By Amanda Pizzolatto (Rated G)
With the upcoming Lord of the Rings TV series on the horizon and with it, hopefully, a resurgence of interest in fantasy, it might be time to revisit lesser known fantasies that were well-received yet have mostly faded into the background and melted into the shadows of these two greats. A number of stories were inspired by Narnia and Middle-Earth, leading to a great era of fantasy, culminating in the bulk of them emerging in the seventies. But there were as equal a number of fantasy that came before, stories that thrilled, influenced, and inspired both Tolkien and Lewis. Below is a list of stories and authors that influenced them, and stories they influenced.
Beginning with the imagination of George MacDonald, his most famous duology, The Princess and the Goblin and Princess and Curdie, is set in a medieval backdrop and is a story about a princess, obviously, who, with the help of a miner’s son, saves her kingdom. There are also such magical aspects like a fairy-like grandmother, goblins, magic balls of yarn, and fantastical creatures that band together to help the children save the day. Perhaps not exactly one to be read to younger children, it is perfect for older children. If these two are enjoyed, be sure to check out George MacDonald’s other books, he wrote several fantasies and fairy tales.
While G. K. Chesterton didn’t write fantasy per se, he did write fiction, his most well-known work being the Father Brown mysteries. He is on this list because Narnia technically wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for his writings about his faith and the societal customs of the day. Lewis picked up one of his books one day as he was getting off a train and the rest, as they say, is history. Chesterton’s writing influenced Lewis so much that not only did it bring about his conversion, Lewis also followed in Chesterton’s footsteps and wrote his own musings about his faith and the occasional thought about the customs of the day. Other fiction by Chesterton include The Man Who Was Thursday, The Ball & The Cross, The Flying Inn, and The Napoleon of Notting Hill.
Dorothy L. Sayers also didn’t write fantasy, but had a fairly big impact on Lewis in particular, being a peer and fellow fiction writer. She is best known for her Lord Peter Wimsey novels, a series of mysteries in the vein of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, but she has written articles and books about her faith and politics, which she and Lewis bonded over. Granted, they had their differences, but it is rumored that she became an honorary Inkling because of her work. Tolkien admired her for her translations of some French and Italian stories. She also wrote a few plays that went on to be broadcast over the radio.
Elizabeth Goudge was also a peer to the two men, though not much is known of what they thought of her work. She did write several fantasy stories, her most well-known story being The Little White Horse, a story about a young girl, a fantastic mystery, some pearls, and a unicorn. A movie was made based on the book as well as a mini series, although neither one gained a big following. Perhaps the movie wasn’t as well done as it could have been, certainly not with as much care as was given to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, or more likely, not a whole lot of effort was put into advertising, not to mention the name change. It’s not called The Little White Horse, it’s called The Secret of Moonacre. The mini series also got a name change; it’s merely called Moonacre. The show itself looks oddly reminiscent of The Secret Garden, though for fans of The Secret Garden, that’s not a bad thing. For fans of the book, perhaps less so, but seeing as I have never seen the show, I can’t exactly give an informed opinion on it, other than it might be worth checking out, just to see if it was handled with more care than the movie. Not that the movie is downright horrendous, but it could have been better.
Speaking of The Secret Garden, the books by Frances Hodgson Burnett have a layer of enchantment to them. The mystery and intrigue many of her characters encounter certainly adds to that sense of enchantment and wonder, while the main characters retain an air of innocence. The Secret Garden and The Little Princess are by far her best known works, but Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Lost Prince, Queen Silver-bell and its sequels, and the rest are equally enjoyable. Several movies have been made based on her best known books and are each enjoyable in their own rights.
Another author in a similar vein as Frances Hodgson Burnett is Edith Nesbit, better known as E. Nesbit. Edith, however, wrote more fantasy than Frances and has about as many movie adaptations of her work overall as Frances. With fantastic works such as Five Children and It, The Enchanted Castle, The House of Arden, and The Magic City, Edith Nesbitt was quite the prolific writer and became quite the favorite for many children.
One story that Tolkien and his children enjoyed very much was the Marvellous Land of Snergs by Edward Wyke-Smith. In fact, apparently Tolkien enjoyed it so much that he credited it as one of the major influences of Hobbits. The story, though, is about two orphans and a Snerg that go traipsing around the countryside and come across many fantastic places, characters, and quite an adventure. Edward did write other books, but they are very hard to find, if practically nonexistent, except for Snergs, and that’s because of Tolkien’s own admission that it inspired him.
That being said, Tolkien and Lewis have gone on to inspire many more people with their own work. Authors like J. K. Rowling, Dennis L. McKiernan (who wrote the Iron Tower trilogy so he could write more about the dwarves), George R. R. Martin, Christopher Paolini, Robert Jordan, and more continue to inspire to this day.
There are others that could be checked out in relation to the imaginative worlds that Tolkien and Lewis created. Fantastic worlds like Neverland, Wonderland, and Oz are still around, as well as the other books written by those J.M. Barrie, Lewis Carrol and L. Frank Baum. Madeleine L’Engle’s works are a bit more on the science-fiction side, but there is certainly an air of fantasy around her works. Same with Orson Scott Card and his Ender series. The Artemis Fowl books by Eoin Colfer are a blast, and A Series of Unfortunate Events is a little more on the dark side, but full of tongue-in-cheek humor. Donita K. Paul’s stories are full of the imaginative creation that Tolkien is known for, while Bryan Davis’s Dragons in Our Midst and subsequent series as well as John White’s Archives of Anthropos follow Lewis in his use of well-known mythological creatures and legendary characters to tell a story.
And that’s just a short list of all the fantasy that can be found. There are many others that haven’t even been touched, but sometimes the search is half the fun. Especially as each person knows best what it is he or she likes and dislikes, recommendations can only go so far. Just like dedicating a whole paragraph to each author can work for only so long. With that being said, check out what you can and find what you like.