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Four Fantasy Novels That Ask Real Life Questions


Every year, awards like the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award honor what many people think of as “serious” fiction - weighty titles wrestling with weighty issues in a way that’s sometimes accessible, sometimes less so.

It’s rare to find fantasy titles falling in the category of those so-honored.  But Milwaukee writer Philip Martin would urge you not to overlook the genre or think of it as frivolous.

“Fantasy isn’t escapist, but it’s actually very useful,” says Martin. “It’s a way of creatively dealing with real problems that you can apply to your life.”

In his new book, The Purpose of Fantasy: A Reader’s Guide to Twelve Selected Books with Good Values and Spiritual Depth, Martin highlights what he believes are quality titles for the uninitiated.

He intentionally left out books that became blockbusters, like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Though these popular titles may also have good values and spiritual depth, Martin hoped to highlight lesser known titles that perhaps better demonstrate these qualities.

Four books that can be found in the list include:

  • Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt: The book asks the question, “What if you can be immortal?” The Tuck family, who is immortal, lives in the backwoods near a spring that will give those who drink from it eternal life. But the family must face the consequences of an immortal life that continually passes by.
  • Momoby Michael Ende: Similar to Pippi Longstocking, this book’s heroine is a mysterious, independent girl. When "Gray Men" enter the town and advertise how they can make money, the adults buy into it and the utopia becomes a hardworking town. The main character, with other children in town, must save the adults. Martin says this book takes a Buddhist position on how we use our time in daily life.
  • Little Princeby Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: One of the most read books in the world, this classic investigates the “mystical aspects of flying.” When adults read this book, they wonder if they have lost their childhood, but fantasy authors believe that childhood spirits come out when reading fantasy books.
  • Finn Family Moomintrolls by Tove Jansson: This unique story is based on the modest adventures of the eccentric famiy, all the while examining the human condition.

Philip Martin is the director of Great Lakes Literary.