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 an anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet, translated by Seamus Heaney
OPD: Original poem was written somewhere between the 8th and 11th centuries. This translation was published in 1999
This translation of the oldest surviving poem in Old English is my favorite of the several versions I’ve read. Translated by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, whose love for language and its history is explained in an opening essay, this edition presents, in taut, vivid, epic prose, the fable story of Beowful, the Geatish knight who defeated the horrible monster Grendel. A story examining courage, heroism, and death, I think this makes for an excellent read for teens hungry for the fantastical worlds of Tolkien – it was literature like this that formed the imagination from which Middle Earth later grew.
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.
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 Cosmic Trilogy
By C.S. Lewis
OPD: Out of the Silent Planet in1938, Perelandra in 1943, and That Hideous Strength in 1945
Lewis considered this trilogy of space-travel adventures a “fairy tale for adults.” Don’t be put fooled by the space-travel nature of these books, in many ways they have a medieval flavor in keeping with Lewis desire to “re-enchant” the modern imagination with the wonders of, not cold, empty “space,” but the golden dance of the “heavens.” The first book finds a philologist named Ransom (based, according to several sources, on Tolkien) on an unexpected journey to “Malacandra,” (Mars), where he encounters the presiding spirit of that planet and discovers why earth is, in a universe of singing, dancing stars, called “the Silent Planet.” The second book follows him on his second planetary journey to Perelandra (Venus), where he must assist that planet’s Eve in resisting the temptations of the “unman.” The third book takes place right on earth, with Ransom and the planetary powers pitted against the dark machinations of the N.I.C.E. A strange, vivid, convicting story in which Lewis imagines what might happen if the principles of “scientism” were seriously applied to education and society, this book can offer an uncomfortable commentary on our own materialistic age. Great moral drama and fantastical travel all made with Lewis’ vivid imagination and vibrant prose.
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.
By Lois Lowry
There has been a renewed interest in this book since the recent release of a movie based on its story. I haven’t seen the movie, but I know that the book is a quiet, unsettling exploration of a world in which people have chosen to abdicate choice and personal responsibility in return for a sanitized, colorless, controlled existence that guarantees them freedom from suffering and pain. Except for one person, the Giver, an enigmatic old man chosen to bear the memories of the world before the new system was imposed. When Jonas, a young boy, is chosen to be the next Giver, what he discovers, and tastes, and feels for the first time, threatens to change everything. Caution: this is a book for older readers who can handle discussions of euthanasia, death, and morally complex situations.
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 -”
The Pilgrim's Regress
By C.S. Lewis
Written soon after his conversion to Christianity, this is C.S. Lewis’ allegorical tale of his search through all the philosophical systems and world views for the beauty and home he glimpsed in his moments of “Joy.” In this story, a sturdy young pilgrim named John embarks on a quest through lands such as “Puritania,” “Zeitgeistheim,” and “Dialectica,” in search of the island of his desire, an image he has encountered in vision, the place where he will find the joy he seeks. He is guided on his way by various characters like Mr. Enlightenment, Mr Sensible, Drudge, Vertue, and Mother Kirk. The philosophical ideals behind each allegorical character are quite clear, but Lewis, in his usual flare and wit, dresses them up and sets them in a story that is at once a philosophical adventure and a lively quest story.
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.