The best fantasy bildungsroman books

The Books I Picked & Why

Taran Wanderer: The Chronicles of Prydain, Book 4

By Lloyd Alexander

Book cover of Taran Wanderer: The Chronicles of Prydain, Book 4

Why this book?

Taran Wanderer is a story that could never be published today, but it’s the sort of Bildungsroman (coming-of-age) story that every person should read at some point in their lives. The 4th book in the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, Taran Wanderer is about Taran, an orphaned assistant pig keeper who sets out to learn who he is—and who finds in the end that he is not someone Chosen or Destined, but rather just, he himself. I first read this book as an adult and was blown away by its simple profundity. In a sea of YA magical “Chosen One” narratives, Taran Wanderer is a Bildungsroman that commends the virtues found in the ordinary. 

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The Goose Girl

By Shannon Hale

Book cover of The Goose Girl

Why this book?

Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl is a fairytale retelling in which a princess is engaged to marry a prince of a far-off kingdom. On the way there, she’s betrayed by her lady-in-waiting, who takes her place and leaves her to die. The princess makes it to the kingdom and becomes a goose-keeper, only to befriend and fall in love with the prince on her own. This is another Bildungsroman I read for the first time as an adult, and I couldn’t believe more people weren’t talking about it. Hale’s prose is like her storytelling—it flows slow and sweet like honey. True character growth happens over time, and Hale gives her protagonists the time they need to mature and overcome challenges. Two thumbs way up for this sweet, magical, romance! 

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

By J.K. Rowling, Mary Grandpré

Book cover of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Why this book?

I could recommend any of the Harry Potter stories as best fantasy Bildungsroman books, but I decided to go with Prisoner of Azkaban for this list because it has always been my favorite of the series. A good Bildungsroman shows a young person having to make their way in the world, and in Prisoner of Azkaban, that’s exactly what Harry has to do after he loses his temper and accidentally “blows up” his Aunt Marge. He’s thrust out into a dark world of danger, and the plot progression that tracks with his character growth leads to one of the most satisfying joyous turns for him in the entire series at the end of the book. Prisoner of Azkaban is a thoughtful, emotional coming-of-age rollercoaster that I will always love. 

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The Hobbit

By J.R.R. Tolkien

Book cover of The Hobbit

Why this book?

I’m cheating a bit here, because I don’t know that The Hobbit strictly counts as Bildungsroman, but I count it as one because it has all the requisite parts and themes. With a main character who is an innocent (to the world beyond the Shire) hobbit, a leave-taking of home and comfort into danger in the wide world, and the maturation and growth of Bilbo Baggins following obstacles to overcome, The Hobbit reads like a coming-of-age. It’s one of my favorite books ever—in fact, I am so attached to it, I read it aloud to my (now) husband when we were dating, and when it came time for him to propose, he bought me a collector’s edition of The Hobbit and wrote his proposal out in the inside cover. 

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The Horse and His Boy

By C.S. Lewis, Pauline Baynes

Book cover of The Horse and His Boy

Why this book?

The Horse and His Boy is the story-within-a-story of The Chronicles of Narnia that baffles some readers of the series but is beloved to others. I am one of the latter. I have always, since I was a kid, loved this story of longing, coming-of-age, and enemies to friends to lovers—all couched in a race against time to warn Narnia about a coming invasion! Shasta and Aravis are a perfect quarreling couple as they both leave home and comfort to set out into the wide world, and the profound changes they undergo along the way add just the right depth to the classic tale. From start to finish, this is fantasy Bildungsroman at its finest.

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