Most of us are familiar with Narnia author C. S. Lewis and The Lord of the Rings creator J. R. R. Tolkien. We may also enjoy the fiction of newer Christian speculative authors. But what of those we might have missed?
One of the greatest pleasures I have as a reader of the speculative genre is discovering wonderful books I didn’t even know about until somebody waved it under my nose and told me, “Here. Read. Love.” This feature is my brief effort to pass that joy along.
In part 1, we explored how readers often want “more like the Inklings” without knowing what the Inklings themselves wanted to imitate. Yet this installment brings another issue: that in our desire to read the works of whoever seems to be “the next Lewis” or “in the tradition of Tolkien,” we may miss some truly great tales, from classic and newer authors.
With that in mind, here are some great speculative authors and novels you might not know about.
C. S. Lewis
First, why is he here? Well, have you read Till We Have Faces? No? Go thou and sin no more.
Thanks to Lewis, this name is better known now than it was even 30 years ago, but many people have still heard the name without ever picking up one of his books. This is a tragedy, because MacDonald’s works are some of the best mind-bending and world-stretching stories of the Christian fantasists. At the Back of the North Wind is possibly his best, and the duet The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie are fine works as well. You can also find good collections of his shorter novellas and stories around Amazon.
An evangelical of sorts (he doesn’t go to church often), Blaylock has a marvelous collection of novels, full of rich writing, allusion/symbolism. Some of them may not match the stereotypical Christian “clean” standard, but they are still worth reading. If you want to ease into the “tougher” ones, Blaylock has two that would be the equivalent of YA fiction: The Land of Dreams and The Last Coin.
The lesser-known “third arm” of the Inkling writers, Williams is stranger than either Lewis or Tolkien, but his work is very rich and rewarding for readers. Read his work and then pick up a good reader’s guide; I highly recommend Thomas Howard’s The Novels of Charles Williams for a Christian assessment and evaluation.
Powers is an Eastern Orthodox believer (I believe), but certainly a Christian. His best-known novel at this point is On Stranger Tides, the novel from which the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean film was inspired. His work is fairly tough by evangelical standards, but immensely rewarding and filled with biblical allusion and symbolism. A good entry point might be Dinner at Deviant’s Palace or the aforementioned On Stranger Tides.
His works are explicitly Christian, many of them following the adventures of Silver John through the Appalachian mountains, banishing witchcraft and sorcery wherever he finds it, using a Christian “white magic” of his own. The stories of John are to be found in the collection John the Baladeer. Be sure to check out these other novels of his: The Old Gods Waken, After Dark, The Lost and the Lurking, The Hanging Stones, and The Voice of the Mountain. Do note that they are written in an Appalachian dialect, though this is not nearly as obtrusive as, say, the dialect in Huckleberry Finn.
Garrett was a longtime SF writer who converted to Christianity. His best works are in the Lord Darcy series, which follows a fantastical/alternate world Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown-esque character. The stories are collected in Lord Darcy.
This was the pseudonym for the American spy Paul M. A. Linebarger, writing in the 1950s and ‘60s, who represents one of the earliest Christians writing in the speculative genre. His works are considered a classic in the genre of science fiction, and his stories are strange and profound all at once, though heavily literary. His complete short fiction is available in The Rediscovery of Man, and his only novel is titled Nostrilia.
Wolfe is a devoted Christian whose books are some of the few speculative works respected by the wider literary establishment as being well-written literature. His work is excellent, and The Devil in a Forest is a good place to start.
I know little about Alexander’s beliefs beyond the fact that he was (so far as I can determine) a Christian. He has several series for YA audiences, and his greatest, crowning achievement is The Chronicles of Prydain, a five-volume fantasy series based upon Welsh and Celtic mythology. The books were published around the same time as Lewis and Tolkien, and participates in the same “vein” of fantasy as both of them. They were my favorite books growing up, and it is really a pity they are not better known.
Cooper is not, I believe, a Christian, but her work is among the best modern fantasy around, and is certainly still compatible with a Christian worldview. Her The Dark is Rising set is five books, all published around the same time as Lloyd Alexander, a few years after The Lord of the Rings and Narnia. A good one-volume set is available for less than $10 on Amazon.