Encouraged by how much fun I had making a list of the most entertaining film trilogies, here is a humble list of the ten best literary series I can think of. Did I miss any? Let me know!
10) Discworld, by Terry Pratchett
The Discworld Series is massive – seriously massive. There must be over 25 books taking place in the Discworld universe by this point, and although I haven’t read all of them, I know they are all entertaining. Set on a planet in the shape of the disk riding through space on the back of four elephants standing on top of a giant turtle, each book is generally a satire ranging from jingoistic foreign policy (Jingo!) to a critique of the banking system (Making Money). Wonderfully, the books never sacrifice characters for message; and trust me, there is a plethora of characters ranging from caricatures of German Barons in Uberwald to the all knowing Patrician of Ankh-Morpork to the Death of Mice (who only ever says SQUEAK.). Really, with so many books in this series, it would be extremely difficult to find a book you didn’t enjoy.
9) Abhorsen, by Garth Nix
This series take place in an amazing parallel universe which is divided in half by an ancient wall. On one side of the wall is a universe completely akin to our own, while across the wall is a savage world of magic, necromancy, and old forgotten gods. The series, although not fabulously written and intended for a younger audience, is amazingly innovative. The general story arc follows the Abhorsens, a family of benevolent necromancers dedicated to ensuring that the dead do not rise again. Although the plot does not seem original, the overall style – necromancers using bells to command the dead, the image of death being a river that has a stronger and stronger current the further in you progress, etc – is riveting and unique. For anyone interested in fantasy, this is a must read.
8) Narnia, by CS Lewis
Out of the seven Narnia books that CS Lewis wrote, I only truly enjoyed three of them – The Magician’s Nephew, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. These three books, though, are epic in scope and truly capture the imagination: who doesn’t want to believe, at least at some point, that a wardrobe or a painting can act as a passage to another world, to adventure. The Magician’s Nephew is particularly impressive both in terms of chronology – it was the last book written, yet was a prequel explaining everything – and the vastness of the worlds explored, from dead and forgotten Charn to turn of the 20th century England, to the origins of Narnia. Some may be put off by the sometimes heavy handed Christian themes in the books, but that is really no reason to not enjoy an otherwise great series.
7) Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne
If you don’t love Winnie the Pooh, you don’t have a heart. It’s really as simple as that. I don’t know who couldn’t enjoy the tale of Christopher Robin as he adventures through the Hundred Acre Wood with his ever faithful stuffed friend. as well as all the other animal favorites (Eeyore, anyone?). Some may also like how all the characters in this universe can be seen as perfect caricatures of extreme mental disorders… although that is a little dark, and really neither here nor there.
6) Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
Like Winnie the Pooh, Alice in Wonderland only has two installments – Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. This series has left its mark, though. The concept of going down the rabbit hole, of the Mad Hatter, a playing card queen threatening to behead everyone in sight, and food and drink causing you to change sizes – yup, all from the mind of Lewis Carroll.
5) A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin
In this series, Martin creates a full world of political intrigue, forgotten prophesies, old magic, and the reappearance of dragons. What truly sets this (ongoing) series apart from most other fantasy novels is the true depth of character displayed. No one in this story is two-dimensional, and there is truly no “side” to root for. Although some characters are definitely more likeable than others, there are so many factions all doing both horrible and righteous things that, amazingly, Martin captures the complexities of life through fantasy really well.
4) A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is almost impossible to explain succinctly. Firstly, it is a trilogy comprised of five books, the first two of which were adapted from a BBC Radio program. Secondly, the trilogy is now six books long, with the latest one being written by a different author. This is not at all surprising, though, for those who understand Adams’ sense of humor. The entire series is a mockery of science-fiction, government, fantasy, religion, and English people. This was the series that said the meaning of life was 42, that featured Marvin, the permanently depressed android, that had dolphins recreate the Earth in a save the humans campaign, that… The bizzarity just goes on. You have to read it to experience it.
3) Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
There’s not much to say about LoTR that hasn’t already been said. The books can drag a little as Tolkien describes in detail the stone work of specific buildings or the size of the orc army that is being slaughtered; however, the underlying story is fantastic and forms the bedrock of modern fantasy. This series also does well at featuring both the minutiae of evolving relationships in the worst of times, while also having a grand scale that is often impossible to capture in writing. Throw in a heavy dose of Old English and Scandinavian folklore, invented languages, and a massive dynamic universe and you are close to understanding what Tolkien created.
2) The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman
The Sandman is incredibly close to being the best thing I have ever read. It also is completely unique on this list being that it is a graphic novel. Don’t let the difference in medium fool you, though. This is the only graphic novel series to win a World Fantasy Award and only one of five graphic novels to make Entertainment Weekly’s “100 best reads from 1983 to 2008.” All this praise is rightly earned. The series focuses on Dream, one of the seven Endless, who are personifications of the universe. As Neil Gaiman himself summarizes, the series can be best described as “The Lord of Dreams learns that one must change or die, and makes his decision.” Originally starting off as a dark horror story, the series involves into fantasy as Dream tries to compensate for his past sins. Gaiman also displays an incredible depth of knowledge as he successfully blends together old Biblical tales, ancient mythology, historic individuals, and modern beliefs into one amazing whole of a universe.
1) His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman
This series is dark – very very dark – and completely mesmerizing. The first novel in the series takes place in an alternate dimension, similar to ours in a few key differences such as A) Europe continued to be ruled by the Church, and B) All people’s souls are represented by an animal companion – a daemon – which interacts freely with the world around it. These daemons are free to change between various animals while people are prepubescent, but settle on a final shape after puberty. The story goes on to explore a multitude of worlds, the consequences of free will and religion, faith, and coming of age. This series can be thought of as a modern anti-proscribed religious answer to the Narnia series. It might just be the best thing you’ll ever read.
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