Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Fifteen Greatest Stories of All Time

I think it was last week when I had the insane idea to find out what my favorite stories of all time were. On top of that, once I had the list written out, I had the doubly insane idea to actually choose between them.

Needless to say, it was torture, but at the end of it all, I came up with fifteen stories that I considered to be the best of the best, the cream off the top of the bucket.

There are two things I have to tell you before I actually start the list, however.

First, this is my opinion, and there are a lot of stories I've never read or watched. Don't be too outraged if your favorites aren't on there or if you don't particularly like the ones I picked.

Second, when I say “stories”, I mean stories of any medium. This list includes movies, TV shows, books, and plays, with any number of installments. There are a number of stories on the list in which I consider both the book or series along with their motion picture adaptions.

And so, without further ado...I present to you, the fifteen greatest stories of all time! (In reverse order. Y'know, to build things up.)

15. REDWALL by Brian Jacques

(Referring to the Redwall series as whole.)

The Redwall series has had a place on my shelf for a long time. At first it barely missed making the list, but because of some of the classics such as The Long Patrol, The Bellmaker, and Martin the Warrior I decided to include it.

The main reason I included this was because of the colorful cast that generally comes with a Redwall book and the often bittersweet endings. The Legend of Luke is particularly depressing in a heartbreaking way. And, of course, they're just good stories well told.


This is one that is included for nostalgia, if anything else. It's a good tale, to be sure, and one I've loved for a long, long time. Something about shipwrecked Americans just appeals to me—and the fact that the main characters build a civilization out of nothing is just fantastic.

Plus, it's got a little bit of a creepy feel to it, in addition to the return of Captain Nemo from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. It's a solid story.


Cry, the Beloved Country muscled its way up to 13 through sheer emotional punch. It's a story set in South Africa during apartheid, and there are few novels that have prose more poetic. It's articulate and vivid and wonderful. Bittersweet, emotional; and the themes of the novel are unmistakably Christian and just swimming in symbolism.

12. THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO by Alexandre Dumas

(This placement refers to both the book and the movie adaption.)

The Count of the Monte Cristo is an epic of a book about a man, Edmond Dantes, who was in prison for years. Escaping from prison and stumbling upon untold riches, he set off on a quest to exact revenge on those who made him suffer. It's a fantastic story, and although it drags in the middle, the progression of Dantes' character is so well done.

I must say, though, I actually like the movie adaption better, and that's a good part of the reason that it's on my list. Both the book and the movie are amazing, however, especially in sheer scope.

11. THE WINGFEATHER SAGA by Andrew Peterson

The first “modern” Christian fiction choice of the list! I love this series so much, both for the whimsical and wry humor, and for the wonderful characters and themes. The reason that it's not higher up on my list is partially because the series isn't finished, and partially because there were just so many good choices.


Narnia hardly needs an explanation. It's magical and firmly entrenched in my childhood, and the sheer allegorical depth is just incredible. And the last paragraph of The Last Battle—oh, yes. This is definitely one of those stories that leave you with that divine depression. The really awful thing is that there aren't more Narnia books.

The movies are also included under this placement, although it was mostly the books that caused Narnia to make my list.

9. AND THEN THERE WERE NONE by Agatha Christie

If Cry, the Beloved Country made the list through sheer emotional punch, And Then There Were None made the list through sheer adrenaline. 

 This, in my opinion, is Agatha Christie's finest work. Although the characters do have some level of depth, the main reason this book made the list was the brilliance of the “impossible” ending. And also because the book freaks me out. I read most of it after was deliciously scary.

8. RUNT THE BRAVE by Daniel Schwabauer

Surprised? This may seem like an unlikely contender, especially this high up on the list, but I stand by my choice. Runt the Brave has a lot of good things going for it (not the title, perhaps), but I think the main reason it made it this high was the character-theme combination. You can read my review for more of a rant about how awesome this book is, but I think it'll suffice to say that the book is deeply moving.

7. THE TROPHY CHASE TRILOGY by George Bryan Polivka

Because these books don't get around much, there's not a single banner for these books, so a picture of my own copies will have to suffice.

