The best books about legends

4 authors have picked their favorite books about legends and why they recommend each book.

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The Nibelungenlied

By Unknown, A.T. Hatto (translator),

Book cover of The Nibelungenlied

Dark and violent, this twelfth-century tale of love and revenge is a compelling vision of medieval values, combining many of the tropes of later pseudo-medieval sagas – treasure, gory battles, a cloak of invisibility, sexual deception and a dragon – with the spiritual angst that the later tales miss. From Siegfried’s brief encounter with a scaly beast to the fire-and-blood blitzkrieg of the climax – a ferocious battle in the hall of Attila the Hun – the story is told with breathless passion. Whether it glamourises war, or warns against its cost, is a matter of enduring debate. The tale has certainly had its share of cranky fans, from the silent movie filmmaker Fritz Lang to Heinrich Himmler, a testament to its provocative power.

Which version to read? The Penguin edition, translated by A.T. Hatto and published in 1965, offers a very readable prose version that captures the tale’s fiery…

The Nibelungenlied

By Unknown, A.T. Hatto (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Nibelungenlied as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Written by an unknown author in the twelfth century, this powerful tale of murder and revenge reaches back to the earliest epochs of German antiquity, transforming centuries-old legend into a masterpiece of chivalric drama. Siegfried, a great prince of the Netherlands, wins the hand of the beautiful princess Kriemhild of Burgundy, by aiding her brother Gunther in his struggle to seduce a powerful Icelandic Queen. But the two women quarrel, and Siegfried is ultimately destroyed by those he trusts the most. Comparable in scope to the Iliad, this skilfully crafted work combines the fragments of half-forgotten myths to create one…


Who am I?

Nicholas Jubber has written for the Guardian, Irish Times and Telegraph, amongst other publications. He has won the Dolman Travel Book Award, for which he has been shortlisted three times, and his books have been picked by National Geographic, Wanderlust and the New York Times, amongst other publications, for their books of the year.


I wrote...

Epic Continent: Adventures in the Great Stories of Europe

By Nicholas Jubber,

Book cover of Epic Continent: Adventures in the Great Stories of Europe

What is my book about?

An account of a journey from Anatolia to Iceland in the wake of Europe’s most enduring epic tales, Epic Continent explores the connections between Europe’s past and present, tramping off the beaten track to Balkan monasteries, a Dark Age battle-site in the Pyrenees, or Scandinavian rock-carvings, and describing encounters with artists, war veterans and investigative reporters whose lives have been entangled with the continent’s ancient epic stories

Tales of Ancient Egypt

By Roger Lancelyn Green,

Book cover of Tales of Ancient Egypt

This was my introduction to ancient Egypt. I was twelve when I was given this book. I was immediately entranced by the beautifully told stories not only of the gods, but also of magic, shipwrecks, princesses, and thieves.

Egypt is an extraordinary country entirely reliant for thousands of years on the annual inundation of the river Nile. If the water levels were too low there was starvation, and too high there were devastating floods. In some places, the fertile area is a little wider than the flight of an arrow. With life so precarious, it is not surprising that the afterlife became so important to all Egyptians and that they spun so many myths to explain the inexplicable, and give structure to their world.

This book is a great introduction to understanding the ancient Egyptians for anyone, but particularly for younger readers of 10+.

Tales of Ancient Egypt

By Roger Lancelyn Green,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tales of Ancient Egypt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

These stories include the great myths - of Amen-Ra, who created all the creatures in the world; of Isis, seaching the waters for her dead husband Osiris; of the Bennu Bird and the Book of Thoth. But there are also tales told for pleasure about magic, treasure and adventure - even the first ever Cinderella story.


Who am I?

For as long as I can remember I have been intrigued by a family mystery. Names such as Howard Carter, Tutankhamun, and Didlington Hall permeated my childhood along with phrases such as ‘a mummy’s curse’ and ‘financial disaster’. Something had happened years before I was born, which no one would discuss. As an adult I decided to search for the truth, and on the way found inspiration to fulfil a long held ambition, which was to write. I discovered that my family had played a vital, but often forgotten, role in Howard Carter's discovery of Tutankhamun. Our story is of wealth lost, extraordinary characters, passion and tragedy, but through it all Egypt winds like a twist of golden thread.


