What Order Should You Read The Chronicles of Narnia in?

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If you ever want to make a C.S. Lewis scholar mad, just tell them you think Harper Collins was absolutely right in reordering the Chronicles of Narnia.  (Calm them down with a cup of tea and invigorating discussion about the land of Bism.)

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I am, of course, talking about the controversial subject of what order you should read “The Chronicles of Narnia” in.

I hesitated doing this post, because there are so many other posts that discuss it better.  My friend and fellow Lewis scholar Jen, for example, did this marvelously here.  And my other friend and fellow Lewis scholar Brenton wisely suggested you first read “The Chronicles of Narnia” publication order first and then whatever order you like on the reread here.  They make perfectly compelling cases.

You see, the publication order goes thusly:

  • The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • Prince Caspian
  • Voyage of the Dawntreader
  • The Silver Chair
  • The Horse and His Boy
  • The Magician’s Nephew
  • The Last Battle

And what’s called the “internal chronology” order goes like this:

  • The Magician’s Nephew
  • The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • The Horse and His Boy
  • Prince Caspian
  • Voyage of the Dawntreader
  • The Silver Chair
  • The Last Battle

In 1994, Harper Collins acquiesced to Douglas Gresham’s request that they reorder the series from publication order to the internal chronological order, citing a letter to a little American boy from Lewis, where Lewis expressed his preference for the order.  Why did they do this?  Because on the surface, it seems logical—Lewis liked the internal chronological order, it starts from the creation of Narnia to the destruction of Narnia, so why not?

Well, there’s a lot about this decision that makes me want to tear my hair out.  But I want to be honest with myself, so I thought back to when I first encountered “The Chronicles of Narnia.”  Now, I know I began with “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”, because that was the book my third grade teacher read to me.  But what was the next book I read?

…I don’t remember.

Yeah, I’m as shocked as you are.  I think it was “Prince Caspian”, but it may very well have been “The Magician’s Nephew”.  You see, I think around 2005, when the film was coming out, I was a sophomore in high school and my oldest brother started reading the books aloud to my younger sibling.  I was too cool to listen to that, so when they finished each book, I asked to borrow it to read myself.  And…

And I have no idea what order I read the series in.  It was the Chris Van Allsburg editions, so it’s very possible I read in the internal chronological order, rather than publication.

So obviously, I can’t really use personal experience to bolster my stalwart advocacy for publication order.

I’ll say this much.  If you’re doing a reread of “The Chronicles of Narnia”, read in whatever order you like.  Have at it.

But if it’s your first time experiencing the Chronicles, I absolutely insist you start with “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”.  And yes—that you read in publication order.

Lewis didn’t write “The Magician’s Nephew” first.  The book, however much the silly man likes the idea of reading his work as a linear timeline, was not meant to be the introduction of the series.  “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” is our first introduction.  We are meant to discover Narnia through the wardrobe, just as Lucy did, the soft fur coats brushing up against our cheeks interspersed with tree branches scratching at our outstretched fingers.  The wardrobe is our entryway.

I know it’s all personal preference.  But I also strongly believe we should read “The Magician’s Nephew” right before we read “The Last Battle”.  I think the full impact of Professor Kirk’s line, “I saw it begin,” said the Lord Digory. “I did not think I would live to see it die.” hits us that much harder when we have just experienced Digory’s wonder and grief in the previous book.  Seeing the creation of Narnia, in all its beauty and majesty directly before we see it gobbled up by the beasts of the end times and the stable door closed tight has a poetic pathos that I think we miss in the new reordering of the Chronicles.

Furthermore, “The Magician’s Nephew” expects its readers to have read “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”.  The second line of “The Magician’s Nephew” reads thusly:  “It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our own world and the land of Narnia first began.”

If this is your first introduction, this question already leaves you out of the loop.  The land of Narnia?  Where’s that?  The comings and goings between our world and that world?  What do you mean, these are two different worlds?  This world is not self-contained?  This book presumes you’re familiar with the rules of the world, how Aslan calls children from one world to another through means as ordinary as a wardrobe or a painting.

“The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” doesn’t presume this.  As the first book (or what should be LABELED the first book), it takes great care to explain the differences between worlds.  What’s more, the land of Narnia is a wonderful thrill to discover because the book sets the stage quite ordinarily.  The first lines of “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” begin like this: “Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids.” Fairly ordinary beginning, right?  “The Magician’s Nephew” establishes in two lines that there are other worlds, “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” builds up to it, which I think, as a reader, is far more satisfying.

I also strongly believe “The Horse and His Boy”, one of my special favorites, should be read directly after “The Silver Chair”.  Yes, of course you can read it after “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” (I am impressed by the fortitude of one of my Twitter followers who stops in the middle of LWW, reads THHB, finishes LWW, and then moves on to PC) if you’re trying to do things in a linear fashion.  But “The Silver Chair” drops several little allusions to the story of “The Horse and His Boy”, so much so, that we can easily surmise that Lewis was in the midst of writing it or had finished an early draft and was excited to share it.  “The Silver Chair” foreshadows “The Horse and His Boy” and sets us up to read that story much more smoothly than “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”.

I finish this post with the full acknowledgement that snooty C.S. Lewis scholars like myself are not the final word on the matter and if your order of reading the Chronicles makes you happy, have at it.  My opinion makes no difference in the matter, though I sometimes think it does because people follow me on Twitter about C.S. Lewis and once Neil Gaiman liked a post of mine.  The important thing is that we’re reading the books, not what order they’re in.

But also the publication order is the correct order and you should read it that way.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to put a #1 sticker on the spine of a copy of “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” that I plan on giving as a baby shower gift.

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