The best fantasy novels with themes on animals, nature and the environment

David Clement-Davies Author Of Scream of the White Bear
By David Clement-Davies

The Books I Picked & Why

The Lord of the Rings

By J.R.R. Tolkien

Book cover of The Lord of the Rings

Why this book?

Tolkien’s masterpiece is both an extraordinary act of imaginative storytelling and one of those vital bridges into the world of adult reading and writing. It had me so hooked at the age of twelve I read it three times, especially chapters like "The Race to Rivendale." On the human scale it, of course, contains vital themes of good and evil, but not enough is said about Tolkien’s approach to nature, animals, and the environment. Of course, there are those dark animalistic sides of us, from Orcs to Wargs and Gollum, but Tolkien’s entire ethos is deeply rooted in nature, from the all-powerful Tom Bombardill, to those magnificent if slow-moving trees, The Ents, and that triumphant cry of hope "the Eagles are coming." 

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The Call of the Wild

By Jack London

Book cover of The Call of the Wild

Why this book?

Firstly, of course, what a title! In one sense London’s classic is not a fantasy at all, in the levels of realism and also political engagement that frames the astonishing and brutal story of Gold prospecting in the Klondike. But told through the eyes and ears of the wonderful sled-dog Buck, it is an absolute must for that vital literary and imaginative correspondence with real-life animal nature, as hard often as Human Societies, although in other ways much kinder and nobler. London’s own sympathies for both real animals and the American Indian are enshrined in the wonderfully described relationship with the wounded Buck and the human Thornton. 

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Watership Down

By Richard Adams

Book cover of Watership Down

Why this book?

Maybe I am prejudiced by the fact Richard Adams was nice enough to call my first novel one of the best anthropomorphic stories known to him, even if I don’t like the word much. But Watership Down, that epic tale of rabbits and the psychic, vulnerable Fiver, was most certainly an inspiration. Again, another great bridge into adult reading, with each chapter framed by quotes from world drama, stretching back to the Greeks. It is of course Adams’ skill at getting inside animals, giving them unique characters, reflecting our own, while staying true to animal habits, but also his page-turning understanding of drama that makes it a classic.

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The Wind in the Willows

By Kenneth Grahame

Book cover of The Wind in the Willows

Why this book?

Old fashioned these days perhaps, echoing a very English landscape too, like me sometimes, Wind in The Willows is still an unmissable gem. The tale of the friendship between ratty, mole, and badger, and of course the irrepressible Mr. Toad, shines with a beautiful innocence, but also the pure lyricism of the writing. So producing one of my favorite chapters in all literature – "Piper At The Gates of Dawn." That addresses a particular spiritual element too, when the little animals have a vision of the great God Pan, too powerful for them to remember safely. Which underlines why animals are so important to children, reading about them too, and the threat of the growing nature of any consciousness and awareness. Literary magic.

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The Snow Goose

By Paul Gallico

Book cover of The Snow Goose

Why this book?

There are many ‘animal’ books I’d love to recommend and in one sense the American novella The Snow Goose is oddly set apart. It is not really about animals then, except that the Snow goose, a symbol of nature and freedom, is indeed about the Spirit itself. It is one that moved me very deeply. Set at the beginning of the Second World War in England it is essentially about the strange friendship between a girl, Fritha, and the alienated hunchback artist Philip Rhayader and in the healing of a Snow Goose, a lyric coming of age story. It is also a cry of love and gentleness, amid the horrors of life and war, for the healing and understanding of the wounded and outcast.

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