I wrote...

Nile Cat

By Angela Cecil Reid,

Book cover of Nile Cat

What is my book about?

Nile Cat is my debut novel and I was thrilled to learn that it had been shortlisted for the prestigious 2021 International Rubery Book Award. The story was inspired by my great grandmother, May Tyssen-Amherst’s memoir concerning her childhood trips to Egypt in the 1870s.

The story opens with fourteen-year-old Rose and her twin sister, Lily travelling to Egypt in 1871. At Naples, Mr. John Baxter, an Egyptologist, joins their ship. From that moment, wherever Rose is, there he is too, watching her, like a fox watches a rabbit. Rose grows ever more afraid. When she is given a small stone cat, her dreams are haunted by the unfolding tale of Miut, an ancient Egyptian temple cat, and Hori, the boy who cares for her. Past and present merge in the streets of Cairo and the deserts beyond. Rose knows she has Mr. Baxter to defeat and an ancient mission to complete. She and Lily must work together. The penalty for failure is death.

The Moonlight Sculptor

By Heesung Nam,

Book cover of The Moonlight Sculptor: The Birth of A Dark Gamer (Book 1)

Did you know that LitRPG was originally forged in the east? The Moonlight Sculptor (or Legendary Moonlight Sculptor, LMS, as most know it) was so popular that its ravenous fans spread it to the rest of the world. The series sets up a number of important tropes for the genre going forward. Many consider LMS to be required reading, but you should know going in that it has a very spotty translation. It’s a massive body of work, too, spanning 57 published volumes.

In it, a hardworking miser pseudonymously known as Weed overprepares and over-delivers time and time again. Watching Weed grow and affect his world is exciting and addictive. LMS is really engaging. It’s an excellent, albeit silly read. If you only read one Korean LitRPG, read this one.

The Moonlight Sculptor

By Heesung Nam,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Moonlight Sculptor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

LitRPG is special. It really is. LitRPG provides authors with some of the most powerful tools in storytelling. Computer-simulated worlds make magic fully believable. They enable giant mysteries, actual monsters, forbidden treasures, and incredibly diverse adversaries. LitRPG can be a love story or a tale of revenge. It can bring hope, despair, or just desserts. It’s a perfect vehicle for modern fantasy—a setting where the apocalypse can be at hand, where humans can fight gods, and where the world itself might be sentient. My love for LitRPG drove me to write an epic containing a series of huge, underlying mysteries that would reveal themselves over the course of the story.


I wrote...

First Login

By Kevin Murphy,

Book cover of First Login

What is my book about?

First Login is a love letter to the LitRPG genre that embraces and subverts tropes in equal measure.

Eager for adventure, Corbin jumps into Chronicle, a simulated world where magic, monsters, and mysteries abound. For the first time in his life, he’s free to go anywhere and do anything, but not everyone who plays Chronicle has Corbin’s best intentions in mind. Even the system-generated NPCs seem to have it out for him. After stumbling upon a secret so incredible that it threatens to change everything, Corbin has to figure out how to keep it for his sake and for the sake of his friends.

Lavinia

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Book cover of Lavinia

Romance isn't the only genre I read, of course. Lavinia is written by one of my favorite authors, Ursula K LeGuin. This historical fiction novel takes a character from the ancient Aeneid and brings her to life.

In the Aeneid, Lavinia is the prize for Aeneas. But, she never speaks. Not even one word. LeGuin decided to fix that. She gives Lavinia her own story and journey. In doing so, she creates a rich protagonist who takes destiny into her own hands. 

LeGuin traditionally writes science fiction. I love how this female writer in a male-dominated genre broke out of sci-fi to bring a historical female character to proper life. This is female empowerment, and I am so here for it! Lavinia is enthralling, exciting, and impassioned. Definitely a favorite!

