“The Chronicles of Narnia” were my introduction to fantasy as a child. I was given the series as a Christmas present and I remember spending the rest of winter break reading them. This particular re-read was to introduce my 7 year old daughter to Narnia and I’m thoroughly annoyed that recent editions of the series has re-arranged the order of the books. My set was ordered: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, A Horse and His Boy, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle. My daughter’s set is in chronological order: The Magician’s Nephew, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle.
Apparently the change in order was a long time coming to the United States. After the seventh book was published, C.S. Lewis was asked what was the best way to read the books. He suggested chronologically might be easiest. Sometime after, British publishers changed to chronological order. American publishers continued to number the series in publication order. For thirty years both versions were available. In 1995 a new publisher took over in the US and made the change to the English, or chronological, order.
Sometime in middle school I decided to re-read the series but in chronological order, starting with The Magician’s Nephew instead of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I thought it was a clever way to enjoy the story in a different way. Over the years, I’ve read the series both ways but I strongly believe that published order is a better way to be introduced to Narnia than the chronological order.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe slowly invites you to discover a magical world through Lucy. The magic isn’t looked for and that’s part of the wonder as she stumbles backward through the wardrobe. There is a coziness to the narration, the sense of being told a story as opposed to reading a story. It lends itself well to being read aloud, and my daughter listened intently as I read it to her. In published order The Magician’s Nephew is a wonderful compliment to a world you are already familiar with. It answers questions previously raised and gives you a deeper appreciation of the world.
I feel that when you read The Magician’s Nephew first and then The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe second, TLtWatW loses that sense of wonderment, which is part of what makes it special. You aren’t being introduced to Narnia, it becomes a continuation of a larger adventure you have already started.
Stories do not need to be told in a linear fashion. Nothing is taken away from the reading experience of The Magician’s Nephew whether you read it first or sixth (or anywhere in between, I suppose). However, the discovery of Narnia as a complete world is lost when you don’t start with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. If they are going to be sold chronologically perhaps there could be a forward to let readers know there is an alternate way of reading the series.
Is this just me? Or are there other published order is best people out there?
Things I appreciated more on this re-read:
C.S. Lewis was a talented writer, I really like how well the children are portrayed as children. Lucy’s continual awe at Narnia. How Edmund is a great sulker, you can hear the whine and hurt feelings in his voice and actions. Peter’s desire to take action even though he is completely out of his depths. The way the children stand around awkwardly when finally reunited with Edmund. Everyone wanting to convey that everything is alright but no one could come up with anything to say. Susan and Lucy’s utter devastation after Aslan’s sacrifice.
Living in Southern California, my daughter was completely unfamiliar with most every flower and tree mentioned in the book. So we would stop and look up pictures on the internet. This added a richness to the experience as previously I only knew some of the plants. It also had me paying attention to the environment more. C.S. Lewis actually spends a fair amount of time describing the natural world of Narnia. It feels as though he had a great love for the outdoors.
This passage in particular jumped out at me. It’s Mr. Beaver talking to Peter, Susan, and Lucy just before they discover that Edmund is missing.
But in general, take my advice, when you meet anything that’s going to be human and isn’t yet, or used to be human once and isn’t now, or ought to be human and isn’t, you keep your eyes on it and feel for you hatchet.
This is excellent advice for any fantasy/fairy tale.
I have yet to grow tired of this book. Though at this point in my life, after untold readings and having read it to both my daughters, I suspect it will be quite some time before I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe again.