.

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8) Wheel of Time
Gender is at the very heart of Robert Jordan's 14-book Wheel of Time series (which just concluded a few weeks ago, thanks to Brandon Sanderson). The women have just as much power and political agency as the men - perhaps moreso, since women rule most of the main kingdoms, cultures and magical societies in the series. Unfortunately, this means while the women are constantly screwing around with politics, the men are the ones generally busy saving the world. This would be less grievous if the women in The Wheel of Time weren't generally only bearable when they're sleeping with the male characters. The rest of the time they're scheming on a macro level or tormenting men with insults and general bitchiness on the micro, so that the male characters spend most of their time thinking about how awful women are, if not being outright befuddled by their insanity. Oh, and the main character, Rand Al'Thor, gets to have sex with three separate women, all of whom are just totally okay with sharing him. Aggravatingly manly!


9) Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser
Fritz Leiber's beloved Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series is the fun-loving cousin to the Conan stories. While Conan is rarely without a sword in his hand and someone's blood on the sword, the goodhearted barbarian Fafrhd and the cynical ex-magician's apprentice Mouser are less interesting in smiting bad guys than having a good time. This generally means adventuring, and all the drinking and brawling and wenching that go with it. It's no coincidence that both Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser lose their gal pals on the same night early in the series, allowing them to commiserate (via the aforementioned adventuring drinking and wenching) throughout most of the series. These books are manly, albeit in a much more palatable "boys will be boys" fashion.

10) The Dresden Files
Despite being set in the present, Jim Butcher's Dresden Files novels are undoubtedly fantasy and undeniably manly, mostly they're also hardboiled private eye novels. Harry Dresden is both a wizard and a gumshoe, who tries to keep the people of Chicago safe from werewolves, faeries, monsters, and other assorted fantastical dangers, either with the Chicago Police's Special Investigations Division, or as a private dick. Those last two words should be all you need to know about The Dresden Files' level ofmanliness.


11) Lord of the Rings
There's nothing overtly misogynist about J.R.R. Tolkien's seminal fantasy trilogy, but you have to admit the Fellowship is kind of a sausage party. You could drop all the female characters from the books and lose probably less than 50 pages. In fact, there are only three female characters of note: 1) Arwen, who is Aragorn's mostly off-page love interest, 2) Galadriel, who is the mightiest of all the Elves (according to Tolkien) but who really doesn't do anything other than giving each member of the Fellowship a pep talk and lembas bread, and 3) Eowyn, who actually does kick some Nazgul ass, although she has to disguise herself as a man to get the opportunity. There's a reason Peter Jackson increased the roles of all three female characters in the movies. And that reason? An overabundance of manliness!



WTF is this post? Oooo, manly fantasy series - I'm waiting for the post about a fantasy series where women aren't treating like objects and aren't stereotyped as harpies/brainless twats, and have as much to do/or as important as the great "prophesied" boy-child. Here, I'll start and finish the list - Terry Brooks' Shannara and the Word and the Void series. Nest Freemark, Amberle, Brin Ohmsford, Wren Elessedil - BAM, strong female characters, leading the group or in joint partnerships.

Edit: Ok, I've thought about it for a minute, and it's not just the brainless-ness. It's the following of the boys and never offering their own opinion. It's the cover art with females wearing impractical boob-accentuating outfits.

Also, the list will have to be amended, but heck, I'm throwing L.E. Modesitt Jr.'s Soprano Sorcerer on there too. I haven't gone thru his entire Recluce series, but I've no doubt there are some strong female characters - whether they're leads or written from the POV, I'm less certain.