My Top Ten Favorite Authors
(Printed Word Only)
by Karen Funk Blocher

part of my L'Engle collection
part of my L'Engle collection

This is in alphabetical order because, as Madeleine L'Engle is fond of quoting, "comparisons are odious."  I've excluded my husband and myself, because self promotion is not the purpose of the list. There are also numerous television writers whose work I admire: Donald P. Bellisario,  Deborah Pratt, Paul Brown, Ben Aaronovitch, J. Michael Straczynski, Rockne S. O'Bannon, Steven Moffat, Russell T Davies, Paul Cornell (who also writes novels and comics), Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson and Marti Noxon are some of them.  But let's not open that can of worms!

In writing this, I found that the words "funny" and "interesting" popped up in nearly every entry.  L'Engle, McCaffrey, Lewis and Tolkien aren't especially funny for the most part (although Tolkien sometimes is), but the rest are all humorists to some degree, much funnier than I am.  The other recurring traits on this list are the likeability of the protagonists (I don't like reading about unpleasant people, even preferring that the antagonists be somewhat sympathetic), and the complexity of the body of work.  I'm very fond of recurring characters, and of backstories that develop over the course of many books. Even Thurber and Ellison, whose works are short and populated with nonrecurring casts, have thematic elements that unify otherwise disparate stories and essays. 

Four major characters featured in the work of the listed authors--Tolkien's Gandalf, White's Merlyn, McCaffrey's Robinton and Rowling's Dumbledore--fall into the semi-archetypal category I like to call the "tricky old man," sort of a combination of the trickster and the wise old man. My character Fayubi also fits this archetype, although he's younger and less hairy than the others (except maybe Robinton). Come to think of it, L'Engle's Mrs Whatsit and Miss Mullock's godmother character are "tricky old woman" characters.

The quotes below were chosen more on the basis of my ability to locate them quickly than because they represent the authors' best work.  More quotes from these and other writers can be found on my favorite quotes page.

Douglas Adams

Major works: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and sequels.
Genre: science fiction, sort of.
Best Character: Most people would choose Marvin or Ford or Zaphod, but I prefer Arthur Dent himself.
Quote: "Ah," said Arthur, "this is obviously some strange usage of the word safe that I wasn't previously aware of."--from The Hitchhikers's Guide to the Galaxy
Why I like his writing: The funniest writer of the past forty years or so, Adams' amazing characters and satirical sf situations lampoon the foibles of humanity with obvious fondness rather than vitriol.  He also has more memorable quotes per chapter than just about anyone.  I was quite distressed at the news of his premature death.

Piers Anthony

Major works: The Xanth novels and other series.
Genre: fantasy, science fiction.
Best Character: Stiles (from the Apprentice Adept series)
Quote: "Trent was not a bad Magician," Cherie corrected him. "He was an Evil Magician. There's a distinction - a crucial one."
"Um, yes. He was a good Evil Magician." -- from A Spell for Chameleon.
Why I like his writing: It's full of wordplay, good characters and fun settings.  What I like best about his work are his recurring themes about false assumptions and making moral choices when neither alternative is satisfactory.  His mother and my mother worked together at the Mental Health Association of Onondaga County circa 1970.

Harlan Ellison

Major works: numerous award-winning short stories, plus essays, novels and screenplays.
Genre: not easily categorized.  He likes to call himself a fantasist, and resists the science fiction label.
Best Character: Everett C. Marm, a.k.a. the Harlequin
Quote: That is the heart of it.  Now begin in the middle, and later learn the beginning; the end will take care of itself. -- from "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" in Paingod and Other Delusions
Why I like his writing: It's wickedly funny, erudite, and often deliberately controversial. What I like best, though, is the way his best work effectively presents, as Harlan likes to quote Faulkner as saying, "the human heart in conflict with itself."  I collected and read dozens of his books in high school and college, and although much of his writing is depressing I still remember it (and him) fondly.

