Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media’s new movie, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, recently completed its opening weekend, pulling in at #1 with a $56.6 million draw at the box office.
As is often the case with movies based on books, we see a spike in the popularity of the related book. This time is no exception, as our copies of Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia, by C.S. Lewis, have been flying off the shelf in recent weeks. However, the Chronicles of Narnia series has been a mainstay of popular children’s literature for the better part of 50 years. This librarian has been a fan ever since receiving a hand-me-down box set of the 1970 publication (pictured above; keep reading to find out why this is important) as a young child.
Perhaps you are interested in exploring the world of Narnia too. If so, allow a veteran to give you some advice as you begin your journey.
The first thing you should consider is in which order to read the books. If you come into the Library and pick up a copy of Book 1, you will be holding The Magician’s Nephew. Why then, does the movie sequence begin with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? The reason is that the seven books of the series were published out of sequence according to the Narnian timeline within the books. Ever since the seventh story was released, there has been debate as to whether the series should be read in publication order or chronological order.
Publication Order (Year published)
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
- Prince Caspian (1951)
- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
- The Silver Chair (1953)
- The Horse and His Boy (1954)
- The Magician’s Nephew (1955)
- The Last Battle (1956)
Chronological Order (Narnian Year of events in book)
- The Magician’s Nephew (1)
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1000)
- The Horse and His Boy (1014)
- Prince Caspian (2303)
- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2306)
- The Silver Chair (2356)
- The Last Battle (2555)
Initially, the books were printed with numbers corresponding to the publication order. But since 1994, the books have been numbered according to chronological order. The publisher asserts that this was Lewis’ preferred order, based on a statement in a letter to a young fan in which he defended the reader’s preference for reading the series chronologically. “The series was not planned beforehand…” Lewis wrote, “so perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone read them.”
Many others, including myself, agree that publication order is the best way to read the series, and it’s not just because of the order of my first box set. Lewis’ letter seems to me as being fairly non-committal and the acknowledgment that the series was not planned is one of many compelling reasons for publication order. For example, the world of Narnia is introduced in a more expository fashion, slowly and mysteriously, in Lion, than in Magician’s Nephew, where the reader is dropped immediately into Narnia, suggesting that he or she is already familiar with the land. By reading in publication order, the reader can follow along with the growth of Narnia in exactly the same fashion as it was revealed through Lewis’ pen.
Some readers will prefer the continuity and natural sense of following the story in chronological order, from creation to the last days of Narnia. But those readers may lose certain “a-ha!” moments that come with prequels. If read in publication order, details revealed in The Magician’s Nephew will bring the reader full circle back to Lion in a creative twist. When read back to back, the same details are more obvious and the twist loses some of its effect.
If you crave to know for yourself, the only way will be to read the series in both directions and come to your own conclusion. However, there is no argument here that the series can be immensely enjoyable regardless of the order. So pick up Lion, Nephew, or even Caspian (if you can), and happy reading.