I read this book by myself and aloud with my family and found new creative fascination and spiritual insight with each read. L’Engle’s classic tale of the stubborn Meg, her abnormally intelligent little brother, and their gangly, gallant friend Calvin is an adventure tale to begin with, as the children travel galaxies in search of Meg’s scientist father who vanished in the midst of an experiment. Guided by the amusing and rather awe-inspiring Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which into the depths of the universe’s beauties, and its darkness, this is a story exploring the power of love to redeem, heal, and resist the power of evil. A book with humor, a tale rich in affirmation of the world’s beauty, this is a classic to be read again and again.
At the Back of the North Wind
By George MacDonald
“…though I cannot promise to take you home,” said North Wind, as she sank nearer and nearer to the tops of the houses, “I can promise you it will be all right in the end. You will get home somehow.” ― George MacDonald, At the Back of the North Wind
One of my favorite fantastical children’s stories, Wind is the story of the little boy Diamond, and the night journeys he takes with the lovely and real North Wind. MacDonald, whom Lewis said was his “master,” imbued every story he wrote with his wonder in a God whose goodness will not leave us in the darkness. An exploration, through the adventures of a little boy, of suffering and pain and the promise of heaven, this classic tale is a fairy tale swift with the beauty of the marvelous North Wind woman, and rich with spiritual contemplation. One of my favorites.
By Jeffrey Overstreet
Jeffrey Overstreet (who I’m happy to say is a friend o’ mine), has created a fantastic, richly imagined novel about a world in which the glory of color has been dimmed and forgotten. Into this wintered land comes a girl named Auralia, gifted with the ability to find and weave color into a startling gift whose power could change the course of the kingdom.
By George MacDonald
This is one of George MacDonald’s later books, the story of a young, leisured man who discovers a world within (or beyond?) his own where he is challenged to “die indeed” by a raven who seems to be the first man, Adam. Plunged into a fantastical world of little children living at peace with their beasts in the forest, giants, dueling skeletons, and an evil princess attended by leopards who terrorize the land, the hero must face not only the terrors, but his own capacity to act, choose, and love. A MacDonald fairy tale is a world of spiritual realities made flesh. Not direct allegory, nor yet mere fantasy, Lilith is a journey into the regions of the soul, into grace, sin, suffering, and the fresh-sprung waters that come when we learn to lay down what keeps us from dying in order to live.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
By the “Pearl Poet,” translated by J.R.R. Tolkien
OPD: late 14th century
This is a classic of Arthurian legend, an alliterative romance describing the challenge of a great green giant who arrives at King Arthur’s court to challenge any knight to cut off his head, as long as he can return the stroke a year and a day after. The bold Sir Gawain takes the challenge, but his courage is tested when the mysterious green giant simply stands up, picks up his head and reminds Gawain to report to him on the appointed day. In sparkling poetry with the rich backdrop of Arthurian legend, this tale follows the unfortunate Gawain through tests of his virtue, chastity, and courage. This was a favorite of Tolkien’s, and many editions have his translation of the 14th century text.
The Book of the Dun Cow
By Walter Wangerin
This story took me by surprise. Here is an opening from Wangerin’s site: “At a time when the sun turned around the earth and animals could speak, Chauntecleer the Rooster ruled over a more or less peaceable kingdom. What the animals did not know was that they were Keepers of the Wyrm, monster of Evil long imprisoned beneath the earth. And Wyrm, sub terra, was breaking free…” I didn’t expect to be engrossed by a farmyard fable, or moved by the story of a slightly arrogant rooster who must learn to protect his people from evil, but I found this to be a powerful tale of humble, workaday hearts encountering evil and resisting its dominance. Fascinating. Excellent for discussion.
The Dark is Rising Sequence
By Susan Cooper
I include this series because, frankly, I was fascinated by it. Though Cooper writes from a decidedly dualistic view of the world rather than a theistic standpoint, I found this well-written, vividly imagined series to be a captivating portrayal of the struggle of the light against the powers of darkness, of love against the stronghold of hate. Richly woven with Arthurian legend, set in Wales, with characters straight from The Round Table, this series traces the adventures of Will, seventh son of a seventh son, last of the Old Ones, whose doom is to conquer the darkness for ages to come, or if he fails, to watch the world plunged into the powers of hate and death. Haunting, rich in a sense of ancient legend and old Welsh lore, these books captivate and open a prime opportunity for the discussion of worldview, while still affirming the goodness of Light.
The Man Who Was Thursday
By G.K. Chesterton
This was the most discussed book of my teenage years. Several friends and I had an ongoing discussion regarding Chesterton’s topsy turvy, vivid, confusing story of a Gabriel Syme, a brave man plumbing the depths of an anarchist society and its dire plots in Victorian London. But all is not as it seems. For in a rollicking tale of pursuit and disguise with anarchist agents named after the days of the week, Syme finds he may not be hunting what he thinks he is after all. Not exactly allegory or fantasy, yet with the fantastical, symbolic elements of both, this dream, or “nightmare” (as Chesterton dubbed it) explores the confusing nature of a world so beautiful at times we cannot believe that evil is real, and so evil at others that we cannot believe that beauty will ever endure. Fascinating stuff.
“Listen to me,” cried Syme with extraordinary emphasis. “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front -”
By J.R.R. Tolkien
If you really loved The Lord of the Rings, then you have to read The Silmarillion. This is what Tolkien considered the “real” story behind the romance and drama of The Lord of the Rings. Presenting his own mythic version of the world’s creation (the whole book is worth the passage about the “music of the Ainur” when the world is sung into existence), the coming of the elves, the coming of men, and the fall of both, this collection of epic, often tragic tales reflects the ancient, Icelandic, and Old English mythologies that so captivated Tolkien’s imagination. The tale of the brave man Beren, and his beloved Luthien, the tragic history of Turin, the wars between Elves and Dwarves, every one of these stories is rich in ancient color, in the high language and beauty of older times, and a clear understanding of what goodness looks like, and what evil brings.
Tree and Leaf
By J.R.R. Tolkien
For any Tolkien lovers, this slim book will be a gem. In this collection of essays and stories, readers will recognize Tolkien’s winsome style in tales like Leaf by Niggle or Farmer Giles of Ham, and also get treated to his famous defense of the fantasy genre in his essay, “On Fairie Stories.” Also included is the poem Mythopoeia, written for C.S. Lewis after a discussion of the truth-bearing power of myth.