11 December 2006

How to read the Narnia Chronicles

Several of my students (and their parents) have recently been asking me "What's the right order in which to read the Narnia Chronicles?" Actually, they probably said "What's the right order to read Narnia in" since they're in my Inklings class and not my grammar-crazy writing class, but that's OK. The purpose of language is the communication of ideas, and I understood them. Well, there are lots of other purposes of language, too, including patterns & the sheer beauty of the sounds & traditions & wrestling with the ineffable, etc. So.

But back to Narnia. Well, I told them that I didn't think it mattered in which order they read the Narnia Chronicles. I added that I had a slight preference for the "Published" order, but that's only because that's how I was raised, and I'll never forget the moments of wonder & revelation when I read The Magician's Nephew for the first time. Wow. But I didn't know which order Jack himself preferred.

So first of all, which order do you prefer? And why?

And then here's a really good posting on that over at another web site called What Order Should I Read the Narnia Books in (And Does It Matter?). I couldn't discover the author. Please do read it, and please read all of it, if you can. There are some very interesting points, especially the quote from Lewis. And I wonder what you think of the ending of this article?

By the way, I was really glad that the new movies are being made in the "original" order (even though that idea is now skewed a bit by that article), but I think we should all write to Douglas Gresham & beg him on bended knees to make sure the screenplay of Prince Caspian is much, MUCH more accurate than LWW! Sure, Disney probably thinks that modern viewers are too dumb for that kind of slightly elevated British 1950s English. But, as CSL himself said in the preface to Mere Christianity, "I don't think the average reader [viewer] is such a fool." Hear, hear.


Rosie Perera said...

The author of that article appears to be Andrew Rilstone, as it is linked from his website of his writings. Often you can track down the author of a web article (if not mentioned in the text itself), by clicking the Home link at the top or bottom of the page, or if none exists, by successively whacking off one piece (between /'s) of the URL at a time until you get to something accessible and informative. In this case all I had to do was go to the parent site where that file resides,, to find out the author's name. And that site, though no longer active, pointed me to the current location of his web archive, which has other interesting writings, including a link to his blog that is more actively updated and has lots of Inklings posts.

I too am glad I read the Narnia chronicles for the first time in their "Published" order. I have a bit of a bias towards that order, for the same reason you mentioned. And I liked Rilstone's list of four points in the case for reading them in published order. But as he also pointed out, once you've read them all, it doesn't really matter what order you read them over and over in, or even whether you read the whole series over or just one book. They all stand on their own.

Iambic Admonit said...

Thanks for the little web lesson! Very useful. :)

Ched said...

I favor the published order as well.

Disney probably thinks that modern viewers are too dumb for that kind of slightly elevated British 1950s English.

This is a tragedy indeed. I enjoyed LWW immensely. However, there was definitely something missing, aside from the plot deviations. It was Lewis' narrator. The moments in LWW that make you stop, re-read and re-read again are the ones where the narrator has given meaning to a specific scene or event. Who can forget the childrens' varying reactions when they heard Asalan's name for the first time. It was the narration in the book that gave that scene such power. I don't think this can be re-created by even the most intense soundtrack special effects.

The most glaring example of this for me was the execution scene, when Asalan is marching to his death. It was good, but without "though, had the Lion chosen, one of those paws could have been the death of them all," it lost most of the impact it could have had. They interweaved some of this narration into the actual dialogue of the characters, but I think a voice over narration would have made this good movie great.

My rambling will now stop!

Iambic Admonit said...

Excellent observations. But do you really think a voice-over narration would have done the trick? Aren't those just cheesy, no matter how well done? Can you think of an example in which a voice-over realio-truli worked? I mean, we must admit the fact that it's a movie, & if you want all of Lewis's words, you must read the book. But why not at least use his conversations, eh?

gymbrall said...

I too prefer the published order, though I have to admit... I'm so embarrassed... I've never read A Horse and His Boy... sob... where is my dust and ashes??

Rachel LeAnn said...

I'm in favor of the original order of reading the books (and wrote a lovely long post all about it, which disappeared when I went to sign into blogger).

I think the order is best in the old way, though you are jolted a bit by having Susan and Co. show up in The Horse and His Boy (which occurs most of the way through LLW). Lewis meant Jesus to be taken away from the stained glass and put into a situation where he may not be immediately identifiable. If you begin with The Magician's Nephew, you lose out on that because you know who he is from the beginning. The mystery is best when he is introduced bit by bit. Then the actually "theology" books are the last two.

It's similar to reading LOTR. You could read the Silmarillion first, and get all of the history and theology before you begin. But how much better is it to read the Hobbit first, then the Trilogy, and if you want more information read the backhistory to fully understand what happened to the elves, how Sauron fell and who Gandalf really is.

Chronicles of Narnia are the same. Begin with the "child's book" where everything is presented fresh, and as a fairy tale. Then progress to Dawn Treader, Prince Caspian, and the Silver Chair -- all adventures. Then The Horse and his Boy, which sticks out a bit from the rest. And finally the theology books, Magician's Nephew and Last Battle.

Iambic Admonit said...

Thanks, Rachel! And Gymbrall, you'd better get on it! Judgment day is coming. :)

Leopold said...

Hi, admonit, I love your posts. I recently re-read the Narnia series, just before the movie came out, and I had borrowed one of those editions that puts them in the chronological order as opposed to the published order.

Now I know this may sound iconoclastic and all, but I noticed a lot of different things reading them that way. I had read them in the published order when I was little, and rereading them chronologically gave me a much different sense, not only of the story, but of Lewis's personal connection to the books. For example, reading The Magician's Nephew, and then going into The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, there is a very different style of writing there. You notice, being able to directly compare his later book to his earlier one, how his sense of language, as well as his sense of the character of Aslan has developed. It's like when Lucy returns to Narnia in Prince Caspian, and sees Aslan for the first time and she notices how he looks bigger than before. He tells her "I look bigger because you have grown so much," or something to that effect. I don't know if I favor either order at this point, though if I had only read them in the published order, I think I would say I favored that way. But I loved reading them the new way becasue I noticed so many different things. Just my two cents.

I will add, that if they don't buck up from the hollywood extravaganza of a movie that came out last year, I think I'm gonna have a bone to pick with the next one.

Iambic Admonit said...


I totally agree with you! I've read them in both orders, & really enjoy both. Once I even read MN, then the first bit of LWW, stopping during the Pevensies' reign, then read H&HB, then went back & finished LWW so it was just exactly in order.

I like what you say about the writing style. Can't say I've got anything else profound to add at the moment.

MatDonna said...



that's how they express it at the Into the Wardrobe forum...they even have a "club" in support of the original published order :-)