The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
I was going to mention The Lord of the Rings, but I’m going to assume you’ve already read it, or if you haven’t, already know all the reasons you should (but if for some reason you’re not in that category, understand it’s basically the cornerstone of all modern fantasy and just go read it yesterday). So instead: The Silmarillion. Once upon a time, there was this place called Middle-Earth, and it was sung into existence by fourteen Valar under Erdu, and peopled with Erdu’s delight in creation made manifest. But rather than remain sated by subservience to his lord, one of the Valar rebelled and claimed Middle-Earth for his own. And thus, a land of perfection first knew war, and its people baptized early in strife and fear. And this is the story of their struggle, their grappling with the enemies both without and within.
This is the mythology of Middle-Earth, the Middle-Earthian equivalent of the Mabinogian or the Prose Edda if you will. While the entire volume weaves together a single story, it is the story of a land and its many peoples and wars and loves and betrayals, rather than following a small set of characters. Nobility and depravity are both laid bare in their glory and horror. Events and characters mentioned briefly in The Lord of the Rings are more fully explored here, and the origins of both the War of the Ring and many of its principal actors are seen.
The Silmarillion is perhaps the most essential fantasy yet written, essential in the sense of containing the essence of the genre. Adventure, loss, quest, love, hatred, war, oaths, supernaturalism, all the elements bound up in fantasy are here, beautifully woven together.
(Perhaps it’s obvious by now, but I feel the need to add a disclaimer: Of all the hundreds of novels I’ve read, The Silmarillion is my favorite. In case you wish to add a grain of salt :)).
The Binding of the Blade by L.B. Graham
The land of Kirthanin was once ravaged by war between the mighty Titans that rule it. Now, it knows uneasy peace, but a group of young noblemen realize that the peace is little more than an illusion when they discover that the rebel Titan Malek is amassing an army. And so begins the final war for the fate of Kirthanin.
Without a doubt, one of the strengths of this story is its characters. I first read the series when I was about thirteen, and to this day, Joraeim and Aljernon remain two of my favorite characters. The author does an excellent job of weaving personal character conflicts and aspirations together with the world-wide danger and battle. And too, the series is Biblically sound and firmly Christian (yet is one of the crown jewels of its genre, not a combination I see very often), and appropriate for very nearly everyone.
The Song of Albion Trilogy by Stephen Lawhead
Where to start with this one? A grad student at Oxford accidentally stumbles through a cairn and into the Otherworld, where he is immediately caught up in that world’s intrigues and dangers. Except that this synopsis doesn’t do the story justice, not by a long shot. The Song of Albion is a seamless weaving of Celtic mythology and modern-day characters that is lyrically beautiful and thematically stunning. But then, it’s a Lawhead book, so why expect anything less?
If, like me, you find Celtic mythology fascinating, read this series. If you haven’t yet discovered Celtic mythology, read this series; it’s an excellent introduction. If you like Lewis or Tolkien, read this series.
Admittedly, it’s not a particularly fast-paced fantasy, but more the kind that slowly draws you in and has you hungry for more before you realize you’re hooked.
But a word of warning: Lawhead’s books—this series no exception—can be a bit graphic and deal with mature matters, something along the lines of a Frank Peretti book (although they’re widely different as far as style and story).
What are some of your favorites that I haven’t mentioned?
Long days and pleasant nights from the Tale-Weaver.