As the leaves start falling and you can’t wait to build that first bonfire, it’s a great time to think about escapist fantasy literature. The following are some of my personal favorites. Fantasy often reaches our heart in ways that other literature cannot. So curl up with this delicious paleo-friendly apple crisp and read a book.
The founding father of the Christian fantasy movement is a long-dead Scottish pastor by the name of George MacDonald. Although his tenure as a pastor was short-lived, his fantasy writing is the gold standard by which all others are judged. C.S. Lewis credited MacDonald, who predated him, with having baptized his imagination. MacDonald wrote many Gothic novels but his best works are his Christian Fantasy.
Any child would love The Princess and the Goblin and its sequel The Princess and Curdy (be sure that you find unabridged editions). I particularly treasure the Jesse Wilcox Smith illustrations of The Princess and the Goblin. I also highly recommend MacDonald’s brilliant short story The Lost Princess, sometimes titled The Wise Woman, about two little girls who think they are “somebody”. Of all of MacDonald’s writing, however, his masterpiece is universally considered to be At the Back of the North Wind. It is the story of a little boy named Diamond and his grappling with the will of God as exemplified by the north wind. It will challenge any adult on a deep theological basis while your children will enjoy it on their own levels.
Edith Nesbit (E. Nesbit)
Another influence on C.S. Lewis was the Edwardian era writer Edith Nesbit. She and her husband were Fabian Socialists and members of the famous Bloomsbury group with Virginia Woolfe and her husband. Edith Nesbit’s husband was "too busy being a deep thinker” to make a living so she was forced to earn an income with her children’s writing. It was not socially acceptable to be a female writer in her time, so many of her books were written under the name E. Nesbit. C.S. Lewis read her books as a child and in The Silver Chair he tips his hat to her when referencing the Bastable books.
Of her many writings, my favorite books are the trilogy beginning with The Five Children and It. It also contains The Phoenix and the Carpet and concludes with The Story of the Amulet. What I love about Edith Nesbit is the high moral standards that her characters exhibit, what could be termed the “old school” ways of British society. The children in her books all display a high code of honor, integrity, and loyalty.
No fantasy list would be complete without the mention of J.R.R. Tolkien. An Oxford professor, he was instrumental in C.S. Lewis’ salvation. He was also a member of the writing club "The Inklings." My personal favorite of Tolkien’s writings is The Hobbit which is on an easier listening level than the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Many little boys have learned to read in order to read Tolkien’s books for themselves. They personify the victory of good over evil.
Many volumes have been written about C.S. Lewis’ writings and his life. My personal experience with Lewis began in 8th grade when a classroom teacher read out loud The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. I instinctively loved the book and actually purchased several sets of the stories by the time I was in college. I really had no idea of their deeper theological meaning until meeting Christ at the age of 21. Suddenly they made sense and I had an “ah-ha” moment! I thought, “how could I have missed their significance all these years?” These are among the very greatest read aloud books you will ever share as a family. Fathers particularly enjoy reading them to their children.
The first book I read after coming to Christ was Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. I was mesmorized by his creativity and profundity. Over the years I have enjoyed his space trilogy which includes Perelandra, Out of the Silent Planet, and That Hideous Strength. But the book that I consider among his very best is The Great Divorce, Lewis’ take on Dante’s Inferno featuring George MacDonald in Virgil’s role as tour guide.
David & Karen Mains
Approximately thirty years ago David and Karen Mains wrote some of the most profound Christian fantasy books I have ever read. They are entitled Tales of the Kingdom and Tales of the Resistance, and are beautifully illustrated by Jack Stockman. After a long break they wrote another book entitled Tales of the Restoration, but it doesn’t compare to the previous two. I recommend these books to every adult as well as to every child. They are transformative in their healing power to our souls. The Mains’ personification of the king and his kingdom helps restore to us an accurate vision of God's nature.
A series of books that has had a tremendous impact on many children is The Spirit Flyer Series. It comprises eight different titles beginning with The Magic Bicycle. These are books that will expose your children to concepts of spiritual warfare and the power of the Holy Spirit. They will be read under the covers with a flashlight, and are also great books for fathers to read aloud to the family. After having read these books one child said “Mom, I always knew about Jesus but I never knew why I needed him until I read these books.” Your children will come away from this experience knowing that they are in the midst of a spiritual battle and that Jesus is victor.
Originally from the Midwest, this anglophile permanently moved himself and his family to live in Oxford, England. I first discovered Stephen Lawhead through The Pendragon Cycle series beginning with Taliesin, A Christian retelling of the Arthurian myth. This best-selling author’s writing is of a quality that many people compare it to poetry. Among his other works are The Song of Albion Trilogy and the more accessible trilogy for teenage readers The Dragon King.
These authors are just the tip of the iceberg. Hopefully these titles will keep you busy this Autumn.