The most transcendent fantasy novels

Who am I?

I’m a word guy. I’ve been a radio announcer and an academic librarian. Currently I translate Norwegian film and TV production scripts into English. I’ve had an obsession with Vikings all my life and have made researching the subject my lifelong hobby. I’m also a Christian (not as paradoxical as you might think). I like authors who a) know how to use words, and b) explore the larger, more challenging moral questions with honesty and decency. Most of all, I like stories that work magic with words to make my spirit soar. I’ve written several stand-alone “urban” fantasies and am carrying on my ongoing historical fantasy series set in Norway around the first millennium.


I wrote...

The Year of the Warrior

By Lars Walker,

Book cover of The Year of the Warrior

What is my book about?

My Viking series begins with The Year of the Warrior, a historical fantasy published as an e-book by Baen Books, and available in paper from me. It’s based on a genuine historical character, Erling Skjalgsson of Sola, who was one of the most powerful chieftains in Norway around the year 1000. He was a Christian who defended the traditional democratic political system of the Norse against kings trying to impose centralized, continental monarchism. The books are narrated by Father Ailill, an Irish priest (an imposter at the beginning) who’s actually a failed postulant monk. The history and setting in this book are as authentic as I knew how to make them, but I threw in magic for fun.

The books I picked & why

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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?

A no-brainer, of course. I first read the old (I mean the very first) Ballantine paperback edition in junior high school. I had never dreamed a writer could achieve something like this – not only sustained plot interest through classic storytelling, but genuine exaltation of the spirit. What Tolkien’s friend C. S. Lewis called “Joy.” The chase through the mines of Moria. The Ride of the Rohirrim. It was like discovering a vitamin I’d been deficient in all my life. Only later did I understand how Viking lore, which already fascinated me, informed Tolkien’s mythos by way of the sagas and the Eddas. Often imitated, never equaled.

The Lord of the Rings

By J.R.R. Tolkien,

Why should I read it?

47 authors picked The Lord of the Rings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell by chance into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins.

From Sauron's fastness in the Dark Tower of…


The Book of the Dun Cow

By Walter Wangerin Jr.,

Book cover of The Book of the Dun Cow

Why this book?

“An animal story?” I can hear you say. “You’re telling me to read an animal story?” That was precisely my reaction when a friend first recommended this book to me. But I trusted his judgment, and dipped my toe in. Soon the river had swept me away. The animals in this book are more human than the humans in a lot of novels I read. There’s love and loss and heartbreak and tragedy and heroism and genuine wrestling with the biggest questions of our lives. Try and forget Mundo Cani Dog once you’ve met him. I’d give a fairly important body part to be able to write something as moving as this.

The Book of the Dun Cow

By Walter Wangerin Jr.,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Book of the Dun Cow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The timeless National Book Award-winning story of the epic struggle between good and evil.

“Far and away the most literate and intelligent story of the year … Mr. Wangerin’s allegorical fantasy about the age-old struggle between good and evil produces a resonance; it is a taut string plucked that reverberates in memory” —New York Times

“Belongs on the shelf with Animal Farm, Watership Down and The Lord of the Rings. It is, like them, an absorbing, fanciful parade of the war between good and evil. A powerful and enjoyable work of the imagination.” —Los Angeles Times

In a time when…


Winter’s Tale

By Mark Helprin,

Book cover of Winter’s Tale

Why this book?

A wonderful book in two senses – it’s wonderfully written, and it evokes wonder. This is an idiosyncratic urban fantasy set in an imaginary metropolis called New York City (cut off from the world by an impenetrable cloud wall that lifts only occasionally, to let the trains through). In this city, amazing characters (amazingly good and amazingly evil) clash as they strive for the things that matter to them most. And the prose is as bright and vivid as a Van Gogh painting. Winter’s Tale contains one of my favorite lines in all literature, where one character is described as “breathtakingly short.”

Winter’s Tale

By Mark Helprin,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Winter’s Tale as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The New York Times No. 1 bestseller.

One night in New York, a city under siege by snow, Peter Lake attempts to rob a fortress-like mansion on the Upper West Side. Though he thinks it is empty, the daughter of the house is home . . .

Thus begins the affair between this Irish burglar and Beverly Penn, a young girl dying of consumption. It is a love so powerful that Peter will be driven to stop time and bring back the dead; A New York Winter's Tale is the story of that extraordinary journey.


Prince Ombra

By Roderick MacLeish,

Book cover of Prince Ombra

Why this book?

This one isn’t very well-known. It was recommended to me by the same friend who recommended The Book of the Dun Cow, so I bought it and was well rewarded. The theme of the child who is somehow the Chosen One, destined to fight the great Evil, has been overdone in literature, and often done badly. MacLeish gets it right. Here’s a familiar world where nevertheless the supernatural somehow lurks around every corner. There’s a haunting quality here that many authors have attempted but not quite achieved.

Prince Ombra

By Roderick MacLeish,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Prince Ombra as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Eight-year-old Bentley--baseball fan and television addict--finds that his destiny is to battle Prince Ombra, the archdemon, in a duel of devout magic against black for the fate of all humankind


That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups

By C.S. Lewis,

Book cover of That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups

Why this book?

Probably the least popular book in Lewis’ famous “science fiction” trilogy, this is actually one of my favorite novels in the world. But it does make demands on the reader. I’m listing it as a fantasy novel here, although it’s formally classed as science fiction. That’s because Lewis made a conscious effort to link this story up with his friend Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Merlin’s wizardry in THS is of the same order as Gandalf’s. The revenge of nature at the end of THS comes by way of the revenge of the Ents at Isengard. What makes THS difficult is that Lewis set about portraying evil in something like its full banality and dullness. That makes the first part of the book a slog for most readers. But everything comes together, unforgettably, in the second part.

That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups

By C.S. Lewis,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked That Hideous Strength as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Just as readers have been transfixed by the stories, characters, and deeper meanings of Lewis's timeless tales in The Chronicles of Narnia, most find this same allure in his classic Space Trilogy. In these fantasy stories for adults, we encounter, once again, magical creatures, a world of wonders, epic battles, and revelations of transcendent truths.

That Hideous Strength is the third novel in Lewis's science fiction trilogy. Set on Earth, it tells of a terrifying conspiracy against humanity. The story surrounds Mark and Jane Studdock, a newly married couple. Mark is a sociologist who is enticed to join an organization…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in good and evil, Irish Americans, and the supernatural?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about good and evil, Irish Americans, and the supernatural.

Good And Evil Explore 90 books about good and evil
Irish Americans Explore 18 books about Irish Americans
The Supernatural Explore 239 books about the supernatural

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Winter King, Norse Mythology, and The Viking Way if you like this list.