Lavinia

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Lavinia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An exceptional combination of history and mythology - 'an intriguing, luxuriously realised novel' FINANCIAL TIMES

'Subtly moving, playful...a novel that brought me to tears more than once. Lavinia is a delightful heroine' GUARDIAN

'Like Spartan Helen, I caused a war. She caused hers by letting men who wanted her take her. I caused mine because I wouldn't be given, wouldn't be taken, but chose my man and my fate. The man was famous, the fate obscure; not a bad balance.'

Lavinia is the daughter of the King of Latium, a victorious warrior who loves peace; she is her father's closest…


Who am I?

I’m a woman. Laughing, crying, and swooning are all things I know intimately—sometimes heart-achingly. I’m living my life with my heart open, learning to be unashamedly me. That means I love, sometimes recklessly. That meant I hurt, sometimes more than anyone could know. And that means I swoon, not only for romance but also for the beauty of this “wild and precious life.” My recommended novels take you through all the feels. My own novels use my roots in Nashville, TN. Family and music are key. But more than that, my books are about learning to love yourself. I’ve learned personally that that’s the true happily ever after.


I wrote...

Not Suitable for Work

By Skye McDonald,

Book cover of Not Suitable for Work

What is my book about?

She’s a brokenhearted ice queen. He’s a laid-back guy who’s been burned in the past. But Celeste Greene isn’t here to make friends. She moved home to Nashville with one goal: get her life back on the rails. No time for anything else. And Ben Addison would rather play music than petty office games any day.

Celeste and Ben are thrust into a competition for a job they both desperately need. Rivalry these two can handle, but the sizzling tension between them is another story. How can they remain professional when there are so many feelings on the line? If there’s only one winner, how can they risk it all on love? Read the first book in the Anti-Belle series now!

Hawaiian Mythology

By Martha Warren Beckwith,

Book cover of Hawaiian Mythology

First published in 1940, Hawaiian Mythology is an astonishingly comprehensive compilation of native Hawaiian stories and beliefs that, had it not been for the systematic – even dogged – efforts of people like Martha Beckwith may have never survived to today. This is a book to dip into, especially if you find yourself in Polynesia. The stories are factual, often unembellished, which allows you a glimpse into the soul of Pacific peoples. This book also explores the connections between (remote) Hawaii and other island groups in the western Pacific whence its people came, bearing oral memories that seeded the geography of Hawaii and directed the nature of its human occupation, probably hundreds of years before Europeans even knew the Pacific Ocean existed.

Hawaiian Mythology

By Martha Warren Beckwith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hawaiian Mythology as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ku and Hina―man and woman―were the great ancestral gods of heaven and earth for the ancient Hawaiians. They were life's fruitfulness and all the generations of mankind, both those who are to come and those already born.

The Hawaiian gods were like great chiefs from far lands who visited among the people, entering their daily lives sometimes as humans or animals, sometimes taking residence in a stone or wooden idol. As years passed, the families of gods grew and included the trickster Maui, who snared the sun, and fiery Pele of the volcano.

Ancient Hawaiians lived by the animistic philosophy…


Who am I?

Becoming immersed in oral cultures was a massive wake-up call for me! Taught to privilege the written over the spoken word, as most literate people are, it took me years of living in the Pacific Islands, travelling regularly to their remoter parts, to appreciate that people who could neither read nor write could retain huge amounts of information in their heads – and explain it effortlessly. We undervalue orality because we are literate, but that is an irrational prejudice. And as I have discovered from encounters with oral traditions throughout Australia and the Pacific, India, and northwest Europe, not only are oral traditions extensive but may be thousands of years old.


I wrote...

The Edge of Memory: Ancient Stories, Oral Tradition and the Post-Glacial World

By Patrick Nunn,

Book cover of The Edge of Memory: Ancient Stories, Oral Tradition and the Post-Glacial World

What is my book about?

