The other day I remembered the books by Lloyd Alexander that our teacher read to us in grade school. The series begins with "The Book of Three" and is followed by "The Black Cauldron". I believe there are six in all.
They are kids books, but I recently checked the first two out of the library and lost myself in them. The author researched and based his writing on Welsh mythology. The books are beautifully written, full of depth and human struggle and growth.
These are the types of books I would love to read to my children one day. The characters in these books struggle with self doubt and difficult people as well as true villains. Self-discipline and integrity are not just values of the "nice guys" but are traits of the heroes that you admire and love.
here's a little excerpt.
"I am troubled," [Taran] said in a low voice, "and I wonder now if we should not turn back. I fear you have kept something from me, and had I known what it was, I would have chosen otherwise."
If Adaon shared Taran's doubts, he showed no sign. In the saddle, he rode unbowed, as though he had gained new strength and the weariness of the journey could no longer touch him. On his face was a look Taran had never seen before and could not fathom. In it was pride, yet more than that; for it held, as well, a light that seemed almost joyous.
After a long pause Adaon said, "There is a destiny laid on us to do what we must do, though it is not always given to us to see it."
I think there's an important attitude in books like these and maybe also the Lord of the Rings books/movies. I'm not sure if I can put my finger on it entirely but maybe it's that they show that goodness isn't just boring and nice. The battle of good against evil is a very difficult struggle, and only the most valiant and brave can truly succeed, and then only with the help and love of their friends and their family.
I think lots of today's stories take a really disturbing approach towards evil. They are fascinated with bad people, or laugh along at them. And at the same time, those who concern themselves with the challenge to be good and true are never taken very seriously.
But the quest to be honest to yourself, to be loving and generous, to be faithful to those you love--this quest is a long and difficult one of mindful self examination and committment to truth. The end result of such a life is not dramatic until you look more closely and see a deep peace and trust that can only be built over many years.