From Homer to Harry Potter

A Handbook on Myth and Fantasy

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"A readable, well-organized, and tremendously useful handbook synthesizing mythology, heroic adventure, and fairy tale with their contemporary offspring: modern fantasy. It is a much-needed book."--Gregory Hartley, Christianity and Literature

The dominant literary mode of the twentieth century has been the fantastic," states scholar Tom Shippey in the foreword to his book, J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. In light of this, how should a Christian approach and understand modern works of fantasy? Should it be taken as a serious literary form, or dismissed as a passing trend?

From Homer to Harry Potter introduces the historical background and general principles readers need to understand this genre. Matthew Dickerson and David O'Hara explore the influence and importance of ancient biblical narrative, Greek mythology, Arthurian legend, and other works of "Faerie" on our literary culture. They draw from a Christian viewpoint informed by C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien to discuss how myth and fantasy offer profound insights into truth.

From Homer to Harry Potter provides sound assessment of modern authors such as Philip Pullman, Walter Wangerin, and J. K. Rowling based on characteristic examples from fantasy of the past. It paves the way to more astute, rewarding reading of this important and timeless literary mode.  


"What adjectives describe this book? Sound? Wise? Intelligent? Informed? Trustworthy? Nuanced? Accurate? Enlightening? Genuinely Christian? All of the above."--Peter Kreeft, author of The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings

"By the time I got to seminary the list of prohibitions was complete: Christians should stay away from dance, drink, tobacco, and myth. If Dickerson and O'Hara had been around at the time, at least one item would have been redeemed. This book fills a huge void, especially for those who believe that myth and biblical truth are incompatible. Here are two Christian guides who give us a chronological and panoramic overview of the whole genre of myth and fantasy, correct our misconceptions, and help us appreciate ways in which the genre can enrich our understanding of what we believe beyond the merely propositional. Dickerson and O'Hara helped me make connections in the literature and, perhaps most significantly, inspired me to explore some of the literature I have not yet read."--Dennis Okholm, Azusa Pacific University

"Dickerson and O'Hara are as up to date on ancient myth and epic as on the latest in contemporary fantasy. Their work provides a vital context for the very latest literary phenomenon, and searches out the timeless and the universal within the flux of modern inventions."--T. A. Shippey, author of J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century

The Authors

  1. Matthew Dickerson

    Matthew Dickerson

    Matthew Dickerson (PhD, Cornell University) is professor of computer science and environmental studies at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, and a popular speaker on Tolkien. He directs the New England Young Writers' Conference at Bread Loaf and is the...

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  2. David O’Hara

    David O’Hara

    David O'Hara (Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University) is assistant professor of philosophy and instructor in classical Greek at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He is coeditor of the forthcoming Religious Writings of Charles S. Peirce.

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"In their informative, highly entertaining examination of the literature of faerie throughout the centuries, Dickerson and O'Hara insist that if literature works at all, it works as story. First defining myth and fairy story and discriminating their differences and similarities, they proceed to describe the work of such seminal nineteenth-century romantics as the Brothers Grimm, Andrew Lang, Hans Christian Andersen, and George MacDonald; explore how the Bible functions as myth; discuss Homeric myth and 'epic' fantasy; and cast a jaundiced eye at Beowulf, the Arthurian legends, and the Norse sagas. They even scrutinize some modern work, including Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea Trilogy, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, Walter Wangerin Jr.'s Book of the Dun Cow, and, of course, Harry Potter. The book is especially intriguing for the links it makes, for example, discussing the effect of The Odyssey on The Hobbit, and the plot devices borrowed from Beowulf in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Dickerson and O'Hara prove reliable guides as they amply confirm that fairy tales aren't just for the young."--June Sawyers, Booklist

"One of the most gripping nonfiction books I have read. [The authors] have left no stone unturned in their study of the literature of the fantastic. . . . I was completely taken in by this book. This is among the most mentally stimulating books I have ever read. I am glad to have read it, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in fantasy literature."--Jim McDonald,

"Any who believe that myth and biblical tradition are incompatible should consider this uplifting survey: it draws some important connections between the two and offers a Christian-oriented guide to contemporary fantasy and its traditions, blending in a computer science professor's attention to scholarship and detail."--Midwest Book Review

"Christian fantasy authors J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis both wrote on the topic of fantasy literature (as well as creating two of the most beloved fantasy worlds), but what they wrote is limited to a few sentences here, an essay there, a personal letter, etc. What has been much needed is a more consistent analysis of fantasy and its relationship to the Christian faith. It's something I've considered doing over the years, but Christian publisher Brazos Press has beat me to it with From Homer to Harry Potter: A Handbook on Myth and Fantasy. . . . Dickerson and O'Hara do a wonderful job walking us through a history and definition of what the mythic actually is. . . . [This book] hits on all those things that make me a lover of the fantastic while at the same time pushing me to think and reconsider some of my assumptions about what makes for 'good' fantasy."--Matt Winslow, InFuze

"This fine book . . . offer[s] a carefully crafted guide to the complicated topic of mythology and fantasy, and what this genre can teach modern readers. . . . The discussion is insightful and could be of great help especially to teachers. . . . By their willingness to grapple with an elusive topic, their clear writing, and their knowledgeable use of sources, Dickerson and O'Hara have provided an excellent introduction to a genre that needed a fresh infusion of such insight. This well-indexed and very useful book is highly recommended."--Daniel Boice, Catholic Library World

"[A] fascinating new work. . . . Using Lewis, Rowling, Tolkien, and others as sources, the authors examine the influence of mythology and legend in our fantasy-literary culture."--Middlebury College alumni magazine

"A thoughtful study on the nature of myth, story, fantasy, and truth. . . . From Homer to Harry Potter will deepen your understanding of the meaning of story and myth, and challenge your approach to the Scriptures. You may not always agree, but your mind will be sharpened by the encounter."--Denis Haack, Critique

"The book provides some helpful, general insights about fantasy, myth and fairy stories as a back drop for reading or re-reading Lewis, Tolkien and others. . . . I finished the book recognizing the richness that myth provides as its creators, old and new, draw from the ever-simmering 'Cauldron of Story.'"--Richard C. Stern, Homiletic

"A readable, well-organized, and tremendously useful handbook synthesizing mythology, heroic adventure, and fairy tale with their contemporary offspring: modern fantasy. It is a much-needed book. . . . Few books exist on the broader parameters of this topic, and fewer still are worthy of an in-depth read. The authors wisely choose to pursue the realm of Faërie through both past and present. . . . They successfully demonstrate how to mythologize Christianity without sacrificing one's faith in it. . . . O'Hara's background in Greek is especially useful in the philological features of the text. Etymology, in particular, richly informs their discussion of faërie. Since mythology is often a study of origins, it is fitting that the authors study the origins of words associated with myth and its subgenres, prefacing many terms with an accompanying word study. This causes the book to be refreshingly clear of the usual jargon and reminds the reader that the work is, in fact, a handbook: a primer meant to introduce new students to the field. . . . Also delightful is the joy exuded in this work: these writers clearly love this topic, and their enthusiasm, alongside their clear, unentangled scholarship, creates a stirring in the reader likewise to read and to take delight in these texts. . . . [A] captivating and inspired book."--Gregory Hartley, Christianity and Literature

"This scholarly, but readable, title is highly recommended for church libraries, professional libraries in Christian schools, and individuals interested in fantasy."--Christian Library Journal