For almost all the time that modern humans (like us) have roamed the earth’s surface, we have communicated our knowledge about our surroundings without the aid of the written word.  Sometimes today we forget this. We assume our pre-literate ancestors must have survived by luck, given they were unable to read or write. 

The Edge of Memory addresses this mistaken belief, showing that our ancestors systematically encoded their observations into oral traditions and passed them on from one generation to the next so effectively that some remain understandable today even after thousands and thousands of years have passed. By dismissing such memories as ‘myth and legend’, we not merely diminish our ancestors’ legacy but also hinder our ability to cope with an uncertain future.

Over Nine Waves

By Marie Heaney,

Book cover of Over Nine Waves: A Book of Irish Legends

This is possibly the best collection of Irish myths and legends that I’ve read. It’s as comprehensive as Lady Gregory’s book but much more palatable. It charts the mythology of Ireland from the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann, right up to the arrival of Christianity. Written in clear, no-nonsense prose, this was one of my prime reference texts when writing my own book.

Over Nine Waves

By Marie Heaney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Over Nine Waves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'These legends are the action-packed stories - of ancient heroes, huge battles, attempted invasions, prophecies and spells, clashes between the underworld and the real world, abductions, love affairs and feasts - which have fascinated the Irish mind for more than 2,000 years . . . Most of them have an extraordinary, stark narrative sweep, with a marvellous sense of detail . . . Heaney writes directly and fluently . . . with great tact and skill.' Sunday Times


Who am I?

I grew up in Ireland, where I was surrounded by stories, modern and ancient. Irish myths and legends formed the basis of the history curriculum for most children beginning the subject. Irish children are incredibly familiar with "The Children of Lir" and legendary heroes like Cúchulainn – we even have a rollercoaster named after him in our only proper theme park! As a teacher, I continued to retell these stories to my young, receptive audiences. When I was given the opportunity to write my own book of fairy tales, myths, and legends, I jumped at the chance. The research, including the reading of the books on this page, was almost as much fun as writing my book! 


I wrote...

Irish Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends

By Kieran Fanning,

Book cover of Irish Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends

What is my book about?

A complete collection of much-loved Irish fairy tales, myths, and legends, bound into a beautiful new edition. Enjoy the rich mythical history of Ireland from the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann on the island and their great battles with the Fomorians, right up to the modern-day fairy tales of Irish storytelling. Including the Ulster Cycle, the Fenian Cycle, and featuring heroes such as Cúchulainn and Fionn Mac Cumhaill and many traditional favourites such as The Children of Lir.

Virginia Folk Legends

By Thomas E. Barden,

Book cover of Virginia Folk Legends

This book is a collection of legends and folklore gathered by field workers of the Virginia Writers Project of the WPA that languished for decades in the libraries of the University of Virginia. It took folklorist Thomas E. Barde to put them in a book endorsed by the American Folklore Society. It helped me discover the witch stories told in the past until the 40s in the western part of Virginia, as I researched for the witch chapter of my own book. I enjoyed these tales and believed other armchair folklorists would enjoy them, too. 

Virginia Folk Legends

By Thomas E. Barden,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Virginia Folk Legends as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What do devil dogs, witches, haunted houses, Daniel Boone, Railroad Bill, "Justice John" Crutchfield, and lost silver mines have in common? All are among the subjects included in the vast collection of legends gathered between 1937 and 1942 by the field workers of the Virginia Writers Project of the WPA. For decades following the end of the project, these stories lay untouched in the libraries of the University of Virginia. Now, folklorist Thomas E. Barden brings to light these delightful tales, most of which have never been in print. Virginia Folk Legends presents the first valid published collection of Virginia…


Who am I?

Long before I began writing my first fictional story and way before I researched for my first nonfiction paranormal book, I gave up ignoring the voices in my head and began writing horror, fantasy, and six nonfiction books on the paranormal in Virginia. Besides learning a new piece of history or legend I never knew before, the research for my nonfiction books and articles inspired me to incorporate it into my horror or fantasy fiction. I enjoy writing fiction, but I believe I learn as much as my readers when I write nonfiction. 


