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The Chronicles of Narnia

Reading the History of Narnia as It Unfolds

By Dan R. Dick

In 1957, C.S. Lewis responded to an inquiry about the correct order in which to read The Chronicles of Narnia by saying that the order probably didn’t matter. Lewis wrote bits and pieces of the entire epic series at different times and published them in a random order. It was never his intention to create an alternate reality with a distinct history. Instead, Lewis chose allegory as a device to impart important theological, philosophical, and ethical truths to children and young adults. Each book was intended to stand alone, but also to interconnect around the mythical land of Narnia. Unlike J.R.R. Tolkien, whose The Lord of the Rings trilogy created a complete mythical world, Lewis mixes the best aspects of fables and parables to share important lessons about faith, loyalty, integrity, honor, sacrifice, and joy.

For years, readers have debated whether it is best to read the series in the order it was published, or in the order of the unfolding history of Narnia. The two lists below contrast the published order with the chronological order of the story:

 Published order

 Chronological Order

 The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950)

 The Magician’s Nephew (1955)

 Prince Caspian (1951)

 The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950)

 The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

 The Horse and His Boy (1954)

 The Silver Chair (1953)

 Prince Caspian (1951)

 The Horse and His Boy (1954)

 The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

 The Magician’s Nephew (1955)

 The Silver Chair (1953)

 The Last Battle (1956)

 The Last Battle (1956)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Magician’s Nephew is the prequel to the entire series, explaining how Aslan created Narnia and gave the gift of speech to the animals. It lays the mystical groundwork for all that is to follow. Read first, it provides a foundation and framework for the series. Read in its published order, it returns to the origins and answers the question, “But where did Narnia come from?”

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is ideal—either as the sequel to The Magician’s Nephew or as the introduction to Narnia. Sales of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe almost equal the sales of the other six volumes combined. It’s popularity and honored place in the fantasy genre are richly deserved. When people think of Narnia, they generally think of the adventures of Lucy, Edmund, Peter, and Susan on the other side of the old wardrobe.

The Horse and His Boy is a wonderful interlude between The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, and it helps make sense of the story as it unfolds. It tells the tale of a talking horse that saves Narnia from invasion, and explains the Narnia that exists by the time revealed in Prince Caspian.

Regardless of the order in which you read these tales, Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader belong together. Dawn Treader continues the epic story of Prince Caspian, bringing it to a satisfying conclusion. Dawn Treader also introduces Eustace—a key figure in the remaining stories.

The Silver Chair tells the story of Eustace and his friend Jill as he returns to Narnia to rescue a captive prince. The Silver Chair sets up the ultimate struggle between good and evil in The Last Battle better than The Magician’s Nephew, and closes out the Eustace trilogy. The Last Battle is a powerful conclusion to the chronicles, regardless of the order the other books are read.

The question of which order is best may never be resolved. In fact, perhaps it is better left unanswered. Both orders provide a unique and compelling reading experience. Reading the books in the order they were published reveals a collection of legendary tales all related to the mythic land of Narnia. Reading the books in the order of events creates an epic drama played out from origins to ultimate redemption. Either order provides an exceptional experience of a land of make-believe that reinforces some of the essential and eternal truths of the Christian gospels. If you have read The Chronicles of Narnia one way, try reading them in the other order—you may discover Narnia all over again.

Dan Dick is director of research for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tenn.

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