Five Foundational Books for Christian Fantasy Readers and Writers

Christian fantasy has a long and rich history, one illuminated by many brilliant writers. Though I could have included more, I’ve limited this list to five titles that hold significance not only for Christian fantasy, but also the fantasy genre as a whole. I consider them foundational since they each shaped the genre in their own way and continue to intrigue and influence readers to this day. They’re listed not by order of significance, but by publication date.

  1. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1678) – Since it’s a direct allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress can be heavy-handed sometimes, but it has endured for hundreds of years and been translated into hundreds of languages. It influenced a number of other literary works, including CS Lewis’s novel, The Pilgrim’s Regress. For readers and writers of Christian fantasy, there’s tremendous value gaining familiarity with one of the early books in this genre and one of the few true allegories that exist.
  2. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald (1872) – MacDonald’s works inspired the imagination of CS Lewis and many other writers, and my personal favorite of his works is probably The Princess and the Goblin, a fairy-tale flavored fantasy. Though it was written for a younger audience, he still infuses the story with meaning, as I’ve discussed in more detail in Of Goblins and Invisible Thread.
  3. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien (1950s) – Tolkien has often been dubbed the father of modern fantasy, and The Lord of the Rings demonstrates his prowess. He laid the foundation for the growth of a genre, and many have followed in his footsteps. Lord of the Rings (along with The Hobbit and Silmarillion) was the loving work of a lifetime, and it shows in the incredible depth of the tale. The saga of Middle Earth holds up to countless readings, never losing its ability to intrigue.
  4. The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis (1950s) – Along with Lord of the Rings, these novels have held enduring interest for a number of generations, receiving high praise inside and outside Christian circles. I could write pages on the appeal of Narnia (and have done a number of posts on it), but it will suffice to say, if you haven’t read these books you should. He captured elements of faith in a wonder-infused world that never grows old.
  5. Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis (1956) – On the opposite end of the spectrum from Pilgrim’s Progress lies Till We Have Faces. Somehow Lewis managed to take the myth of Cupid and Psyche, with its Greek gods and goddesses, and still weave in principles of Christianity. There’s an unusual beauty to this tale and his unique twist–focusing on the older sister Oural, rather than the beautiful Psyche–only enhances the story of love, longing, and the interaction between God and man.

If you haven’t read these books, I’d encourage you to add them to your reading list.  And if you have read these novels, did any in particular impact you? Are there any books you would add as foundational to the Christian fantasy genre (I know there were more that could have made an appearance)?

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9 Responses to Five Foundational Books for Christian Fantasy Readers and Writers

  1. Jamie T says:

    I LOVE Pilgrim’s Progress, it’s one of the best books ever written!! Every time I read it or listen to our audio book version, I learn or understand something better! It’s such an amazing book!

    ~Jamie

    • Sarah Sawyer says:

      You may have inspired me to pick up Pilgrim’s Progress again–it has been years since I read it. I have a lovely hardbound edition that I found at Goodwill (it’s always fun when you find a gorgeous book that costs next to nothing). 🙂

  2. Kessie says:

    I read all five of those in my formative years, along with a lot of others by George MacDonald. (Christians really need to read more of his work. There’s so much wise commentary on human nature, like in At the Back of the North Wind.) I read the Princess and the Goblin over and over. I love that book.

    I know there are wonderful books out there by other authors, but I confess I’m ignorant of them. I read much more in other genres than in fantasy. I hear G. K. Chesterton has some good books?

    • Sarah Sawyer says:

      I agree that Christians would benefit from reading more of MacDonald’s works. I’ll admit I haven’t read any of his historical novels, but I enjoyed most of his fantasy works.

      GK Chesterton does have some good books, both fiction and non-fiction. His novels were fairly diverse, including speculative fiction, mysteries, and short stories. He also wrote poetry, plays, biographies, and a variety of other non-fiction, so there’s something for everyone’s taste. 🙂

      Though speculative fiction is the focus of this blog, I also love reading in a number of genres and have found many unexpected favorite books and authors that way. A strong story, well-told, and full of compelling characters will always appeal whatever the genre!

  3. #1 & 2 i just downloaded the free Kindle versions, and will likely read them soon (after Hunger Games- someone just loaned it to me). #3 I loved the Hobbit, but the world detail of LOTR is so tedious that it will likely be quite a while before I choose to continue past The Fellowship which I finished just a few weeks ago. #4 Narnia is AMAZING and I’ve read each book atleast 3 times- Magician’s Nephew and The Lion the Witch & the Wardrobe more because those 2 are my favorites. #5 is going on my wish list.

    Other than Narnia, I had been pretty unaware of Christian fiction before I started working on my own WIP a little over a year ago. Since then my favorite book I’ve read by a Christian author is The Rise & Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton. I’ve also got some books from the Peters Brothers on my TBR list, but I haven’t read them yet.

    • Sarah Sawyer says:

      The Hunger Games was an intense story. It was a compelling tale, but the violence factor was enough to prevent me from continuing with the series (especially after I heard that each book only got increasingly brutal/gory and many people were unsatisfied with the ultimate outcome). One scene toward the end was especially brutal and grim…but then it is dystopian fiction, so perhaps that’s to be expected. All that said, there are a number of strengths to the story, so I can see why it has been so popular.

      Well, that was a bit of a rabbit trail. Moving on, I’d be interested to hear what you think of Till We Have Faces and The Princess and the Goblin, once you get through them. Have you read any of MacDonald’s books before?

      I enjoyed The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic also. Since you liked Trafton’s work, I think you’ll likely enjoy Andrew Peterson’s books as well. You might also be interested in ND Wilson’s books–he’s Christian fantasy author published in the mainstream market.

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  5. Patrick J. Moore says:

    I liked Divergent alright, but agreed with your use of the word “brutal” to describe it. I’ve been told Hunger Games is better. I’m only a few chapters in- the writing seems a bit better but story-wise I’m not yet convinced.

    I will be sure to let you know what I think of each of these you’ve suggested. I have not read any of MacDonald yet. And I meant Peterson (not “Peters”) both Andrew’s Wingfeather Saga, and Pete’s Fiddler’s Gun have caught my interest and are on my TBR list.

    • Sarah Sawyer says:

      I suppose it depends on the definition of better. Dystopian fiction isn’t my favorite genre, so I don’t think I was the ideal target audience for either title, though both had their strengths. As I mentioned before, near the end, The Hunger Games had a moment that was extremely creepy and gruesome, (I won’t elaborate because I don’t want to give spoilers), and that was the final deciding factor in not continuing with the series. Yet I know many who devoured the whole series. I think it’s probably a matter of personal taste.

      I wondered if you meant the Petersons, but didn’t want to assume. 🙂 I haven’t read Fiddler’s Gun yet, but I so enjoyed the WingFeather Saga that Fiddler’s Gun is on my list. We’ll see if writing skill runs in the family!

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