Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How should the Narnia Chronicles be read?

Should the Narnia books be read in the order they were written or according to their place in the chronology of Narnia? Opinions differ and dubious claims have been made that Lewis himself preferred the latter. Alister McGrath, in my opinion, argues persuasively for the former:
.... 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 Asian was any more than you do." But anyone who has read The Magician's Nephew already knows a lot about Asian. 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' 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. .... (Alister McGrath, C.S. Lewis - A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, 2013.)