How to Read the Chronicles of Narnia: Retaining the Magic

When I purchased The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, it was meant to be a Christmas present for my then 10-year-old little brother, Jiko. I felt lucky to find a trade paperback with beautifully-illustrated colored sketches that wasn’t hard on my student budget. When I visited my family during Christmas, I was intrigued by the book while my brother read it and instantly borrowed it from him the moment he was done. Jiko was enthusiastic about the battle scene and the animals, but I was over the moon with Aslan, the Pevensies, and Narnia itself! All the stuffy comparisons to Harry Potter by less informed minds were forgotten. Harry Potter… Phlegh! As much as I loved HP 1-4, I felt that book 5 was a sellout.

While in Riyadh, I bought paperback editions of the next books, one by one, until I read all seven. My brother eventually took all six that were in my possession and sneakily brought them over to the Philippines three or four years ago. Because I had the new Harper Collins editions, the books were numbered chronologically according to the timeline when things happened in Narnia. My reading order:

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

I was faithful to the order of the books except for mixing up book 1 & 2, which couldn’t be helped. Still, the order of the books themselves felt odd. I thought Prince Caspian was a better sequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And The Horse and his Boy seemed like a side story, a beautiful one, but awkwardly out of place in the flow of the stories. Even The Magician’s Nephew didn’t have the powerful statement that a first book of a classic series should have.

It was only recently that I learned that the publishing order of the books were different from the chronological order. The original publisher in the 1950’s, Macmillan, published and numbered the books as:

  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

In his lifetime, Lewis never really specified the order of how the books were to be read. But in a 1957 letter to a young fan, he wrote:

I think I agree with your [chronological] order for reading the books more than with your mother’s. The series was not planned beforehand as she thinks. When I wrote The Lion I did not know I was going to write any more. Then I wrote P. Caspian as a sequel and still didn’t think there would be any more, and when I had done The Voyage I felt quite sure it would be the last, but I found I was wrong. So perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone read them. Iโ€™m not even sure that all the others were written in the same order in which they were published. (from Wikipedia)

This letter prompted Harper Collins to number the books chronologically, believing that they were carrying out Lewis’ wishes. However, some scholars disagreed with the chronological sequence and said that Lewis could have been humoring the boy.ย  I tend to agree with the latter reasoning. The Magician’s Nephew simply lacks the magic, the beauty and the oomph that The Lion has and reading The Magician’s Nephew first spoils the surprises in the second book. The awkwardness of The Horse and his Boy was previously mentioned and, in the chronological order, Caspian pops in and out of the stories in an odd way.

After much thinking on the matter, I decided that, in my own personal opinion as a reader, the proper reading order shouldn’t be the chronological order nor the publishing order. Instead, I chose to be faithful to Lewis’ writing order:

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

It’s odd, but this way, the story makes much more sense. The introductory magic and mystery is retained in The Lion, the storyline of Caspian is smooth, The Horse and his Boy properly breaks the Caspian section before The Silver Chair, and Diggory Kirke’s prequel story clarifies a lot of things right before you land on the seventh and last book: The Last Battle.

If you’re re-reading the books, try this order. And if it’s your first time, I promise you won’t be disappointed. ๐Ÿ™‚

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7 thoughts on “How to Read the Chronicles of Narnia: Retaining the Magic

  1. My first encounter with the Chronicles was in second grade, when I was eight. I borrowed TLWW from the school library and proceeded to devour the entire series (publishing order, since these were the old Collier US editions, which unfortunately only had pictures “adapted” from Pauline Baynes’ originals). To date I usually re-read them at least once a year, and my soundtrack for Trumpets’ musical version of TLWW is often in my playlist.

