Top Ten Tuesday: Underrated Classic Tales

By: Jenny Gardner

Lets be honest! Sometimes readers hear “classic literature” and cringe. Many modern readers prefer newer tales, which is perfectly fine. However, what if you are missing out on great literary adventure because you’ve never read the more obscure amazing picks? These are my top ten classic choices, which may be from authors you’ve encountered, or not. Each holds interest and intrigue. Some are short stories, some poems, others lengthy novels, and many small excerpts of large bodies of works that will draw you into amazing worlds.

1. The Time Machine by HG Wells. This choice is less obscure. H. G. Wells is a popular classic author, but this particular novel is a fantastic sci-fi adventure.

The past, the future, the present… these trips through time introduce the wide spectrum of Wells’ writing. If you have never read anything by this author before, The Time Machine is the place to start. The best part about this tale is the vision of what the distant future holds, still relevant today.

2. Tennyson’s Idylls of the King is a series of 12 poems regarding Arthurian legends. Though not the original tales of Arthur, these were written in the 1800s, expanding the legend. The language is older, but the legend of Arthur, knights of the round table, and magic of ancient times is delivered with great care in this story. The poems weave a story of battles, quests, love, and war while espousing legends that some still regard as truth. If you love tales of fantastical adventure, this is a great classic with which to begin.

3. Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie. Agatha Christie has written a great many stories of murder, mystery, and mayhem. One of her lesser known works is entitled Three Act Tragedy.

Within, detective Poiret is present as ever, but Christie explores a fun style, splitting the investigation into three parts with lovely twists and turns along the way. Interestingly, you can read this tale without being immersed in the Christie universe, as the detective’s history unfolds a bit as the novel plays out.

4. Dagon by H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft’s classic horror is known by most. The work cherished for tales of Chthulu, demonic summoning, and dark plots. Dagon follows this pattern. He crafts a tale with a hidden darkness lurking at the edges of the tale, while the fear and anticipation build throughout.

5. A Perfect Day for Bananafish by J. D. Salinger. J. D. Salinger is known for Catcher in the Rye, but I enjoy some of his darker stories. There is one called A Perfect Day for Bananafish that delves into a mind in turmoil.

The story follows a man struggling with mental health and losing the battle. This one deserves a content warning for mental health struggles and suicide, but is a good introduction into some of the dark psychological tales Salinger developed.

6. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. I could write an entire top ten list based on Dougless Adams’ works, but by far my favorite is the Dirk Gently series. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is a quirky tale that follows a semi-psychic detective, often in the right place at the right time. It combines the fun mystery approach of Agatha Christie with the science fiction of H.G. Wells, with a unique eccentricity solely belonging to Adams’ writings. Adams wrote these tales in the 1980s and has since passed, leaving the world without a large volume of his work. What is out there is fun, exciting, and lovingly weird.

7. The Land of Mist by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best known for Sherlock Holmes, but his Lost World series is an intense foray into undiscovered lands.

Specifically, The Land of Mist, which follows some of the side characters in The Lost World, is an interesting read. This is a great read for those interested in anthropological, sociological stories, or simply the journey of discovery and adventure.

8. Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Bradbury’s collection of work travels across many genres. This horror novel introduces a traveling circus with a combination of fear and fantasy. Bradbury plays on people’s fear of drifters, clowns, and other carnival elements when writing this tale. This novel is the best sort of nightmare fuel for those who love horror.

9. The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens. The best parts of Dickens’ writing are the characters he creates.

In this story, Nell and her grandfather meet character after character as they strive to move past their newly found poverty. This is a tale to read for the fight for family, the journey of strife, and the quirky people met along the way.

10. The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allen Poe. Poe’s poetry is renowned, his dark twisted tales of murder enshrined in mystery, but did you also know about the tale of Monsioir. This short story follows a detective story, before Sherlock Holmes set foot on Baker Street. Within, Poe uses his writing to create a picture of every room entered, every footstep echoed, every clue discovered. His writing brings every aspect to life.

Many of these classic texts are available online, free to peruse. Those that are available have been linked. As we have reached the end, I will borrow Poe’s words. Once enamored with these authors, you will read “until a late hour, seeking… that infinity of mental excitement which quiet observation can afford” ~ Edgar Allen Poe, The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

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