This includes the trilogy and the prequel, Blaggard's Moon. There are two reasons I love this series: one, it has a more old-school writing style; two, it has one of the strongest and unashamedly Christian themes of any book I've read. Besides that, there's the character of Delaney (one of the most awesome characters there ever was) and the fact that the series is like a pirate-fantasy with some deep thoughts on pacifism.

One of the most awful things about this series is that very few people have heard of it.  It's out of print and not very well marketed.

6. THE WHITE LION CHRONICLES by Christopher Hopper

Okay, the first book drags for awhile and the prose is a little rough and sometimes the dialogue is stilted—so why is this number six on my list?

One word: theme. This has, perhaps, the strongest theme of any of the other Christian fiction books I've ever read. For that reason alone, this series is one of the epitomes, for me, of great Christian fiction. If I ever wrote a novel half as meaningful, I would consider my writing life fulfilled.

It's got an intriguing premise and some great characters besides. And when Hopper hits you with a plot twist, it really hits.


So why did I choose the Dark Knight Trilogy for Number Five?


In all seriousness, though, Batman is my favorite of the myriad of superheroes. The Trilogy is gritty and violent at times, but they go places where other superhero movies never go. Especially The Dark Knight. They plumb the depths of human nature and aren't afraid to push the limits of theme. In addition to that, the character of Bruce Wayne (Batman) is simply fantastic. He's constantly changing through the trilogy. (And, of course, there's the Joker. If I ever made one of these lists for villains, he'd be on it.)

And then, can I just say, the ending of the Dark Knight Rises is incredible? So, so good.

4. CYRANO DE BERGERAC by Edmond Rostand

Cyrano de Bergerac is the bittersweet story of a passionate poet-swordsman with a proverbially large nose. I have some posts coming up soon on the play, so I'll keep this brief and just say that this story deserves the number four placement.  It's incredible.

3. SHERLOCK HOLMES by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

(Refers to both the books and the BBC adaption.)

And here we come to one of the greats: Sherlock Holmes. Besides having some completely fantastic stories, he's also one of the most unique characters to ever grace the page—or screen. And his character is far from flat—from A Study in Scarlet to His Last Bow, he's constantly changing. But he's iconic, too, one of those immortal characters that far outlast the author. I think that's the power of Sherlock Holmes.

As for his screen adaptions, BBC Sherlock is by far my favorite and captures the characters and plots of the original stories more closely than any other adaptions I've seen—ironic, considering BBC Sherlock is meant to be a “modernized” version of the old stories.


This year Doctor Who is fifty years old. There's a reason it's survived so long. More so than the stories that came before it on this list, Doctor Who has some really fantastic storytelling.

Today I rewatched an episode called Asylum of the Daleks, and I think it demonstrates many of the reasons why Doctor Who made it to Number Two on my list of greatest stories of all time. Stellar plot, theme layered on thick (touching on love and hatred and divorce), and a fantastic, brilliant plot twist that slammed the incredible ending to a close.

And the most immortal part of Doctor Who is, of course, the Doctor. He has the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes, except in space, fighting aliens with a bow-tie and a screwdriver. There's a certain appeal to this “madman in a blue box” that runs about having adventures and saving the universe—a “legend woven throughout history”. His struggles, both physical and moral, resonate with us.

But despite all this, it is not number one.

Number One is...

1. THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J. R. R. Tolkien

(Includes The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and the movie adaptions.)

I mentioned quite a few extraordinary characters in this list. But I think the most extraordinary thing about The Lord of the Rings is how ordinary it is. Frodo Baggins is not a Sherlock Holmes or a Doctor or a Batman. His greatest power is his goodness, his ability to resist evil...his ordinariness.

I think that the Lord of the Rings, more than any other, has united the different facets of good story. It has the immortality of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who, in that it feels like a myth as old as the bones of the earth; it has the wonderful word-smithing of Cyrano de Bergerac and Cry, the Beloved Country; it has the scope of the Count of Monte Cristo; it has the themes of Runt the Brave and the magic of Narnia.

