What Order Should You Read “The Chronicles of Narnia” In? (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

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Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

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THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

Should The Chronicles of Narnia be read in chronological order or in publication order

Star Divider
Chronicles of Narnia

Spoilers for The Magician’s Nephew!

Short Answer:

Publication Order

Long Answer:

I have a feeling many readers, as I was, are first introduced to Narnia through C. S. Lewis’s most well-known book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and that’s likely to influence my opinion here.

My third grade teacher read aloud The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to my class, and from there I was hooked; I would check and recheck the books out from the school library (except The Last Battle, which I struggled with), until I finally got copies of my own to read and reread. Narnia was magic, and I fell in love with it while watching little Lucy Pevensie try to convince her siblings it was real in the first place, and then try to help save it.

I was less enthralled by The Magician’s Nephew, though I did enjoy it. Digory’s uncle is a bit nuts and, honestly, a bit frightening, and I wasn’t drawn to him as a major character when I was child. There is also something cold and austere about the place in which the children wake up the White Witch, and I wasn’t entirely sold on the in-between land of lake portals. Or the singing of creation. Or…a lot of things, really. It was all very interesting, and I think I find it even more interesting as an adult (knowing more about how Tolkien also incorporated music into the creation of Middle Earth, as well as why both he and Lewis might have chosen to do so). But I didn’t love the story or the world or the characters the way I did with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

There’s something that really makes sense to me about falling in love with Narnia first– and then going back to The Magician’s Nephew to see how it was all created. The origin story is interesting because the reader already knows what it’s going to be. If I’d read The Magician’s Nephew first, I wouldn’t understand who Aslan or the White Witch were. I wouldn’t know what Narnia was or why I should particularly care about its beginnings. I wouldn’t have had the fun aha! moments of thinking, “That’s how the lamp got there!” or “That’s why the wardrobe was magic!” I’m sure many people do read The Magician’s Nephew first (I probably would have, too, if I’d discovered the series on my own and had been told it was book one!). I don’t think I would have liked the experience as much, however, as starting with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Briana

19 thoughts on “What Order Should You Read “The Chronicles of Narnia” In? (Classic Remarks)

  1. Alyson Woodhouse says:

    Definitely publication order, that’s certainly how I was drawn in. I actually quite like the Magicion’s Nephew, but I agree, it is probably not the best place to start. It was the Horse and his Boy which I found a bit odd for some reason, and much of the Last Battle went over my head the first time round, but I wasn’t especially familiar with the ins and outs of the book of Revelations, which is kind of essential in order to really get it. A great series though, and one I have a lot of affection for.

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I think The Magician’s Nephew has grown on me, but I’m not sure what I would have made of it if I’d read it first when I was in third grade! I agree there are also a lot of things that become clearer if you’re aware of the theological influences!

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  2. ashley says:

    I’ve always read The Magician’s Nephew first for some reason, and I’ve always known The Magician’s Nephew to be the first book in the series.

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  3. Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

    I second publication order. IT’s a very adult idea to want to enter a world and completely understand it. I think of The Magician’s Nephew as a prequel, rather than a part of the series. Or more like The Silmarillion in the sense that it gives the reader a firm understanding of Narnia, how it works, and the people who live there. But if you read it first… then the magic of exploring Narnia with the Pevensies is lost. It’s a very adult idea to want to understand something fully first. And, honestly, does anyone read Narnia because they want to feel adult?

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I do think a lot of the initial appeal of The Magician’s Nephew for me was “Ooh, I understand that allusion!!!” I guess it *could* go the other way, and one could read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe second and think, “Hey, it’s that lamppost the witch threw!” but…I don’t know if it’s as exciting that way.

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  4. majoringinliterature says:

    I was very much for chronological order when I first began reading Narnia, but I think more recently I’ve come round to the publication order. I also found The Magician’s Nephew harder to get into, but when I started reading Narnia it intrigued me enough to keep reading and eventually fall in love with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I think if I were to tell someone to read the series today, I’d definitely tell them to start there rather than with The Magician’s Nephew!
    Here’s my response to the question: https://majoringinliterature.wordpress.com/2020/10/11/should-the-narnia-books-be-read-in-chronological-order-or-in-publication-order/

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I wonder if a lot of my reaction would depend on my age. I first got into Narnia in third grade, and I don’t think I’d have loved The Magician’s Nephew that much to necessarily read more of the series. If I’d been older? Or if I, uh, even had the vaguest sense that CS Lewis was a famous author and this series is widely beloved, I might have been inspired to read more. But The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was just a random book to me when I first encountered it, and I liked it, so I read the rest of the books.

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      • majoringinliterature says:

        Fair enough! I honestly don’t know what kept me interested in the series – I think I had some vague sense that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was a book I had to read so I kept ploughing through The Magician’s Nephew. I’m definitely glad I did. 😀

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  5. Never Not Reading says:

    So I found that all the comments on my blog has converted me, and I am now a publication order fan for my own kids. I should probably find out what that order is…

    I have to say, though, that I *loved* the in-between pool world place and the rings! I’ve never made the connection before, but this book is probably why I love alternate-world or parallel-world books/movies so much.

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  6. Anna says:

    The first Narnia I read was Voyages of the Dawn Treader in fifth grade. Having seen the first two movies I didn’t need much introduction into the world. It took didn’t take until eight grade is when I had to read The Hobbit for school and one of the lessons I remember the teacher mentioning that Tolkien and Lewis were friends and that rekindle my interest in the Narnia series. So I read Magician’s Nephew for that was label book one. For a while I was confuse as to why The Loin, the Witch and the Wardrobe was made into a movie first and not The Magician’s. I eventually re-read the series in publishing order.

    Even though I didn’t originally read Narnia in chronological or publishing order I still find the Magician’s Nephew to be magical. I find The rings and the world between world to be fascinating. The one scene where the rulers are sitting on their thrones is really creepy. It still struck me with chills.

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