I spent much of my childhood in Narnia, Oz, and Middle Earth, so it had always been a dream of mine to write a fantasy story some day. In fact, my debut novel was a fantasy. Note the use of the past tense: was. I unpublished the work several years back when I realized it was not up to snuff. But launching into 2021, I hope to revive and expand it into a full fantasy series.
That got me thinking about my favorite fantasy series over the years. For the purposes of this post, I’m focusing on how an entire series worked as a whole, not individual books. There have been, of course, stand out books from series that I loved, but these are the ones with the highest per capita (bookita?) of loved-this-story reads.
#3 THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA by C.S. Lewis
I loved these books as a child for their adventure, and of course, the talking animals. As I grew older and developed in my Christian faith, I rediscovered the books, and particularly the allegories so richly depicted in The Magican’s Nephew, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and The Dawn Treader. Medieval swashbuckling and epic battles only enhanced the message of Good vs. Evil (a common theme in fantasy), but I loved that none of the human protagonists were perfect, but they all had redemption and growth arcs.
#2 THE WHITE MOUNTAINS TRILOGY by John Christopher (sometimes known as the Tripod Series, includes a prequel also)
I first discovered these books while laid up with a broken leg during the sixth grade. Unable to attend school for a few weeks, I devoured this trilogy. In case you’ve never heard of it, I’ll forewarn you right now not to read the prequel before reading the first book. It will absolutely ruin the whole experience. The magic of this story for me was repeatedly discovering that situations and times were not as initially seen. There’s a constant unfolding of truth, and then the daring and dangerous quest to respond to that truth. I don’t want to include spoilers, but there is a blend of medieval life and … aliens! Again, it is packed with action and character evolutions, and by the end of the trilogy, my eyes always stream with emotions from the cathartic conclusion. It isn’t well known, but I highly recommend this gem (which may be listed as scifi in some searches).
#1 THE HARRY POTTER SERIES by J. K. Rowling
I discovered this famous series as an adult when I was tutoring a neighbor’s daughter. As I read aloud from the first book, I thought, “This is a really fun story! I might just go grab a copy for myself.” By the time the series had become a worldwide phenomena, I was standing in line with our son’s babysitter, thrilled to watch the first movie.
Above everything–and there’s so much everything–in this series, I love the world building. Just like Harry himself, I’m constantly smiling in wonder at the magic of daily wizarding life. The epic battle of Good vs. Evil is exciting and satisfying, of course, but never before had I read of a world I so much wanted to inhabit. I could no longer look at certain things and not wish they were imbued with the magical qualities of their Hogwarts–or Weasley home–counterparts. The character arcs felt less pronounced for me except in the cases of Snape or Malfoy, but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the people in the story. The starring and supporting cast of students were my kind of nerds–bookish, whimsical, and chronically snacking.
Taran Wanderer in Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain was my favorite. Unlike the other action-packed, high-stakes stories, this one had many thought-provoking vignettes that expanded my vision outside the story. This story can be read as a stand-alone. The Quillan Games in the Pendragon series by Mac Hale was one of a good series that has stuck with me because of its prophetic vision of our future, obsessed with bizarre reality games and dominated by enormously powerful consumer goods companies. This story needs the series context to make best sense.
What about you? What’s your favorite fantasy series? What elements make a good fantasy series?