What is the longest novel ever written? It’s not easy to answer that question. Why? For one thing, different languages use different numbers of characters for words. A word that would be relatively short in Chinese might be quite long in English, and vice versa. For another thing, defining what actually is a novel, generally a longer work of fiction, is not always easy to do. Is a story told over several books still considered a novel? Is a lengthy story written and published on the Internet considered a novel?
So, there are no easy answers. The best we can hope for is to compare some of the longest works of fiction throughout history.
Author Ayn Rand’s opus to the individual and her philosophy of objectivism, originally published in 1957, weighs in at about 540,000 words and usually 1,168 pages (depending upon the edition). Guess what? It’s still no where near the longest novel ever written.
By Victor Hugo. Published in 1862. This tale of an ex-convict’s struggles during the Paris Uprising of 1832 (not the French Revolution, as is often believed) has about 510,000 words in French, and various word counts when translated into English. Long, but not a winner.
War and Peace
If you’ve ever picked up this tome at a book store or library, you’d think to yourself, “Man, this has got to be the longest novel ever written.” It’s not. Published in the 1860s and written by Leo Tolstoy, this tale of the French Revolution is approximately 560,000 words when translated into English. In the original Russian and French, it’s a mere 460,000 words. See, the language makes a difference.
Wheel of Time
This actually isn’t one novel, but a series of fantasy novels by the late Robert Jordan. Should it be considered for the longest novel ever written? I personally don’t believe so because it’s more than one book, but some folks do. At 14 books, it is approximately 3,431,000 words in English.
This epic futuristic novel by L. Ron Hubbard is another series of books, this time 10. It’s approximately 1,250,000 words in length in English.
You’ve probably not heard of this book, but I bet you’ve heard of a part of it. The third part of this huge novel is commonly called “The Man in the Iron Mask.” I bet you’ve heard of that, or at least seen one of the movie versions of this tale of royalty and intrigue in Renaissance France. Written by Alexandre Dumas pere, the complete novel comes in at about 630,000 words in its original French.
This might be the record holder. You decide. Published as a free ebook online in 2008, Marienbad My Love is the weird tale of a film maker who believes he must create a certain science fiction film in order to bring about the end of the world. Most importantly, for our list, it comes it at a whopping 17 million words. You read that correctly. The author, Mark Leach, claims it is the longest novel ever written. Skeptics disagree, suggesting Leach’s work isn’t even a true novel because it’s not told in a familiar narrative form but instead uses “non-literary collage.”
This Japanese novel by Sohachi Yamaoka was published from 1950 to 1967 in 40 volumes. The complete tale contains 10 million Japanese characters, and if translated into English would probably be much, much longer. So, if you consider multi-volume sets as a complete novel, this might be our winner.