This is my list of essential fantasy novels. Don’t like it – make your own list or leave a comment. I like to hear from you and discuss the wonderful world of fantasy.
Here we go:
1. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
This book is the classic definition of fantasy. It takes the reader from a surreal time, that of the London Blitz, into a fantasy world of satyrs, centaurs, talking animals, and a nastily cold witch. How cool is that? (Arg, bad pun.)
We experience the world of Narnia through the eyes of a bright, little girl by the name of Lucy and her spiteful brother Edmund. They give us not only the physical sensations of the world but the emotional and moral ones as well.
And Edmund turns out more like us all than we like to admit.
The book is high fantasy of a light sort. It offers an overarching menace threatening an entire world in the ultimate battle between good and evil. But not to overwhelm the reader by this, the author C.S. Lewis throws in four kids caught up in events both not of their making and of their making, for good and for bad. Yet they’re kids and still wonder about tea time and Christmas presents and sewing machines.
From this book, Lewis delved into the series of seven, The Chronicles of Narnia. Every single one a charm.
2. The Hobbit
Did you think I’d not mention this one? I dare say, many of you would put this first, but that belongs to C.S. Lewis.
Of course from The Hobbit you can dive into The Lord of the Rings trilogy and, if ambitious, the ponderous and complicated Silmarrillion.
But The Hobbit is where most of us start. Though I think twelve dwarves are bothersome to keep up with, Bilbo is a perfect guide into Middle Earth. The Hobbit itself is not as high of fantasy as the other Tolkien books mentioned above, but it brushes against it in a humorous game of riddles.
Anyway, if fantasy is defined by having a dragon, this book has a doozey of one.
3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Uh… yeah. Believe it or not this is the classic of nineteenth century fantasy. It’s wasted on children. Revel while Lewis Carroll spins out his logic and illogic. He was a math professor after all.
Again, as in Narnia, we’re taken on this trip by a little girl. If a rabbit in a waistcoat wasn’t strange enough – and kids, don’t go chasing odd creatures down a rabbit hole – Alice meets a bevy of memorable characters, many out of a pack of cards.
Another aside to kids: Don’t go putting things in your mouth just because they say “Eat me” or “Drink me.” Really.
This is not high fantasy as it is high humor. Disney and Hollywood can’t make the Mad Tea Party as hilarious as it is in the book. And no one even attempts the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon.
After reading this, pick up the sequel, Through the Looking-Glass where Alice takes on a chess set.
O, and curtsey while your thinking, it saves time. No wait, that’s from the Looking-Glass. Drat you, Disney.
4. The Wizard of Oz
What? Another children’s book? Well, yeah. You know, you don’t have to have a curvaceous vixen busting out of her breastplate to have a classic fantasy.
This is another one with a heroine. I should think after this, women should be fantasy’s main fans.
Dorothy gets picked up by a tornado, but she doesn’t sing about the rainbow. She does go on more adventures in the book than the movie even hints at.
There’s another witch, too. Actually four, two good, one bad, one dead. Between the evil witches and the cranky queens, we’re getting into a formula. But it works.
You do realize this is the first fantasy book I’ve mentioned that’s American. Do the English have a lock on fantasy?
5. The Once and Future King
Good night, another British author. For this I should say, Good Knight.
This is an immensely readable Arthur story beginning before the sword in the stone and ending with a hope of Arthur’s return. All the action and daring escapes and adventures and damsels in distress any fantasy reader could hope for. And the vilest villain is a witch… again. This has got to stop.
I told my kids when we started watching the series Merlin not to trust Morgana. Uh-huh.
6. A Wrinkle in Time
Okay, so maybe I’m partial to what the publishing world labels as children’s fantasies, but this one is good. I would categorize this book between high fantasy and science fantasy. The whole concept of folding space (used in Dune, too; more about that in a future blog) is mind boggling.
There’s a heroine again, but she has a couple of memorable male companions, notably her soon-to-be boyfriend and her genius brother. This time the witches are good, not evil, with great names. The alien city near the end of the book is creepy.
Even Charles Wallace almost succumbs.
7. Watership Down
Well, I said at the first it was my list.
You wouldn’t think a novel – and not a short one, at that – about rabbits escaping across the English countryside would make much of a fantasy.
But it does.
Though they can’t count above four and cower at the approach of a seagull, these characters are definitely engaging. Having their own world, though trodden on by us humans, and their own mythology puts these little bunnies as much in the fantasy genre as any gruesome orc.
Take that, Sauron.