I’ve received an e-mail from the mother of a twelve-year-old asking my advice on what books a Tolkien enthusiast should read. Her e-mail began with the question, “what books would Tolkien recommend to a young writer?” Here’s the text of the relevant part of her e-mail, with my response below:


My young daughter (almost 12 years old) has a gift for writing and is enthusiastic about Tolkien.  I very much want to encourage her in the right direction.  A lot of the fantasy literature seems to be bad.  What books do you think Tolkien would recommend for a young writer to read, who especially has a creative liking for the type of fantasy/quest (with definite Catholic undertones) literature, like that which is portrayed in The Lord of the Rings Triology?

I have tried my best to raise her in a traditional Catholic way and expose her to the best literature possible, while going easy on technology and worldly ways.  What general and specific advise would you have for me in how I can encourage the writer in her?  By the way, I am not trying to force her to do anything.  She has been writing stories and drawing pictures since she could hold a crayon, and has never stopped!  I also have a desire to write, but lack her amazing creativity and ability, but I do enjoy helping her as she develops her ideas.  She seems to have real potential.

Hope you are well and that God continues to bless you abundantly.  I would be so grateful for your response.  Thank you in advance.

Here’s my reply:


In answer to your question, I have little doubt that Tolkien would recommend that your daughter continues to exercise her imagination with quality works of literature. Ultimately we only write as well as we read.


I presume from the fact that your daughter is “enthusiastic about Tolkien” that she has already read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. If so, she might like to explore some of Tolkien’s other works. She should read Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham, both of which are not only good but good fun, and the short story, “Leaf by Niggle”. She should also read The Silmarillion, though the high style of the writing might be somewhat challenging. I presume that she must have read The Chronicles of Narnia already but, if she hasn’t, this is a sin of omission which will need rectifying. She should also read Lewis’ other fiction, including the Space Trilogy, The Great Divorce, and Till We have Faces, though the last might be a little difficult for even a gifted twelve-year-old. C. S. Lewis would certainly recommend the fantasy fiction of George MacDonald and I am happy to concur. Anything by MacDonald is worth reading but Phantastes would be a good place to start.


Like Tolkien, I do not read much modern fiction. I can, however, recommend the following contemporary titles in the so-called fantasy/heroic-historical fiction genre, either because I’ve read them myself or know someone trustworthy who has done so:


The Tower of Shadows by Drew C. Bowling

Looking for the King by David C. Downing

Toward the Gleam by T. M. Doran

Vinland by George Mackay Brown

The Eleusinian Gate by Richard L. Purtill

Crown of the World by Nathan Sadasivan

Niamh and the Hermit by Emily C. A. Snyder

Ivan of Aldenuri by J. P. Foncea

Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi


I hope this helps.