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Should the Narnia books be read in chronological order or in publication order?

The Narnia books were a massive part of my childhood. I read them and re-read them, listened to radio dramatisations, and anxiously awaited the release of the movies, long after the age where this sort of feverish devotion to a children’s series might have been deemed acceptable.

So naturally the question of whether they should be read in chronological order or publication order is one that I feel I have to weigh in on, and since that’s the theme of this week’s Classic Remarks, well, here I go.

Before I get into the details, a little recap of the publication versus the chronological order of the series. I’ve colour-coded each book so you can see where it fits into the series as a whole.

Publication Order
  1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
  2. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (1951)
  3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
  4. The Silver Chair (1953)
  5. The Horse and His Boy (1954)
  6. The Magician’s Nephew (1955)
  7. The Last Battle (1956)
Chronological Order
  1. The Magician’s Nephew
  2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  3. The Horse and His Boy
  4. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia
  5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  6. The Silver Chair
  7. The Last Battle

Incidentally, I found these lists on Narniaweb, where they have a much more informed and in-depth discussion about reading order. So if at any time you want to release yourself from my ramblings and learn about this topic from someone who’s actually sat down and done their research, please do check out the article above.

But if you’re with me for the long haul, then brace yourselves. Because for me, the reading order of the Narnia books was never even a topic for discussion. That’s because I came to the Narnia series through an edition of the complete Narnia series at our local library. It featured colour illustrations by Pauline Baynes, and was overall just an incredibly beautiful book. (A slight note here: while writing this post I went and scoured the internet trying to find the exact edition that my library had. And after a little digging I found it, and on a whim ordered it from AbeBooks. So thank you Briana and Krysta for a great Classic Remarks prompt that also inspired me to do something I’d wanted to do for a very long time!)

Over the years I think I must have borrowed this book at least a dozen times, and read it even more than that. I loved the illustrations that went along with the stories, I loved the magical world that Lewis had created, and I loved the characters, even poor Susan, who kind of gets the raw end of the deal at the end of the series.

Of course, like many collected editions of the Narnia series, this book was organised according to publication order. I was the kind of kid who found it simply sacrilegious to skip over any part of a book (I still struggle with the compulsive need to avoid DNF-ing a book, even a boring one, even one that’s eight hundred pages long – hello, my current nemesis, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars). So I read the series according to chronological order, and it never even occurred to me to read it any other way. In fact, I’m not sure I even knew that the books were published in a different order until many years later.

Perhaps I’m just uninventive, and feel that it’s best to read a series of books chronologically to see the story unfold in a particular way. Because despite everything, I think I still lean towards supporting the chronological order as the way to go.

On the other hand, the argument that a lot of people make is that the best way to read the series is with the book you’re most likely to get into. That’s undoubtedly The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Even with all my love for neat timelines, I have to admit that the characters in The Magician’s Nephew are nowhere near as endearing as the Pevensie kids, and that the story as a whole just can’t compare. So this is quite a compelling argument.

I think at the end of the day, it all depends what kind of person you are – are you the kind of person who likes a neat timeline, to see the progression of events from A to B to C, or are you happy with skipping around if it means you get to immerse yourself in a world by starting with the story that will draw you in the most? It all depends on who’s doing the reading. Once you’re a fan of the Narnia series, maybe chronological is the right way to go, but if you’re approaching it for the first time, especially as a young kid, maybe publication order is the better choice.

Having said all this, however… I think that to be perfectly honest, so long as you’re reading Narnia, it doesn’t much matter what order it’s in.

How about you? Do you think the Narnia series should be read in chronological order?

12 replies on “Should the Narnia books be read in chronological order or in publication order?”

I’d say it’s best to go in chronological order except I’d start with Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and just read Magician’s Nephew if and when – because it just feels like a prequel! Same with Horse and his Boy, because it feels like a stand alone?

the world of Narnia was very real to me; i especially had a sort of end of the world/zen experience at a very early age from reading “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”when the water gets increasingly shallow and there’s a kind of mist in the air: i can feel it now, even… i read the series five or six times, i think… long ago, now, as i’m 77. i’d say the chronological method is best, except i can’t imagine not reading tltwatw first… finding the door in the back of the wardrobe is key to the whole work, imo…

My edition has them in chronological order, and when I do a full reread (for the penning of some very belated reviews) I shall again read them in chronological order, not publication order, because that’s the way I tackle series!

In years gone past I only read two, the LWW in paperback along with another title, the Dawn Treader one perhaps though I can’t swear to it, and I simply hated them compared to LOTR. I’m hoping a second full read of the series will modify my antagonism a little!

I think that chronological order thing for me may be a result of studying History till I left school, and then subsequently being involved in amateur archaeology. Having a strict timeline allows one to gauge whether or how some events precipitated others, for example, or how histories and anecdotes can get embellished or distorted out of recognition by later chroniclers.

Reading a book series where one has to hop back and forth in the historical sequence is confusing and can result in misleading conclusions, I find. It’s bad enough taxing the mind in a standalone novel that does this, but not a series! 🙂

For me, it’s important to read Lion, Witch and Wardrobe first — and to read Silver Chair & The Last Battle last, as a pair. How you read the books in the middle doesn’t matter so much, I don’t think.

It’s amazing how much power the publishers have over these things, at least for children. :D I had a box set of the books, and it was not only chronological order, but numbered that way! So it wasn’t till much later that I learned about the publication order. Like Calmgrove I’ve always been very timeline-oriented (even to the point of having a mental image of a timeline) so chronological would usually be my preference. :)

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