From Tolkien, The Silmarillion.
In addition to containing one of my favorite stories, period, in Of Beren and Lúthien, the book also contains all the best, most formative stories of Tolkien’s mythology of Arda (the term referring to his entire invented world, of which Middle-Earth is but a continent). The Ainulindalë section, in which the world is created by musical worship of God, has a majesty reminiscent of the Book of Revelation. The story of the Elves’ Awakening by the twilit lake of Cuiviénen makes me long for a place of beauty that never was, and sad for the Avari, the so-called “refusers” who stayed behind when their cousins, the Noldor (High Elves), followed Oromë to Valinor, because they dwindled into obscurity and were forgotten (unless they are in fact the later Sindarin “Grey Elves,” which would mean they did not dwindle but forged some great kingdoms of their own, including that of Mirkwood from which comes Legolas). Also Fëanor, greatest of the Noldor and forger of the Silmarils, whose foolish rebellion against the Valar and leading of his people from the paradise of Valinor led only to suffering, anguish, and a deadly curse on his sons that would haunt Elves and Men for centuries. When the fair hidden city of Gondolin fell to a hellish onslaught by Morgoth, my heart ached at Arda’s loss. And so many others…the doom of Túrin Turambar, the travels of Tuor, the terrible battles of Dagor Bragollach and the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the voyage of Eärendil the Mariner, and of course the rise and fall of Númenor.
These stories move me and fascinate me more than even the genuine mythologies of Greece, Rome, the Norse, and the Celts. One reason is that The Silmarillion’s myriad stories have a beautiful unity of theme and purpose concerning the rebellion of Elves against the purposes of Ilúvatar and their eventual redemption by his grace. The theme is drawn from the story of mankind’s own rebellion and redemption in the Holy Bible, and thus has a truly timeless quality.
From Lewis, while this is a tough decision, I shall have to say Perelandra.
The second book of his Space Trilogy, it is essentially Lewis’ take on John Milton’s Paradise Lost, giving homage to that English epic while correcting many of its faults. But Lewis is not bound to the connections with Milton; his subject is the Fall of Man as told in Genesis. What has sin really done to humanity, after all? What might we have been like before our corruption, when we were perfect and in harmony with God and His creation? What is innocence, and can it be cunning? I love especially Lewis’ treatment of the idea of purity. The Lady, representing Eve, is utterly pure and innocent, not knowing evil or perversity in any form. Our modern culture looks condescendingly on these traits as naïve and therefore weaker than worldly wisdom. But Lewis proves otherwise. The Lady fends off the arguments of Satan handily, defeating his logic with the purity of her own and her faith in God. These passages are a delight to read, even as the tension grows because of our concern that Satan may succeed once again, as he did with Adam and Eve.
There are other reasons to love Perelandra. It is science fiction more concerned with theology and mythology than with science. On nearly every page there seems to be a groundbreaking or deeply profound idea. The landscape of the planet is unlike any I have read of before, with its gentle undulations that somehow do not cause seasickness, and the ending is surprisingly and utterly brilliant. There is so much depth and detail in it, that I think I shall need four or five rereads before I begin to understand more fully what Lewis has accomplished in it.