The best fantasy adventures for the ages

Thomas Greanias Author Of Raising Atlantis
By Thomas Greanias

The Books I Picked & Why

The Odyssey

By Homer, Emily Wilson

Book cover of The Odyssey

Why this book?

This quintessential journey from antiquity is truly an “adventure for the ages.” As a kid, I sailed the Greek Islands (on a cruise ship), retracing the hero Odysseus’s journey home after the Trojan War. This fantasy is all about the triumphant “Return” at the end after all the wanderings, dangers, and tests of character. Quiet highlights include Homer’s cut-aways to Odysseus’s faithful wife back home on Ithaca, fending off suitors as readers salivate at their eventual comeuppance. And who can forget his faithful dog Argos, who recognizes him after 20 years and thumps his weak tail one last time before passing away?

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The Lord of the Rings

By J.R.R. Tolkien

Book cover of The Lord of the Rings

Why this book?

Still, the high fantasy against which all others are measured. Sure, we have the obvious metaphors of the atomic bomb (the ring) and destruction caused by mass industrialization. Not to mention entire histories and languages that Tolkien created in his unsurpassed world-building. But what’s always impressed me the most is Tolkien’s plight after writing The Hobbit and being asked to write a sequel.

He was creatively spent and felt there was nothing more to write about Middle Earth. Friends mocked his lack of progress on his “New Hobbit” book. Then his friend C.S. Lewis offered him a simple genius suggestion: Just put the small hobbits in harm’s way, preferably in front of big, scary monsters. This advice proved to be “clear lightning from the sky.” Despite many various small and big screen attempts that stumbled, director Peter Jackson finally delivered “a ring to rule the screen” in his movie trilogy. Now we’ll see how Amazon does with its big-budget streaming series. 

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The Chronicles of Narnia: 7 Books in 1 Paperback

By C.S. Lewis, Pauline Baynes

Book cover of The Chronicles of Narnia: 7 Books in 1 Paperback

Why this book?

The Mini-Me version of Lord of the Rings. Spanning several epochs of time in the magical land of Narnia, Lewis’s most famous work brought talking animals to life in a world frozen over by the evil White Witch who was overcome only by the blood of the lion Aslan, the Christ-figure of the series. Though the stories are simple compared to the adult Lord of the Rings, they present big, complex ideas of evil, justice, and redemption. To top it off, the kids die halfway through the final, seventh book The Last Battle. Don’t see that much in kiddie lit.

The evocative cover art on the 1970 Macmillan editions is the best of all and never fails to inspire me. Like Lord of the Rings, Narnia has had its share of screen adaptations, reaching its apex with Disney’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in 2005. By then, of course, it had been eclipsed in the pop culture by Harry Potter, and the next two sequels (of seven novels) disappointed at the box office. 

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The Count of Monte Cristo

By Alexandre Dumas, Robin Buss

Book cover of The Count of Monte Cristo

Why this book?

I’m cheating a bit here because Cristo isn’t exactly a fantasy. But it is a revenge fantasy, and a romantic, swashbuckling adventure to boot. Like The Odyssey, this tale of Edmond Dantes’ unjust imprisonment, escape, and reinvention as The Count of Monte Cristo is all about the Return -- to wreak his wrath on all who betrayed him. Add heaping doses of romance and redemption, and you have a near-perfect adventure for the ages.

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Watership Down

By Richard Adams

Book cover of Watership Down

Why this book?

I never thought a tale about rabbits on the run could reach the heights of epic adventure, but Watership Down is just that. This one-off novel of Lord of the Rings scale builds an entire world and theology around the plight of Hazel and his small band of rabbits as they struggle to survive in a vast and forbidding universe. Hazel’s arc from unassuming furball to great leader is awe-inspiring. Still no worthy screen adaptation to date, though several have tried. 

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