It's an epic struggle of good versus evil. And no other story really comes close to touching it.

So there you have it.  My opinion on the fifteen greatest stories of all time.

What stories would YOU consider to be the greatest?  Why?  Shoot me a comment.


Pathfinder said...

You have good taste.

And "The Count of Monte Cristo" is just epic, even if I'm still only on page 231 out of 1,243.

But why is "Doctor Who" over "Sherlock"?


Sarah said...

Great choices! I haven't read/watched all of them, but those I have read and watched, I definitely agree with putting them on this list. I especially like that you included Cyrano de Bergerac. I read it last year in Literature and loved it! I'm hoping to find a good movie version; do you know of one?

Also, excellent choice, putting The Lord of the Rings at the very top of the list. That's exactly where I'd put it as well.

Jake said...

Path-a-thing: Doctor Who has a lot of rough and cheesy spots, and Sherlock's almost spotless, I'll admit. But there are several reasons.

One. Doctor Who's genre appeals to me more.

Two. Character development. Sherlock (BBC) doesn't have this on the scale of Doctor Who by any stretch of imagination. (I haven't watched Scandal or Reichenbach yet, though, so we'll see.) Asylum of the Daleks alone has better instances of character development and emotion than the whole of Season One of Sherlock.

Three. Complicatedness. Both in characters and plots, Doctor Who is more complicated. I love complication.

Four. Themes. That's the biggest reason. I'm a sucker for great themes, and while Sherlock is epic, the themes of Doctor Who are far greater and clearer. The Tenth Doctor as compared to Sherlock, for instance, is a pacifist warrior carrying the weight of genocide, whereas Sherlock is more or less a rather arrogant and blunt genius. An incredible character, yes, but not the fodder of deep themes.

Sarah: you're in luck. My next two posts are about de Bergerac - I have a lot to say about how incredible it is.

I own the Hal Roach edition of the 1950 black-and-white movie, starring Jose Ferrar. It may not have great special effects or color, but it is the most accurate movie adaption I've ever seen, and the actor for Cyrano is perfect in so many ways. My only quibble with it is that it cuts quite a bit off of Act Four to save screen time, but the movie is still incredible.

So if you don't mind a grainy black-and-white adaption, check it out. It won an Academy Award for best actor.

Aarathyn Arvell said...

Lol, I say "Because I'm Batman" too. I love the Hishe videos.

Writer4Christ said...

Hm... I should do this too some time...
Some of your choices were surprising to me (that's fine by the way, perhaps I should check some of these out), but Doctor Who I think really deserves to be number 2 :). Plus it's cleaner than Sherlock. That's why we kinda stopped watching Sherlock... the ickiness.

Jake said...

Yeah, I skipped A Scandal in Belgravia. I hear that one's pretty bad.

Which choices surprised you?

Anastasia Cross said...

These are all great books/movies/TV shows!!

I'm glad you had Batman up there. He would have or three on my list. And I've just watched Batman Begins. (I read about the second, because I'm just not sure I can take [spoiler] dying and Joker freaks me out so bad...) And I really can't stand Catwoman, though I would LOVE to see the third one. Maybe I'll get over my weirdness one day.

Anywho. Very good list, I'll have to read some of the ones I haven't heard of.

P.S. Have you read the Dragons in Our Midst series by Bryan Davis? So good!!


Isaac Permann said...

Very nice list! the only series I think could've been added is Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness, Piercing the Darkness, and Prophet.

But that just my opinion...

Nice hearing from you again! :)


Sarah said...

@Jake: Two posts on Cyrano? Huzzah! I can hardly wait!

Thanks for the recommendation! I'll have to see if I can find it.

The WordWeaver said...

Aha! An allusion to HISHE, no?

I've wanted to watch the play of Cirano de Bergerac ever since beginning OYAN. It's looks fantastic.

I can't agree with you more on the Batman Trilogy. The Joker is an amazing (if creepy) villain. He ties as my favorite villain of all time.