Madeleine L'Engle

Major works: A Wrinkle in Time and sequels, the Austin family series, etc.
Genre: science fiction, fantasy, young adult, mystery, essays, etc.
Best Character: Charles Wallace Murry
Quote: "We do not know what things look like, as you say," the beast said. "We know what things are like. It must be a very limiting thing, this seeing."--from A Wrinkle in Time.
Why I like her writing: L'Engle writes about good but flawed people in interesting but difficult circumstances.  Her plots tend to be highly original and sometimes autobiographical, and have a religious, intellectual, and deeply moral undercurrent that is brave and life-affirming.  I also love the fact that most of her fiction is interrelated, with major and minor characters popping up in more than one series of books, sometimes many years older or younger than the last time we saw them. I maintain an online bibliography to her work at  Her family/company also maintains an official web site,

C. S. Lewis

Major works: The Chronicles of Narnia
Genre: fantasy, science fiction, essays
Best Character: Puddleglum
Quote: ...and on one wall was a shelf full of books.... They had titles like The Life and Letters of Silenus or Nymphs and Their Ways or Men, Monks and Gamekeepers; a Study in Popular Legend or Is Man a Myth?--from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
Why I like his writing: Like L'Engle, his work has a Christian sensibility without being preachy (usually). I've never been able to get through most of his non-Narnia books, but the Narnia series is flat-out wonderful, with believable characters making both good and bad choices in a highly imaginative fantasy setting.

Anne McCaffrey

Major works: The Dragonriders of Pern series (among others).
Genre: science fiction, with fantasy sensibilities.
Best Character: Masterharper Robinton
Quote: "You can't honestly be worried what that fat old fool thinks or says or does? Yes, you can and you are and you would!"--from Dragonsinger
Why I like her writing: McCaffrey has good characters and plotting in a well-realized setting, built up over decades.   I love the scope of the Pern books, most of which take place over the course of a generation or so, with prequels that take place centuries before the main saga.  I should give her other series a chance, but I've never really done so.

J. K. Rowling

Major works: the Harry Potter series
Genre: fantasy
Best Character: Harry Potter
Quote: "Mad?" said Percy airily. "He's a genius! Best wizard in the world! But he is a bit mad, yes. Potatoes, Harry?"--from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Why I like her writing: It's funny and darkly dramatic, often at the same time, with truly great characters in an extraordinary but contemporary fantasy setting. Like most of my favorite writers, she has a huge scope to her work, intricately crafted, memorable and believable.

James Thurber

Major works: The Thurber Carnival, Alarms & Diversions, My World and Welcome To It and other books.
Genre: essays, short stories, satire, science fiction, cartoons and fables.
Best Character: Thurber himself, in "File and Forget" and other pieces
Quote: The man, who had never liked the words "booby" and "booby hatch," and liked them even less on a shining morning when there was a unicorn in the garden, thought for a moment.--from "The Unicorn in the Garden," Fables for Our Time in The Thurber Carnival
Why I like his writing: Thurber was one of the greatest humorists if the twentieth century, working mostly in a variety of short forms.  His characters are quirky and interesting, his topics intellectual and/or absurd, and it's all very funny.  There's a slightly dysfunctional attitude toward women in his work that bothers me more than it did when I was younger, but it's still great stuff.  I especially recommend the fairy tales (The Wonderful O, Many Moons) and the above-named collections

J. R. R. Tolkien

Major works: The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit
Genre: fantasy, defining the genre for all who came after
Best Character: I think I have to go with Bilbo Baggins, but it's a close call.
Quote: "That's what Bilbo Baggins hates!/So carefully, carefully with the plates!"--from The Hobbit
Why I like his writing: What can I say about the greatest fantasy novel ever written?  I love the scope of it, the world, the characters, the appendices, and the humanity of it all regardless of which characters are technically considered human.  I've never managed to read The Silmarillion, though. It doesn't have the quality of great storytelling that The Hobbit and LotR have.

T. H. White

Major works: The Once and Future King
Genre: Arthurian fantasy
Best Character: Merlyn
Quote: "You see, one gets confused with Time, when it is like that. All one's tenses get muddled, for one thing. If you know what is going to happen to people, and not what has happened to them, it makes it difficult to prevent it happening, if you don't want it to have happened, if you see what I mean? Like drawing in a mirror."--from The Sword in the Stone, in The Once and Future King
Why I like his writing: At the risk of repeating myself, it's funny, full of flawed but mostly well-meaning characters, intellectual and deeply moral.  It's hard to appreciate any other version of Arthur or (especially) Merlyn after reading and appreciating White's rendition of them.

Honorable Mentions:

John Bellairs (especially The Face in the Frost), Peter S. Beagle (The Last Unicorn), James Burke (Connections), Diane Duane (the Young Wizards series), Ursula LeGuin (A Wizard of Earthsea), A. A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh), Miss Mulock (The Little Lame Prince), Antoine de Saint-Exupery (The Little Prince), P. L. Travers (Mary Poppins), Patricia C. Wrede (Talking to Dragons)

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Last updated: 4/11/09