The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
This is a children's fantasy book written in a Victorian style by an author no one reads, which is nearly three strikes against reading it. But it is one of the major inspirations for both Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. What I find compelling are the unexpected turns of the narrative, not so much in terms of plot, but in recognitions or realizations by the protagonists. Like Tolkien and Lewis, MacDonald may seem to be hinting at preaching-like ideas, or, in a word, allegory, but I think that in all three writers the story actually comes first. You may have to exercise some imagination and suspend suspicions to get the sense of mystery and wonder of another world. That in itself is worth the effort, which is not great. It is a quick and enjoyable detour into this other world, done with good writing and a sense or feel that we seldom experience these days.
-- Carl Robertson, Associate Professor of Chinese