Tolkien | Similar Books (Children’s Fantasy)
The following are fantasy children’s books that were introduced to me during my own upbringing. Although they are categorised as children’s books, I have no doubt that (young) adult readers will get just as much pleasure out of reading them. I feel that they are very much in the spirit of Tolkien as they all incorporate elements such as folk tales and poetic narratives.
Ronja the Robber’s Daughter (1981), by Astrid Lindgren
Set in early-medieval Scandinavia, in a woodland filled with mysterious folkloric beings, it tells the story of Ronja, the daughter of the robber chief Mattis. Ronja is born on a stormy night on which the fortress of her father is split in two by a lightning stroke. The years go by and on her many excursions to the forest, Ronja comes to befriend Birk, the son of the robber chief Borka—her father’s archenemy. The two soon develop a friendship that eventually blossoms into a brother-sister bond.
Ronja the Robber’s Daughter is a beautiful yet simple story about forbidden friendship, feud and, eventually, forgiveness, set in a mystical world inspired by Nordic folklore that is sure to appeal to any Tolkien-reader.
The Brothers Lionheart (1973), also by Astrid Lindgren
Perhaps Lindgren’s darkest book, The Brothers Lionheart follows the story of two brothers: Karl and his older brother Jonatan. The beginning of the book is set on Earth, in an unnamed city somewhere in Sweden. Karl has been sick and bedridden for a long time and it seems very likely that he is going to die, and the thought of it scares him. One night, when the fear takes over, his older brother Jonatan, with whom he has an inseparable bond, comforts him. He tells Karl of a place called Nangijala, where you go after you die. A medieval place of bonfires and adventures to be had every day. Karl is eased for the time being, but the thought that he should have to arrive alone in Nangijala before Jonatan troubles him dearly. Shortly after, there is a fire in the building. Karl is stuck in bed upstairs. Before anyone can stop him, Jonatan rushes up to his brother’s aid and, with Karl on his back, jumps out the window—the only escape route. Karl survives the fall; Jonatan does not. Karl is devastated over the death of his older brother, though he too passes away shortly after, and the two brothers are happily reunited in the Cherry Valley of Nangijala. Karl, however, soon comes realise that all is not as well as it seems in that land. The adjacent Thorn Rose Valley, located across the mountains, has been taken over by an evil tyrant Tengil, who controls a fire-breathing dragon named Katla. Jonatan, being part of a resistance movement, must travel over the mountains to restore their only hope; Karl, in the meanwhile, is left alone at home but soon follows after his brother.
The Brothers Lionheart is a beautifully written story about platonic love between two brothers. It as also a story about death, rebellion, betrayal, tyranny, pacifism and hope. Its medieval context and the battle between good and evil correlates to the same themes that run through Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and just like it, it is a book that stays with you long after you read it.
(*Disclaimer: Seeing that I am Nordic myself, I have only read these books in my native language and therefore am not sure how the names of places and characters mentioned correspond with the English versions.)