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The 10 most original novels

Updated on February 10, 2009

Originality is important to me. I often base how entertaining something is by how different it appears to me. Originality, I’ve written about here on hubpages before because the subject is important to me. If I'm reading something and I find its blowing my mind, it instantly becomes one of my favourites.

In no particular order, I give you the most original english-language novels (and graphic novels).

1)A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

The format, the content, the message, everything about that book was revolutionary. It invented the Christmas novel and the ghost story. Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Three ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, all became part of our cultural consciousness. They are mimicked, filmed, and retold the world over. One of my favourite original novels.

2) Lord of the rings - JRR Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings is a combination of Welsh, Norse and old English myth stories, but was something so much more and completely new. Dwarves, Elves, even Halflings can be found in works such as Fafnir, but the unique combination of them all. The sheer passion and attention to detail raises it above its source material eventually spawning decades of epic fantasy imitators.

3) Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert a. Heinlein

A bizarre story about a human raised as a martian and what happens when he comes home. Valentine Michael Smith causes quite a stir, his Martian ideas are startling and complex, he preaches free love and the complete understanding of all things through empathy. At the end of the book, Smith eventually ends up altering the course of human culture, which the book also managed to do in real life. The book was picked up by the counterculture of the sixties and rocketed to bestsellerdom. Today, it remains one of the most startling tales to come out of science fiction for many years.

 

4) Tarzan of the apes - Edgar Rice Burroughs

At first glance, its nothing. It’s a racist, sexist relic of the pulp days which are, thankfully, long gone. But at second glance, it’s an original novel like none other. It rises above its quickly written contemporaries. It introduces audiences to Africa, tells the tale of a child, lost, and, most notably, does not have a happy ending. Tarzan chooses to protect his identity so the woman he loves, Jane, can be happy. The book reads quickly and leaves you breathless. You really feel like you’re in a jungle and being raised by an ape woman. It’s truly a unique little item that doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

 

5) Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger

Not the first coming of age novel, (that distinction is generally given to Emile: or, On Education, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, written in 1762) but probably the one that most contributed to the veritable explosion of them throughout the whole of the twentieth century. Every NorthAmerican school child reads catcher in the rye at some point. It’s popular because its good. It’s reactionary, the voice is so fresh and readable. The book finally achieves the young person's voice like many have failed before.

6) Catch 22 - Joseph Heller

Circular and repetitive. It’s almost stream-of-consciousness, except without the boring that usually accompanies most of those novels (Ulysses). Catch-22 is unique little novel which uses a startlingly original way of illustrating the futility of war. It’s witty. It’s charming. Most people like it. I recommend it.

 7) Neuromancer - William Gibson

As much as I hate the book for being poorly written, it did single-handedly decide where science fiction would go during the eighties and nineties. Neuromancer popularized cyberpunk. It introduced millions to the concept of the internet and hacking and implants even before such things existed. It is a titan of originality. Science fiction as we know it today wouldn’t exist without it. Do you like Snowcrash and Accelerando? Thank Neuromancer.

 8) Dragon ball – Akira Toriyama 

A Japanese manga (comic book) series staring Goku. A young, freakishly-strong orphan who, through various adventures and trials, comes to be the strongest most powerful martial artist on Earth. What sets Dragon Ball apart from the crowd is its structure. In western literature, its common for characters to change, to go through something that makes them a better (or worse) person. But in Dragon Ball, Goku goes through an emotional AND physical change. His maturing is mirrored by his efforts to get stronger, to protect the people he loves. He eventually gains powers like Superman, but unlike him, Goku’s power levels and rules has no limit. He is the embodiment of the American dream.

 9) Superman - Spiegel and Shuster

Prior to him, comics were full of detectives solving crimes. Superman solved crimes, but he also punished bad guys. When Superman came out, the American comics scene was changed forever. Instantly popular, Superman, to this day, is one of the most recognized characters in the world.

10) Frankenstein - Mary Shelley

A little novel that came out of nowhere. But what a novel. The dead are brought back to life by science. The dead aren’t happy about it. It’s such a haunting story of loss and redemption followed by more loss and death. Frankenstein is sometimes cited as the first science fiction novel. Other science fiction tropes had appeared before in other things, but it was the theme of Frankenstein that so sets it apart as the true birth of sf. For the first time, audiences saw the true potential of science. The novel is all about careful study and empirical evidence. It's about the triumph of science over mysticism and how the truth is so much more horrible than fiction.

There are more, obviously. I can think of a few I wanted to put on this list, but these are ten I think that were particularly original and fresh in their approaches to fiction. If you’re favourites were left out, don’t be shy to tell me in a comment. Maybe you’ll change my mind.

Which do you think is the most original novel

See results

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    • Rod Marsden profile image

      Rod Marsden 

      5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

      A good list. I'm glad A Christmas Carol came to be listed as number one. It was the first of Charles Dickens Christmas stories and the best.

    • calebd profile image

      calebd 

      9 years ago from Newark

      You're equating pioneering with original through the notion of vertical innovation, yes? Makes Tarzan a difficult pick then. Heart of Darkness did Africa first. Feral children are a story as old as history. Unhappy ending? I can't speak to that historically but yeah. You should do another hub about why you picked these genres as most fertile. Good list and such.

    • FreezepopMorality profile imageAUTHOR

      FreezepopMorality 

      9 years ago

      Alice in Wonderland was one of my runners up.

      St. James, I'd considered American Gods, but ultimately rejected it because I feel, that in a way, its like Lord of the Rings with its compilation of old myths, but I felt that, unlike Tolkiens work, it doesn't really go above and beyond its source material. Or maybe it's just my bias against all non-sandman Gaimon. The other three on your list I haven't read, but mean to look up. Thanks! (also: the raven would have made this list if it were longer)

      Trainspotting, I haven't read the book, but the movie was good, it's on my list to read. The colour purple is one I hadn't thought of, but now that you mention it, should have been a runner up.

    • Elena. profile image

      Elena. 

      9 years ago from Madrid

      Freeze, I'll say, the list is certainly original :-) I never thought about some of these in terms of originality, I actually read this and left to read something else while I pondered your choices :-) I guess you're right, at least in those that I've read. Alice in Wonderland would be original in my opinion.

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 

      9 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      Trainspotting by Irving Welsh and The Color Purpple by Alice Walker were written in English that was not taught to me in school - so i find them original and different :D

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 

      9 years ago from London

      I love AK - what did you think of it?

    • St.James profile image

      St.James 

      9 years ago from Lurking Around Florida

      You may enjoy Neil Gaiman's "American Gods", Tim Dorsey's "Torpedo Juice" , Art Pepper's "Straight Life" and "Pale Horse Coming" the author escapes me.

      Good choices in literary works all the same

      P.S. Anything by Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis, and Edgar Allen Poe

    • sheenarobins profile image

      sheenarobins 

      9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Hello,

      I have been terrorizing ebay to find a good copy of the classics, catcher in the rye and catch-22. I feel like I have to read the classics before I can tell myself, "go ahead and write a book."

      So far, I have read Wuthering Heights, Anne of Green Gables and now Anna Karenina. Very feminine choice, eh!

      Good hub!

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 

      9 years ago from London

      I've only read 6 of those - clearly some catching up to do here!

    • goldentoad profile image

      goldentoad 

      9 years ago from Free and running....

      Catch-22 definitely changed my opinion on how books should be written and opened my eyes to a great deal.

    • Teresa McGurk profile image

      Sheila 

      9 years ago from The Other Bangor

      What an interesting list. I'm glad to see both Catch-22 and Frankenstein there -- thoughtfully done, thanks.

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