    Anyway, the Chronicles basically started my lifelong love of fantasy fiction. By the time Harry Potter rolled along, I’d already read J.R.R. Tolkien, Robin Mckinley, Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula le Guin, Madeleine L’Engle, Anne McCaffrey, etc. Which probably explains why I wasn’t really that impressed with the HP series, particularly since I’d read a lot of YA fantasy which managed to tell a lot more story in a lot less space! ^^;;

    I hated Neil Gaiman for a while after I read his reasoning behind his short story “The Problem of Susan”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Pevensie#Other_appearances

    I mean, I was a student in a Christian school, and I was still able to appreciate Narnia for the sheer fantasy of it, rather than the supposed allegorical parallels with the Christian story. It’s just too bad that young Neil wasn’t able to do the same.

    Anyway, glad that you were able to discover the Chronicles, even if it was a late date. LOL.

    • I love Tolkien, L’Engle and read some McCaffrey (not a fan but she’s ok). That short story by Gaiman is something that I would want to read. Susan’s story and her fate intrigues me. I wonder what happened to her and if she ever accepted that the events of her childhood were true. If I ever experienced Narnia like she did, I’d NEVER forget it!

      Oh yes, I am a late convert of the Chronicles. Haha. I think I was with you when I bought The Lion for my brother because I remember asking you if it would be a good buy. It was the same day I bought Stardust (I think).

      • Hmmm, was that during the last time we went shopping in Glorietta? In Goodwill Bookstore I think.

        I think that the point with Susan was not (as Gaiman says) that Lewis excluded her because she discovered sex. Susan was excluded because she stopped believing/lost faith. Now of course if one wanted to relate this to Christianity of course the allegory is there (if Susan regains the faith that she lost, then she will find heaven AKA Narnia again. But if one decides to ignore the allegory, then it’s no different from that part in Peter Pan where Peter asks the children of the world to show that they beleive in fairies to save Tinkerbell’s life. Faith/belief equals power/enablement in a lot of fantasy worlds, after all. Even animes use this concept–just look at Magic Knight Rayearth’s Cephiro.

        BTW, would you like some book recs? ๐Ÿ™‚

        • Discovered sex? Haha. Peter was older than her and I’m sure he discovered that sooner. Yes, I do believe she had lost the faith. I just find it hard to believe that she completely lost faith and belief in Narnia when she spent so much time in Narnia and the intensity of their experiences is certainly life-changing.

          Feel free to rec books. I really appreciate that. I read the best ones through recommendations from readers I trust (e.g. Wolf Hall, WoT). ๐Ÿ˜€ You know me… I like a lot of genres and always have a long reading list that I mix up from time to time. Aside from the rest of Wheel of Time, the Dresden series (not sure about this yet), and George RR Martin’s books, I don’t have anything else in line for the fantasy genre.

          • Yeah, apparently an interest in lipsticks and nylons equates to an interest in sex for Gaiman. My take on that is, more along the lines of an interest in things of the world (material possessions) vs. things of the spirit/imagination.

            Hmmmm. Fantasy book recs, coming up!

            Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson series and Alpha and Omega series (werewolves/shapeshifters urban fantasy, lots of humour)

            Jacqueline Carey (Kushiel’s Dart and its sequels. Ummm, S&M in fantasy, tastefully done with lots of flowery language as well)

            Anything by Patricia McKillip (very pretty, fairy tale like fantasies written in lovely prose style)

            The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Over Red Skies (forgot the author, but it’s like Ocean’s Eleven in a fantasy setting)

            Lynn Viehl’s Darkyn series and Kyndred series (filed under paranormal romance, but because the books don’t focus as much on the main “couple” as romances should, I’d rather label them as urban fantasy)

            Anything by Guy Gavriel Kay (The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy was his only straight epic fantasy series though, the rest of his books read more like historical fantasies)

            Lots more recs to come, but you can start with these for now. BTW, did you download that Japanese Yeston/Kopick Phantom I linked to you?

  2. Thanks for this post Steffi! I read the Magician’s Nephew first and I found it boring I didn’t even bother reading the other books. But now i will rummage through my book shelf for Chronicles of Narnia and will read it in this order ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Oh it’s so worth it, Trish. Read it again in the alternative order and you’ll see how Lewis’ mind worked. He never meant for The Magician’s Nephew to be read first. It’s The Lion that’s the true introduction to Narnia.

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