This is a PSA of sorts.
Over on EE's blog, robin s, our regular reader here, asked for recommendations of epic fantasy books because she's not familiar with the genre. EE did respond to her, but I thought we might have a longer discussion here without cluttering his blog. Anyway, here are my thoughts:
J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy (same names as the movies) is to epic fantasy what Jane Austen is to romance -- the touchstone to which all else relates. They are very good, but his writing style leaves many cold. Do you mind long breaks in the narrative for songs about elven legends? They are intentionally old-fashioned in style even for when they were written, whic is the 40s and 50s. The earlier "The Hobbit" might be okay as an intro to everything, but it isn't quite as epic in scale as LOTR. Still, it might be a good starter.
Other famous series that are "in the vein" of Tolkien are David Eddings' Belgarian series (5 books starting with Pawn of Prophecy, I think) and Piers Anthony (he did the Black Cauldron, right?). However, these might be more for the younger crowd. Similar young crowds often read Terry Brooks' Shanarra series, but there are like 40 of them now, and I'm not sure which is first. The normal trope is that a farm boy through prophecy or happenstance is whisked away to save the world from an ultimate evil.
Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time is one of the most popular now in the Tolkienian pattern, but it's something like 12 books, each over 600 pages, and there's no denying that it drags. Also, Jordan unfortunately passed away just a few weeks ago, and so we may never find out if the hero dies or not.
Other possibilities include: Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar series. The first one, which is titled something like The Queen's Arrow kicks off the series and stands up pretty well on its own. It's not epic in the sense that the heroine must destroy the great evil lord living in a volcano, but it's a good fantasy novel. Similar classics include The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey, which is both fantasy and sci-fi at once.
More recent authors might be Elizabeth Hayden and Sara Douglas. N has read both of those, and I believed liked the Hayden books the best.
That's all I can think of for now. In short, The Hobbit, Queen's Arrow, or Elizabeth Hayden might be my recommendations.
What do other people who are far better read than me think?