The Order Matters: A Narnia Rant
This is one of those posts that will barely fall under the rather large umbrella of Truth and Charity. It’s more or less just a rant, but it’s about C. S. Lewis and he was a Christian, so, yeah. That’s about it.
I’m in the middle of reading my oldest sons the Chronicles of Narnia. Actually, we’re almost at the end of it, and are currently close to the end of The Magician’s Nephew. In case you haven’t read them (I know, I know; I almost can’t believe there are people out there who haven’t read them either), this book is the equivalent of the “origin story,” where we learn how exactly Narnia came to be, and how that terrible witch got there, and how the Talking Beasts learned to talk. It’s the book in which we come to know how it all began and why everything in the other books happens.
Based on this, it makes perfect sense that it is book number six out of seven, right? Apparently, the powers that be in the publishing world don’t agree, and have reordered the books based on their chronology in the story as opposed to the order in which they were published. For a Narnia purist such as myself, this is a true pet peeve.
I respect an author’s right to not have his final work altered in any way that he does not approve himself, especially when this is done to an author who is deceased and cannot, therefore, defend himself or his work. It just seems like so much personal violation. Lewis wrote his books in the order in which he wrote them. Before we decide that we, as readers, know better, maybe we should read it at least once the way he wrote it: all mixed up and jumbled and perfect.
Reading Narnia in the order in which he wrote them allows us to meet the characters as he met them. Clearly, the Pevensies, although not the first kings and queens of Narnia, are some of, if not the most important. They are what the whole story hangs upon, and when we don’t meet them until the second book, they lose some of their importance in the mind of the reader. If Lewis had wanted us to meet them after we knew everything about Narnia, I tend to think he would have written it that way. No, Peter, Susan, Lucy, and Edmund must come first. They capture the imagination in a way that few of the other characters do. Lucy, in particular, is someone who must become a part of the backdrop of the entire series. If you know these four first, you remember them throughout the rest, and it somehow makes more sense because of it.
Even though this last reason will seem completely backwards, it’s probably the best for reading them in order of publication. When Christ spoke and taught to His Apostles and disciples, it’s safe to assume that most of them had at least a working knowledge of the scriptures. Because of this, they were afforded the opportunity to see His words and actions fulfill much of the Old Testament prophesies. They needed to know what had come before to understand better what was happening then. It’s similar with Narnia. In reading through the books the way Lewis wrote them, one catches all of the hidden gems that he places throughout, the purposeful foreshadowing that he works into the later books in the series, referring back to the earlier ones. If one had not read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, say, one would not understand the importance of a lamp post suddenly growing in the middle of a field in The Magician’s Nephew. If one hasn’t read not only that, but also The Silver Chair, one would never recognize in Jadis the terrible evil that she brings into the new world of Narnia. It loses impact. Reading them in the right order helps one to see just how important each of these things is.
So, now that I’ve bored all three of you with my literary snobbishness, I’ll sum up my rant briefly. Read the books in the order right order (and nobody gets hurt). The right order is, of course, this: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Silver Chair; A Horse and His Boy; The Magician’s Nephew; The Last Battle.