Disclaimer: I have not read Green Ember, The Giver, Ranger’s Apprentice, Ender’s Game, the Wheel of Time, Harry Potter, Dune, or the Wingfeather Saga. I plan to read most of them (Not the last one…I am so sick of hearing about the Wingfeather Saga), and I have heard that they are good. I do not discount their value, but I have not read them. I let them stand as Honorable Mentions.
Without further ado…These are MY top five favorite fictional novel series.
#5: Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The John Carter Series
Early science fiction set in the early 1900s, John Carter’s adventures will remain a great classic for many generations to come. The story follows the exploits of John Carter himself, a veteran of the Civil War who is transported to Mars through a series of magical(!) happenings. There, he is granted the classic low-gravity-superhuman-strength ploy and becomes a god among the Martians, who are also men.
There are seven books total, but only several of them have to do with John Cater specifically. A few of them detail the adventures of Ulysses Paxton (An American WWI veteran) and the last one just has a tale that is set on the planet of Mars.
My dad read these to me when I was much younger, and I was captivated. When I got older, I read these for myself, and since then has been a source of great entertainment for me. I would recommend, if you don’t have these and plan on buying them, that you get a large volume containing all his works. It’s also pretty lengthy, so you may also consider getting an audiobook.
What makes this story so good? Well, for one, it sets the stage for science fiction epics like Superman, Star Wars, Dune, and many others. It helped move fiction out into the cosmos. Other writers about this time, like H.G. Wells, also helped. The 1900s were a big development period for the major genres of storytelling, especially Fantasy and Science Fiction.
Burroughs binds creativity and originality very well in his series. It’s set in space with tons of advanced technology, but the cultures tend to be very fantasy-like. It’s the perfect sci-fi fantasy blend, and the worldbuilding rivals that of Lord of the Rings. This is a must-read for anyone interested in science fiction or fantasy.
#4: C.S. Lewis’ The Space Trilogy
This one is much like John Carter, only it’s more technology based. It’s like a cross between Frank Peretti and Edgar Rice Burroughs. The Space Trilogy spans three books (Well…dur) and tells the adventures of Ransom as he is kidnapped by nefarious double-crossers who plan to sell him on an unknown planet for a human sacrifice.
The second book, Perelandra, follows Ransom to another planet and reveals the tale of the forces behind the scenes who motivate the tale. The conclusion, That Hideous Strength, is told more contemporarily, and features other characters than Ransom as the stars of the story.
Anyway, the story is no Avengers film, and favors suspense and intrigue over action. However, there is a good deal of physical conflict, but the second novel is almost entirely talking. It is much more science-oriented than the John Carter of Mars Series, but is still told in the same way.
What makes the Space Trilogy stand out to me is the way Lewis weaves Science and supernatural elements. In the John Carter series, it seemed to be a blend of sci-fi and fantasy although it was devoid of true supernatural influence. Lewis includes a good motive to his stories, which is his supernatural interference. One motive alone, like supernaturality or science, can only take a story so far. Lewis utilizes them both and goes above and beyond.
#3: Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness and Sequel
I discovered this one fairy recently. I don’t know if you can consider it a series, since it only has two books, but I loved it so much I had to include it. I’m not going to spoil the story now, since it’s smaller and easier to wreck, so I would heartily encourage you to read these classics for yourself.
To be blunt, Peretti delivers what many Christian authors do not: clear portrayal of evil and condemnation thereof. A lot of entertainment (especially in books) shies away from the evil in life and opts for a “y’know, this guy’s bad, right?”. Peretti delivers unashamed heroes against heinous evils.
His characters are believable and well-written. His good guys are paragons of virtue, and his villains are dirty scumbags in every sense of the word. His suspense is wonderfully crafted, and there was more than one point where I was like, “I just can’t go on with this story. There is NO WAY the heroes are going to get out alive.”
This kind of entertainment can scare and/or embarrass some people. I think it’s only fair to warn you that This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness are a few of the darkest novels I have ever read. However, they are still superb, and I heartily recommend them.
#2: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings
This one is self-explanatory. No top five book series would be complete without the addition of this timeless classic. No spoilers here; just go read the books.
The best thing about the Lord of the Rings is how it contributed to the realm of Fantasy. Most of the groundbreaking labor that was put into the genre of reputation we call fantasy was pioneered by this book series.
In short, Tolkien makes a superb world. His world is wide and expansive, and the lore is engaging and nerdy. His characters are likable and original, especially the Hobbits. (By the way, LOTR is a Christmas book because it has Elves!) The work he put into his world is stunning. He created whole cultures, languages, behaviors, histories, landscapes, and maps. You could live in the world of LOTR.
His adventure of the Ring is entertaining to read and easy to sympathize with. The plotting is good and deep, and is interwoven with character conflicts and epic battles. You can really immerse yourself in Tolkien’s world and find kinship with the many characters in it.
#1: C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia
These are few of the first books I have ever read. Some of my fondest childhood memories were over a few overly salted baked potatoes and The Dawn Treader. Narnia would be my pastime. I would read Narnia before going to bed, while eating, in between school breaks, on road trips, and for hours at a time. I would keep them on a sacred spot on my homemade cardboard bookshelf.
As to the likability of the books, I couldn’t tell you that. Maybe it was just because I am a natural nerd and I love obscure lore. In the end, I don’t even know. But that doesn’t stop me from being objective: it’s no secret that C.S. Lewis also helped to prepare fantasy for the modern audience.
Even though he refers to Narnia as “a fairy tale” it explores deep and meaningful tropes like self-sacrifice, redemption, bravery, and leadership. Plus, Lewis’ treatments of character development are amazing. Peter goes from schoolboy to high king. Caspian goes from boot-lick prince to proud ruler. Eustace goes from snotty brat to an adventurous young man.
The way people handle their characters is paramount to me. The reason why I choose Narnia over LOTR is because Narnia is far more personal and focuses on the people, whereas LOTR can sometimes be a bit more monotonous and less personal. The way Lewis handles his characters places the Chronicles of Narnia in paramount interest in my mind.
Good luck, and happy writing!