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Darrel Manson

In which order to read Narnia?

In which order should the Narnia books be read?  

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Peter elsewhere linked to the controversy about the "proper" order to read the Chronicles of Narnia. At B&N tonight, I noted that all the collections (both printed and recorded) were in Chronological order. So what are you a Chonologicalist or a Publicationist?

Edited by Darrel Manson

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Publication order is the order in which they were written. (Lewis said later that he was never quite sure that they were all published in the precise order in which they were written, but internal evidence seems to indicate that they were. And certainly chronological order is entirely wrong.)

Chronological order is a lame-o marketing gimmick. Transposing LWW and Magician's Nephew robs LWW of its mystery and Magician's Nephew of its sense of revelation. It's not entirely unlike watching the Star Wars movies from episode I to episode VI, though of course Lewis was a far more careful craftsman than Lucas.

The publishers claim that they're doing this in accordance with Lewis's "original intentions," which is SHEER NONSENSE. The claim is based on a letter that Lewis wrote to a boy in which the boy said that he was trying to put the books into chronological order, which Lewis said he thought made sense. That's hardly the same thing as wanting to renumber the books in published editions of the series.

I love love love it that the movie is reinforcing the CORRECT order. Maybe someday they will STOP THE MADNESS and release a new edition of the series that restores the correct sequence.

Incidentally, the current Narnia text, standardized in 1994, contains a number of unfortunate editorial decisions. While the editors charged with standardizing the text correctly eliminated a number of changes introduced by American editors, they also eliminated changes made for the American edition by Lewis himself, which goes contrary to the general precept that you respect the author's final intention over their original intention.

For example, they correctly restored Aslan's onomatopoeic roar ("Haa-a-arrh!") at the end of the parley with the Witch in place of the godawful American edition's "Wow!" (why American editors thought that US children would understand "Wow!" better"Haa-a-arrh!" is a mystery for the ages). OTOH, they also restored the original name of the Wolf Peter kills to "Maugrim," a made-up name that some commentators have proposed is suggestive of "grim maw," even though Lewis had changed its name for the American edition to "Fenris Ulf," suggesting the eschatological wolf Fenris from Norse mythology. Fenris is a much better name for the Wolf than Maugrim, and it was Lewis's revision; yet the current standard text uses "Maugrim" because that was original. Boo hiss.

Edited by SDG

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Chronological order is a lame-o marketing gimmick. Transposing LWW and Magician's Nephew robs LWW of its mystery and Magician's Nephew of its sense of revelation. It's not entirely unlike watching the Star Wars movies from episode I to episode VI, though of course Lewis was a far more careful craftsman than Lucas.

A most amazing syzygy! Steven and I are aligned.

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Hm, I see that the article Darrel links to above (which Peter linked to originally) contradicts me on one point: It claims that the original publishing order differs from the authorial order in one particular, that Lewis wrote The Horse and His Boy before The Silver Chair rather than after. I guess it's true, though I'd be curious to find out how we know.

Assuming it's true, the anomalous Horse and His Boy -- the one story in the series that isn't about children from our world who are drawn into Narnia -- was written in between the natural continuity of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair, both of which involve Eustace Clarence Scrubb.

In this case, I don't think the authorial order is in any way significant, and I think it makes sense to read The Silver Chair directly after The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and then come back to The Horse and His Boy, as per the original publishing order.

I do NOT think it makes sense to read The Horse and His Boy "chronologically," immediately after LWW and before Prince Caspian, since LWW and Prince Caspian clearly represent one story strand and The Horse and His Boy would be just as much an interruption there as it is in the authorial order between Dawn Treader and Silver Chair.

Thus, the original publishing order makes most sense, and corresponds to the authorial order in all particulars except as regards the anomalmous The Horse and His Boy.

Edited by SDG

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SDG wrote:

: It claims that the original publishing order differs from the authorial order in one

: particular, that Lewis wrote The Horse and His Boy before The Silver Chair rather

: than after. I guess it's true, though I'd be curious to find out how we know.

FWIW, the second-to-last paragraph of Chapter III of The Silver Chair includes this bit:

And when all the serious eating and drinking was over, a blind poet came forward and struck up the grand old tale of Prince Cor and Aravis and the horse Bree, which is called
The Horse and His Boy
and tells of an adventure that happened in Narnia and Calormen and the lands between, in the Golden Age when Peter was High King in Cair Paravel. (I haven't time to tell it now, though it is well worth hearing.)

I would say it's plausible to suppose that Lewis would not have written such a summary if he had not already written the full story, or at least the bulk of it.

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Actually, this suggests to me that Lewis finished The Silver Chair BEFORE The Horse and His Boy, or at least that he intended for The Silver Chair to be "first" and Horse & His Boy "second." Lewis is essentially promising to tell the story at a future time, not alluding to a story that he presumes the reader already knows.

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Lewis is essentially promising to tell the story at a future time, not alluding to a story that he presumes the reader already knows.

Kind of how each Hardy Boys book contains a plug for the next one...

