Monday, October 20, 2014

C. S. Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia Correct Reading Order

From time to time I am asked in which order one should read The Chronicles of Narnia. I have a strong opinion about this, and I am in good company.

The original publication order was as such (from 1950 to 1956):

1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
2. Prince Caspian
3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
4. The Silver Chair
5. The Horse and His Boy
6. The Magician’s Nephew
7. The Last Battle

HarperCollins decided to change the order according to its internal chronology:

1. The Magician’s Nephew
2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
3. The Horse and His Boy
4. Prince Caspian
5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
6. The Silver Chair
7. The Last Battle
Original book illustration by Pauline Baynes

But here's the thing, The Magician's Nephew is a prequel. It assumes you already know certain things about Narnia and Aslan. If you read The Magician's Nephew first, you miss out on the awe and wonder of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Lewis even writes in LWW: “None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do.” This obviously wouldn't be true if you've already read The Magician's Nephew.

Lewis scholar, Devin Brown agrees:

"One need not be a Lewis scholar or an English professor to see that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe must be read first if we want to walk with and not ahead of the four Pevensie children as they hide inside the Professor's strange wardrobe and enter an enchanted land called Narnia. Reading this story first is the only way we can share their wonder."

Devin also writes: "Lewis scholar Peter Schakel maintains that the order the books are read in "matters a great deal" and argues that the original ordering is preferred by "a number" of Lewis scholars, is an understatement that should read "most" or "nearly all."
original book illustration by Pauline Baynes

Alister McGrath gives a couple additional reasons in C. S. Lewis – A Life:
  • It is not possible to read the books in strict chronological order.
    • The Horse and His Boy takes place during The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, not after.
  • The books originally had subtitles which reveal Lewis's intentions.
    • For example, the full title of Prince Caspian is Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia, which clearly suggests it should be read right after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
    • Lewis also uses the subtitle "A Story for Children" for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Last Battle, the 1st and last books published.
So in conclusion, for the love of Narnia, read them in the original published order! ;-)
In response to the 31 Day blogging challenge, I will be posting every day in October. You can read previous posts HERE. Follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter to be notified of new posts. You can also Subscribe to get posts sent to you by email. (There is a simple form towards the top on the right where you can do this.)

Feel free to comment with your own thoughts and questions!

Index of Posts (Highlights):
Day 2. C. S. Lewis on Longing (In "The Weight of Glory")
Day 3. C. S. Lewis on Sehnsucht (Longing and Desire in The Weight of Glory)
Day 6: C. S. Lewis: The Intolerable Compliment (The Problem of Pain)
Day 7: C. S. Lewis: What is "The Weight of Glory"?
Day 8: C. S. Lewis: The Great Divorce and The Weight of Glory
Day 9: C. S. Lewis: A Grief Observed
Day 12: C. S. Lewis and Postmodernism (Part 3 - Conclusion)
Day 13: C. S. Lewis: The Grand Miracle (Myth and Allusions)
Day 14: C. S. Lewis: Is Theology Poetry? (Part 1: More on Myth)
Day 15: C. S. Lewis: Is Theology Poetry? (Part 2: Metaphors, Symbols, and Science)
Day 16: C. S. Lewis and The Trilemma Argument in Mere Christianity
Day 18: C. S. Lewis: Brief Biography (Part 1)

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