What Books Would J.R.R. Tolkien Recommend to a Young Reader?

J.R.R. Tolkien

A couple months ago a young mother messaged Joseph Pearce, the Inklings expert who wrote my favorite biography on J.R.R. Tolkien. She was seeking book recommendations for her daughter who is a big Tolkien fan:

“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?”

As far as I know, Tolkien recommended few, if any, books in his letters and essays. But based on his style, friendships, and predilections we have a good sense of what he liked. Pearce used this knowledge to reply with suggestions:

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.

Pearce closes by suggesting a handful of modern books in the heroic-fantasy genre:

The Tower of Shadows by Drew C. Bowling
Looking for the King by David C. Downing (my review here)
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

Read Pearce’s whole letter at the Ink Desk blog.

What books would you recommend to young Tolkien-enthusiasts?

(Image Credit: Lord of the Rings Blog)