I was honestly surprised when this was pointed out to me. I would guess over the course of my life I’ve read two works of fiction for every work of non-fiction. I hadn’t planned at all to make the list all non-fiction, and so am happy to add here fiction. As with before I am not here arguing that these are the ten best fiction works ever, only that they are the ten that I genuinely want my children to read. Here they are, in no particular order:
The Scarlet Letter — Hawthorne is no friend of the Bible or the Christian faith, but like so many great authors he is haunted by it. He has no grasp of the Puritans, but, ironically, a decent grasp of our sinfulness. While the townspeople are merely clownishly wicked, his exploration especially of Dimmesdale and Chillingworth are both chilling and worthy.
A Clockwork Orange — Anthony Burgess is among my favorite writers of the 20th century. While Kubrick’s adaptation of the novel is not at all for the faint at heart, the book shows us Burgess’ genius without showing things best left unseen. A fascinating exploration of the folly of behaviorism, a philological romp, and a genuinely intriguing exploration of the rise and fall of civilizations, well, that’s quite a lot for a slim volume.
A Tale of Two Cities — Dickens starts slow, reminding us what happens when we are paid by the word. But the final third of this close-up in the midst of cultural devastation reminds us of the One Great Hero.
The Great Santini — Not one you expected, right? Pat Conroy is likely not in anyone’s canon, save perhaps the Sproul family canon. Conroy, like his thinly veiled father, manages to stir together charm and pathos, evil, and family unity. The result is somehow both disturbing and moving.
MacBeth — Of course the bard is on the list, and is there a greater example of his genius, a better setting than Scotland for this tale of how sin overtakes us, and turns the world upside down? Is it just possible that Shakespeare was retelling in this great tragedy the greatest tragedy of all, in Eden?
Lord of the Flies — William Golding, along with Anthony Burgess, demonstrate their artistic merits in that they have garnered universal respect, all while using their talents to dismantle the modernist worldview. Here Golding goes after Rousseau, showing just what happens when the “innocent” are freed from the shackles of civilization. Bonus — this was my first introduction when I was in high school to the use of symbolism in fiction. It blew me away, as I always hope it blows my children away.
Brave New World — Huxley’s vision of a future where we are less browbeaten by big brother, more sedated by bread and circuses, Brave New World is, as Neil Postman argues in Amusing Ourselves to Death, what we should have been guarding against instead of 1984.
The Chronicles of Narnia — Lewis never grows old. While I am grateful for all the biblical imagery and lessons in Narnia, it is more the beauty of the gospel than its truth that Lewis so potently captures. Bonus — a gateway drug to all the rest of Lewis’ wonderful work.
Jeeves — What ho?! Remember that all work and no play make Jack a dull boy. Reading PG Wodehouse is a delight at any age. It likely won’t solve the great mysteries of the ages, but it will be more than just fun. Wodehouse, like Poe, (who is an honorable mention on this list), Lewis and Chesterton is a master of lyrical rhythm. You don’t so much read these men as hum them. And that’s a plenty good thing for young writers to take in.
That Hideous Strength — Of course Lewis shows up twice in my list. This, the third volume of his Space Trilogy, is by far my favorite novel in the world. Not the best mind you, but my favorite. Lewis’ greatest strength is his grasp of our weaknesses.
That’s my list. Each of them I continue to read as an adult (indeed over half have made their way into various courses I have taught at Reformation Bible College.) Remember, our hearts need correcting at least as much as our minds. Good fiction is good for what ails us.
C.S. Lewis, in his Chronicles of Narnia, not only encouraged children to come to the King, but encouraged adults to come as children. This series, we pray, will not only help you to understand these great works, but to understand the greatness of being small. Each lesson in this series discusses one of the books in the beloved Narnia series. Further Up and Further In we pray will take you further into wonder, and further into joy. Available in CD and MP3 format.