I'm taking another track. I've been thinking back 25 years to the things I was reading back in '84-85, just as I was getting into the game. These are some of the things that inspired me. I'm sure there were more that I've forgotten, but a lot of these have stuck with me to this day. I'm also limiting this to books, as the lists of TV, movies and video games that also provided inspiration would take a long time. Anyway, here are some of the things that inspired my young self and worked their way into my games:
Alexander, Lloyd: The Prydain Chronicles This has to be one of the big ones. The Welsh/Celtic impact is still with me, including in my internet alias.
Nye, Robert: Beowulf: A New Telling Another one of those books that really stuck with me. I still sometimes insert little things added to this kids' version of the tale when talking about the real thing.
Dr. Seuss—everything really starts with Seuss
D'Aulaire, Ingri and Edgar: D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths This was my first exposure to the Greek myths, and the cool pictures together with the cool stories made me want to role play out heroic quests like those of Perseus, Heracles and Jason. As a side note, I just picked up a copy of this for my son. He's still a little too young for it, but I'm enjoying re-reading it in anticipation of reading it to him!
Montgomery, R.A. et al: Choose Your Own Adventure series My introduction to game books, and my introduction to the idea of multi-path story telling/flow chart style adventure writing.
Stine, R.L. et al: Wizards, Warriors and You series More game book fun, and a nice evocative setting.
Estes, Rose et al: Endless Quest series (yes, TSR influencing itself here) As above, plus the ads in the back of the books got me to try out Star Frontiers and later Gamma World after getting into D&D.
King Arthur legends, although I'm not sure which version. Maybe Pyle? I know now it definitely wasn't Malory I read as a kid, and I don't think it was Bullfinch either.
A big picture book of fairy tales, again not sure by whom, but it had some cool and darker ones mixed in with the lighter, Disney-fied standards. Some cool stuff in that book, like a Leprechaun tale, Aladdin, and a nice dark version of the Snow Queen. My parents still have it, I'm pretty sure. Maybe I should have Mom dig it out for me...
Another book that was at my elementary school library about knights and the Middle-Ages. Can't remember what the title was, but because of that book, what D&D calls a morning star and what I call a morning star have never synched (that book called a spiked ball on a chain with handle a morning star, and that's how I always think of it).
So as you can see, my early gaming was heavily influenced by Classical and Celtic mythology, Beowulf, King Arthur, and a whole lot of pulpy adventure in the form of various 2nd person game books (in addition to the movies, TV and video games I'll get around to some other time). No Sword & Sorcery, but not a lot of High Fantasy either. No Tolkien, Anderson, Leiber, Vance, Smith, or other Gygax-influencing books, but it was a great fertile mix of inspiration for me as a kid.