Brandon Vogt

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

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)

  • Teresa Grodi

    Andrew Lang’s fairy books, perhaps?

  • Daniel McInerny

    Tolkien records his own and his children’s love of E.A. Wyke-Smith’s THE MARVELLOUS LAND OF SNERGS, which he credits as being one source of inspiration for THE HOBBIT. First published in 1928, there’s a new edition (2006) from Dover Books.

    Also, would Brandon and the group excuse a little self-promotion if I suggest my own humorous series of Kingdom of Patria books for middle grade readers? Available now as ebooks, print books will be available this Fall. There’s also an unabridged audiobook of the first book in the series, STOUT HEARTS & WHIZZING BISCUITS. Go to for details.

  • Meredith

    The Young Wizards series by Diane Duane. Take a dash of Lewis’s Space Trilogy, a hint of Madeline L’Engle, and the kid-wizard premise of Harry Potter, and you have this series. The wizards are basically agents of God fighting against death and the devil.

  • Sandra

    Be aware that the brand of Catholicism in Kurtz’ books isn’t our kind. Try the original MABINOGION instead.
    How about THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS by Poul Anderson.? Or ELIDOR, WIERDSTONE OF BRISINGAMEN, or Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner?

  • Colkoch

    Katherine Kurtz has written a brilliant series of trilogies any bright Catholic child would find fascinating – the various Deryni chronicles.

  • Katherine12

    The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

  • Brother Juniper

    Juliet Marillier is a wonderful writer who tells heroic stories of quest and triumph. Shadowfell is her most recent title but Wildwood Dancing and Cybele’s Secret were also engaging. These three are intended for young adults, but even an old adult like me loved them. If I had to pick just one Marillier it would be Foxmask.

  • Daniel Qualk

    Good ol’ English lore and celtic mythology. King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table. Robin Hood. Ivanhoe. Men of Iron by Howard Pyles. And then some old celtic mythological tales like the tale of the Brown sprite etc.

  • Jo

    Strictly speaking, the series is more sci-fi than heroic fantasy, but I greatly enjoyed Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series when I was younger.

    • MariaGo

      I love L’Engle! L’Engle actually wrote the forward of the “Companion to Narnia” book by Paul Ford And her series do have Christian if not Catholic undertones…

  • Gail Finke

    JRRT loved “She” by H. Rider Haggard, and I highly recommend it as well! If you want to see the sort of big-ranging adventure story that inspired Tolkien just as much as Icelandic sagas did, read it. The first chapter is a bit slow but once you finish it, you’re hooked. Same with “King Solomon’s MInes,” which is nothing at all like any of the movies ever made of it — far, far, far better. Not all H. Rider Haggard books are any good but those two are just what any adventure writer should go for. He also liked “The Last of the Mohicans” which sort of a sloooooooooooooooooow version of “King Solomon’s Mines,” with a lot less action but a similar romance and a similar take on native cultures as exciting, noble, and interesting. You’ll gain a lot of insight into Tolkien’s inspirations for scope and integrating different civilizations — and you’ll have a rip-roaring good time.

    My husband and I read “She” out loud to both our kids when they were between 8 and 10, and they loved it. There was only one racy part we had to blip over, which is fine for kids just a bit older. I’d say “The Silmarillion” is probably too dull for kids around 12 unless it’s read aloud. I’m convinced it was meant to be read aloud, and if you do so it becomes very thrilling.

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