Apr

16

2013

Trevin Wax|3:10 am CT

Why You Should Read Narnia in Publication Order

There are three ways to read the seven Chronicles of Narnia, but only one of them is best.

Date of Composition

Some fans of Lewis like to read the Narnia series in the order he wrote the books.

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

Chronological Order

Recently, Harper Collins has repackaged the Narnia series in the order that best fits with the internal chronology of events. The compilation book includes this statement:

“Although The Magician’s Nephew was written several years after C. S. Lewis first began The Chronicles of Narnia, he wanted it to be read as the first book in the series. HarperCollins is happy to present these books in the order in which Professor Lewis preferred.”

  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

Publication Order

The third way to read Narnia is in the order the books were published.

  1. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950)
  2. Prince Caspian (1951)
  3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
  4. The Silver Chair (1953)
  5. The Horse and His Boy (1954)
  6. The Magician’s Nephew (1955)
  7. The Last Battle (1956)

Why You Should Read Narnia in the Publication Order

As one who has read The Chronicles of Narnia multiple times, I have strong opinions on how they should be read.

Date of Composition? Only if you’re a Lewis scholar interested in the development of his thought.

Chronological Order? Please disregard the Harper interpretation of Lewis’ views. That statement is up for debate.

In C. S. Lewis – A LifeAlister McGrath summarizes the reasons you should stick with the publication order. I agree, and this is the way we introduced the books to our kids.

1. Repackaging the books by internal chronology is not really possible.

“The chronological approach raises considerable difficulties for readers. For example, the events of The Horse and His Boy actually occur during, not after, those of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This makes the reading of the work quite problematic if strict internal chronology is used as the criterion for determining the correct order of reading.”

2. The introduction of Aslan is best in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

“The most significant difficulty concerns The Magician’s Nephew, the last in the series to be written, which describes the early history of Narnia. To read this work first completely destroys the literary integrity of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which emphasises the mysteriousness of Aslan. It introduces him slowly and carefully, building up a sense of expectation that is clearly based on the assumption that the readers know nothing of the name, identity, or significance of this magnificent creature.”

“In his role as narrator within The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lewis declares, “None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do.”But anyone who has read The Magician’s Nephew already knows a lot about Aslan. The gradual disclosure of the mysteries of Narnia—one of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe‘s most impressive literary features—is spoiled and subverted by a prior reading of The Magician’s Nephew.”

“Equally important, the complex symbolic structure of the Chronicles of Narnia is best appreciated through a later reading of The Magician’s Nephew. This is most helpful when it is placed (following the order of publication) as the sixth of the seven volumes, with The Last Battle as the conclusion.”

3. Lewis’ subtitles reveal his intentions.

“Subtitles are generally omitted in recent printings of the works. One of these is Prince Caspian, the full title of which is Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia. Its illuminating subtitle clearly suggests that this work ought to be read immediately after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Lewis uses the subtitle A Story for Children for two, and only two, works of the Chronicles of Narnia—namely, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Last Battle. This phrase, “a story for children,” is Lewis’s inclusio. The remaining five novels are thus bracketed or enfolded within these two bookends, which define the start and end of the series. The decision not to reproduce these subtitles in recent editions of the Chronicles of Narnia has obscured Lewis’s use of this literary device, and thus somewhat concealed his purpose.

Russell Moore also advocates for reading Narnia in publication order:

The Magician’s Nephew is what would be called in today’s film lingo a “prequel,” rather than a beginning. The narrative takes place chronologically before the other stories. But it makes sense only when read after them. That’s because it ties together loose ends and throws further light on the origins behind some of the characters and plotlines readers have already grown to know.

The Magician’s Nephew, then, is not like Genesis in the biblical canon. That’s the place of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,providing the foundational story.

Narnia scholar, Devin Brown, concurs:

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.

Take my word for it. If you’ve not read Narnia for yourself yet, or if you are getting ready to introduce your kids to this series, please read the books according to the publication dates, not the publisher’s statements.

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