I wrote...

Haunted Virginia: Legends, Myths, and True Tales

By Pamela K. Kinney,

Book cover of Haunted Virginia: Legends, Myths, and True Tales

What is my book about?

Like every state in the Union, Virginia has unique myths, legends, and yes, even true stories that sound much like legends, but aren't. Read the urban legend of the Bunnyman and what happens to mortals at his Bunnyman Bridge at midnight on Halloween. Discover the myths surrounding Edgar Allan Poe and other famous Virginians. See why Natural Bridge is a haunted tourist attraction. What makes the Great Dismal Swamp so creepy: Is it the ghosts or Bigfoot? Meet the Witch of Pungo in Virginia Beach and find out that Mothman and the Jersey Devil visited Virginia. Read Virginian stories of witches, demons, monsters, ghosts, pirates, strange animals, and soldiers from the Civil War. Visit an amazing and frightening Virginia that you never knew existed.

Book cover of The Visigoths in History and Legend

The Visigothic kingdom of Spain was long dismissed in older books as a barbaric backwater, the darkest point of the so-called Dark Ages. Yet it was, in truth, a vibrant cultural centre for more than two centuries, until falling to the forces of Islam in 711. Hillgarth’s fascinating book gives an excellent short survey of Visigothic history, and then explores how the legends surrounding the Goths were developed and exploited by later Spanish generations, from the Christian Reconquista and the sixteenth-century Golden Age to modern times. This creation of an idealized Gothic past provided inspiration and a sense of identity in Spain, in sharp contrast to Italy where the Goths were depicted during the Renaissance as the savage destroyers of classical civilization.

The Visigoths in History and Legend

By J.N. Hillgarth,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Visigoths in History and Legend as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book explores one of the central myths of Spain: the idea that Spanish culture arose from that of the Visigoths. It begins with a sketch of Visigothic history, then proceeds to explore attitudes towards the Goths and legends and myths that developed around them from late antiquity to the twentieth century; such ideas proved influential among those who saw the Goths as their spiritual, if not literal, ancestors. The focus is on the myth of the Goths as expressed in literature of a broadly historical nature; many authors have played a significant role in forming and shaping this myth,…


Who am I?

Born and raised in New Zealand, about as far from the Roman world as one can get, I got hooked on history as a child and began university life as an ancient and medieval double major, studying everything from the classical Greeks and Romans to Charlemagne and the Crusades. By the time I came to Oxford to write my PhD, I decided that my greatest interest lay in the dramatic transformation which saw classical antiquity evolve into medieval Christendom. I've been fortunate enough to write and teach about many different aspects of that transformation and I'm currently Associate Professor in Ancient and Late Antique History at Royal Holloway, in the University of London. 


I wrote...

The Goths: Lost Civilizations

By David M. Gwynn,

Book cover of The Goths: Lost Civilizations

What is my book about?

The Goths are truly a “lost civilization”. After migrating from their ancient homeland of Scandza to settle north of the Black Sea, the original Goths were driven westward by the Huns and in the years that followed Gothic tribes sacked the imperial city of Rome and set in motion the decline and fall of the western Roman Empire. Ostrogothic and Visigothic kings ruled over Italy and Spain, dominating early medieval Europe. Yet the last Gothic kingdom fell more than a thousand years ago, and down the centuries the Goths have been remembered as both barbaric destroyers and heroic champions of liberty. This book brings together the interwoven stories of the original Goths and the diverse Gothic heritage, a contradictory legacy that still influences our modern world.

The Nine

By Tracy Townsend,

Book cover of The Nine

This book was a serious inspiration for me when my debut novel was in an earlier draft. Tracy crafts this cool theology where “God” is a scientist and the world his Experiment, but not everyone agrees on whether that Experiment should be allowed to run free. What if God gets tired of playing and throws out the ant farm, or decide it’s not working…? The Nine centers on a motley-found family of characters, many of whom have rich backstories with each other that we get bits and pieces of, which is like catnip to me as a reader (and writer).