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I like it as well that the film order is following publication/authorship order (regardless of the "higher criticisms" being made) for two reasons:

First, it feels right to go with Lewis on the journey of his creativity as it "unfolds" before him and us

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My brother leans toward Chonologicalist (he's an atheist, so I expect him to be wrong at times.) But he has a compromise, recognizing that LWW really does need to be first. Do LWW, then Magician's Nephew for the backstory, then The Horse and His Boy and on in Narnian order.

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Well, that's a big improvement on chronological, since it puts LWW and TMN in the right order, which is probably the main problem with the strictly chronological reading.

The publishing order, though, has the virtue of following the characters. First you follow all four Pevensies from LWW to PC, then you continue with Lucy and Edmund in VotDT, picking up Eustace, whom you then follow into TSC. Then comes the anomalous THaHB, which features a guest appearance by the Narnian-adulthood Pevensies but isn't about them. Finally, you pick up Digory and Polly in TMN, and return to the entire cast in TLB.

The publishing order also represents increasing explorations of the Narnian world into various dimensions of space and time:

  1. LWW: Establishes Narnia itself, with redemption as the center and foundation of the whole mythos.
  2. PC: Takes a giant leap into the future as well as a step south into Archenland.
  3. TVotDT: Sails east, allegorically headed to the heavens, to the regions of the sun and Aslan's own country.
  4. TSC: Goes north and finally deep into the Narnian underworld.
  5. THaHB: Goes south, deep into a culture further removed from the Narnian milieu than anything else in the Narnian world.
  6. TMN: Goes back in time to Narnia's origins and beyond, as well as west to the land beyond Lantern Waste.
  7. TLB: Goes ahead in time to the Narnian apocalypse and beyond.
Edited by SDG

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SDG,

I love the list you made that helps us understand how Lewis helped us grasp how "wide and long and high and deep" this tale really is.

Denny

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FWIW, SDG, Lewis biographer Alan Jacobs, in the Boston Globe, recently referred to The Magician's Nephew as "the 1955 story now marketed as the first in the series because of its recounting of the creation of Narnia, though it was the last of the chronicles to be finished and the sixth to be published."

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I wonder to what extent our preference has to do with what order we discovered Narnia.

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Interesting idea, Darrel. I discovered Narnia in the traditional order. Yet, when I bought a set of the books about 4-5 years ago, they came packaged and numbered in chronological order. At first, the purist in me was pretty miffed at whatever marketing strategy had brought this about. But I read somewhere (and I really can't recall where) that Lewis actually had a preference for the cronological ordering.

At this point, I really don't care. I don't see enough creative or stylistic development to insist on reading them in 'writing-order'. And the books are independant enough to be read in any order. So I voted for a chronological reading as per the author's wishes, but really I don't think it makes a significant difference.

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I wonder to what extent our preference has to do with what order we discovered Narnia.

This may have something to do with it. I first read the books in publication order...some of the later ones just after they were published, in fact, because I'm really old :P

But I do think SDG has made an excellent case for the narrative sense of the publication order, and one thing that reinforced that for me was learning recently--to my great distress--that my niece/goddaughter has never finished the series. She's a great reader and loves fantasy and sci-fi, but after LWW she lost interest halfway throught TMN and her mother hasn't been able to persuade her to try any of the other books. Her elder brother has read them all, though, and I don't know which order he tried.

I just started listening to Prince Caspian (Lynn Redgrave doing a nice job with it so far), and although it's introduced as "Book four," several narrative comments suggest that it makes more sense to read it as "book two."

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I read Magician's Nephew alone-way ahead of the other books. I'd been exposed to snippets of live readings of LWW, and to the cartoon, but it took me a long time and several readings of the whole series to grasp that this story was more than vaguely connected to LWW.

Magician's Nephew works well on those terms, LWW, maybe not so much: I don't have nearly the obsessive devotion to LWW or the Pevensies that most fans do-TMN is its own thing to me, but LWW is to me just a gateway to PC, which is to me a gateway to the more interesting later books (Dawn Treader, Silver Chair, Horse & Boy, and Last Battle).

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My far too long blog post on why the chronological numbering on modern editions of the Chronicles is a travesty and the only right order to read the books (at least for the first time) is the original publishing order. 

 

I consider the chronological numbering system a travesty, since I maintain that the only right way to discover the Narnian world is the way Lewis “discovered” it.
Edited by SDG

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Well, I feel thoroughly justified in starting le fils off with TLtWatW a few nights ago, then. 

 

So far he's hanging with it. As an autistic child, he's more of a concrete thinker than your average 9-year-old. But he loves Nintendo games, and it turns out that Mario and Luigi found their way from Brooklyn to the Mushroom Kingdom via a portal, so he has seized the idea that the Pevensies are getting into Narnia in the same way. 

I considered starting with Magician's Nephew, but I'm glad I didn't. The setup there is more complicated, and if you begin with it, you will be getting a full explanation of Narnia before you get the circumstances that are being explained, which is never very satisfactory. 

Reading in publication order allows one to begin with the simplest foundation and build upon it, logically. 

BTW, I heard that in the film, about 50 takes were involved in shooting Lucy's first scene with the wardrobe. They kept having wardrobe malfunctions. 

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