Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" should come first

When I first read the Narnia books they were numbered in the order of publication, i.e. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was first. Now, based on a recommendation from Lewis himself, they are published in Narnian chronological order, i.e. The Magician's Nephew is number one. Lewis didn't get very much wrong but, in my opinion, he did on this. Charles Starr at the C.S. Lewis Blog explains some of the reasons:
Slightly modified
Original Release Order
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Horse and His Boy
The Magician’s Nephew
The Last Battle ....

....I want to offer the following reasons for reading the Narnia books in their original published order:
  1. The Magician’s Nephew doesn't captivate new readers as well as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe does. I’ve heard stories of people reading Nephew and quitting the rest of the series! Wardrobe grabs readers more powerfully on a first reading.
  2. Some bits in Wardrobe don't make sense if you read Nephew first. Lines like, "None of the children knew who Aslan was anymore than you do…" (74) make no sense to readers of Nephew, and Aslan’s introduction in Wardrobe loses some of its mystery and power.
  3. Reading The Horse and His Boy fifth punctuates the book’s major theme: Providence. The first four books (if read in published order) all contain quests which are defined fairly early in the story. When we come to Horse, we suddenly encounter a story which has no clear quest until it’s been fulfilled. Nor do we encounter familiar characters or places in the beginning of the book as we do in Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair. We feel as lost as Shasta does. There's an "otherness" to Horse, a strong contrast between it and the first four books in the series. All this lends to the main point of The Horse and His Boy: that though real life looks meaningless, purposeless, quest-less, and confusing, God is operating behind the scenes toward amazing ends—the theme of Providence. There is a quality in Horse which mimics in theme and technique the biblical books of Ruth and Esther. Here we encounter almost secular stories which nevertheless show how God often operates in the world, behind the scenes. Horse is so very different from the other books in the Narniad because it is so very much like the common experience of lives in this (our) world. But it loses a lot of that quality if read second or third.
  4. Nephew gains mythic power by being read in order of publication. By itself, Nephew is good, but what makes it wonderful is that we read about a world we've already fallen in love with (by reading the other books first). We meet the Aslan we've grown to love so dearly, the old professor as a boy (who will then reappear immediately in The Last Battle so that we feel the freshness of his presence there). We delight in learning where the wardrobe that started all the adventures comes from (but the wardrobe will mean nothing to the first time reader of Nephew who begins with that book). The power in Nephew is born out of its status as a true prequel. Its meaning is made deeper, more wonderful, because of the tales we've encountered before.
I grant these arguments aren’t earth shattering, but I stand by the position that the best way to read the Narnia books is in their original published order. .... [more]