The Nine

By Tracy Townsend,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Nine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the dark streets of Corma exists a book that writes itself, a book that some would kill for... Black market courier Rowena Downshire is just trying to pay her mother’s freedom from debtor's prison when an urgent and unexpected delivery leads her face to face with a creature out of nightmares. Rowena escapes with her life, but the strange book she was ordered to deliver is stolen. The Alchemist knows things few men have lived to tell about, and when Rowena shows up on his doorstep, frightened and empty-handed, he knows better than to turn her away. What he…


Who am I?

Pantheons and worship are elements of culture I’ve always found fascinating, partly from being a mostly secular person with relatives who are very religious. I read a lot of epic fantasy when I was younger that featured gods, like Erikson, and I love finding more recent works that play with how deities might affect a world, and vice versa. But I also picked some of the books below because they inject cli-fi or solarpunk into their worlds – something I’ve been adding to my second-world fantasy lately. Because why not create the same sort of aesthetic in other worlds? 


I wrote...

Catalyst

By Brandon Crilly,

Book cover of Catalyst

What is my book about?

Street magician Mavrin Leed doesn’t believe in what he can’t see or prove. His performances are mere tricks; the only true magic in Aelda comes from the benevolent, god-like Aspects circling it. Labeled a heretic, Eyasu Temergon is convinced that Aelda’s true history was hidden. He scours forgotten shadows for proof of the Raw, creatures of energy tied to the fracturing of his world. When their sudden emergence leads to destruction and chaos, Eyasu puts aside his estrangement with his old friend, Mavrin. Ex-soldier Deyeri Renn has a mystery of her own: why are her city’s leaders so interested in the Raw? 

As Deyeri, Mavrin, and Eyasu unpack the secrets that once drove them apart, every seal in their relationship means one more crack that could unravel Aelda’s very existence.

Britain Begins

By Barry Cunliffe,

Book cover of Britain Begins

I was attracted to this book as it uses the most up-to-date archaeological evidence together with new work on DNA and other scientific techniques to tell the story of the origins of the British and the Irish peoples, from around 10,000BC to the eve of the Norman Conquest. Whilst there are new archaeological discoveries made every week, one or two of which could potentially challenge some of the ideas in this work, at the moment it is the most up-to-date book on the subject which we have, and as such should be treasured.  

Britain Begins

By Barry Cunliffe,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Britain Begins as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The last Ice Age, which came to an end about 12,000 years ago, swept the bands of hunter gatherers from the face of the land that was to become Britain and Ireland, but as the ice sheets retreated and the climate improved so human groups spread slowly northwards, re-colonizing the land that had been laid waste. From that time onwards Britain and Ireland have been continuously inhabited and the resident population has increased from a few hundreds to more than 60
million.

Britain Begins is nothing less than the story of the origins of the British and the Irish peoples,…


Who am I?

I have been fascinated by ancient sacred sites since I first visited the ancient Rollright Stones on the Oxfordshire/Warwickshire border decades ago. I am interested in how the study of folklore and local traditions can be used in conjunction with archaeology to trace the origins and purposes of ancient monuments. I am an author and researcher who has had seven books published on the subjects of ancient civilizations, prehistoric monuments, and supernatural folklore. Born in Birmingham, England, I am a qualified archaeologist with a BA in European Archaeology from the University of Nottingham, and an MPhil in Greek Archaeology from Birmingham University.


I wrote...

Haunted Spaces, Sacred Places: A Field Guide to Stone Circles, Crop Circles, Ancient Tombs, and Supernatural Landscapes

By Brian Haughton,

Book cover of Haunted Spaces, Sacred Places: A Field Guide to Stone Circles, Crop Circles, Ancient Tombs, and Supernatural Landscapes

What is my book about?

Examines the megaliths of Britain and Ireland, the tombs of the Etruscans, the ancient Native American city of Cahokia, and other legendary and mysterious places around the world, with a review of the myth, lore, and paranormal phenomena for which they are known.

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