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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)?