In case you haven’t heard, March is Fantasy Fun Month, where every day posts about fantasy favorites—from characters to maps—flood social media.
Yesterday, Rebecca Miller posted about fantasy quotes. I figured why not continue the fantasy love, this time exploring fantasy books often lost in the shadow of their epic comrades.
Everyone likes to talk about the popular books.
What’s the bestselling fantasy series ever? What are the top 100 books from the 20th century? What were the top ten science fiction books from last year?
Today, I’m going to ignore all that and point you toward some books that probably won’t ever be mentioned in top 100 lists or popularity polls.
Three books, to be precise.
- The Book of the Dun Cow – Walter Wangerin Jr.
- The Children of Hurin – J.R.R Tolkien
- Kiriath’s Quest – Rick Barry
Are they mind-blowing?
Are they groundbreaking in the fantasy genre?
But that doesn’t mean they’re not worth reading. In fact, the opposite is true.
Don’t let the cover and title fool you.
For something that has the markings of a simple children’s book, The Book of the Dun Cow is surprisingly dark and deep. It deals with real-world problems such as the presence tyranny, while at the same time exploring themes such as courage, leadership, and the battle between good and evil.
It’s not really about the dun cow, it’s about Chauntecleer the rooster who rules the land around his Coop and protects the other animals. Until an evil enemy arises and threatens to destroy them, testing Chauntecleer and forcing the animals to unite.
As fantasy goes, it’s not a long book, but it packs the punch of a short boxer. I can honestly say I’ve never read anything like it. A combination of fable and allegory. The story isn’t what you would expect in traditional fantasy and that freshness makes it worth reading.
Plus, any book with a rooster as the main character that doesn’t end up sounding cheesy or stupid deserves attention.
This standalone book takes place as part of the Middle-earth saga. A story plucked from the vast history Tolkien created. If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, chances are you’ve read this. Consider this a public service announcement for the uninformed masses.
If you’re a Tolkien fan and haven’t read it, what in the world are you waiting for?
Although it’s a fantasy book set in Middle-earth during the First Age, The Children of Hurin is also a tragedy in the vein of Shakespeare. Hurin opposed Sauron and paid for it with a curse on his family. The book focuses mainly on Hurin’s two children, Turin and Niënor, and the trials they endure because of that curse.
Yep, it’s depressing, maybe too much so. If you’re not into grim outcomes, you might not enjoy it. A book for a rainy day.
Still, it’s Tolkien. Worth a shot, right? 😉
This was one of the first fantasy books I read—other than the Chronicles of Narnia—and I thoroughly enjoyed it. As a standalone novel, it doesn’t have the sweeping, epic saga feel that other fantasy books do, and that’s one of its charms.
The book follows the story of Kiriath, prince of Xandria on his journey to save his captured father—a nice twist on the classic quest. Along with his two friends, he goes through a series of adventures on the way to preserving his kingdom.
There’s magic, flying serpents, living vines that attack people, and plenty of action and adventure. Kiriath’s Quest has the feel of fantasy while at the same time giving a fresh take on it.
If you want a fun, short, entertaining read, it’s worth the time.
There, I’ve added to your endless list of to-read books. These books might not have the same widespread appeal as Harry Potter or resonate as deeply as Lord of the Rings does, but if you’re in the mood for a different take on fantasy, they’re worth checking out.
They’re short by fantasy standards, so you can read them in much less time than it would take to plow through the latest Brandon Sanderson epic.
Who knows, you might fall in love with a new character, discover a world that fires your imagination, or gain a new perspective on life.
After all, that’s what reading is about.
Have you read any of these books? What are some lesser-known fantasies you’ve enjoyed?
*This post appeared in original form in March, 2015, at zacharytotah.com