In What Order Should You Read The Chronicles of Narnia?

original book illustration by Pauline Baynes

While this question is characterized as the debate among Lewis scholars and aficionados, it only recently developed and has only really become a discussion. In fact, I would argue, there is not much of a real discussion.

Originally, The Chronicles of Narnia were published, one a year from 1950 to 1956, in the following order:

  1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  2. Prince Caspian
  3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  4. The Silver Chair
  5. The Horse and His Boy
  6. The Magician’s Nephew
  7. The Last Battle

That was the accepted and understood organization of the books (with only a few minor deviations) since that time until 1994.

It was then the publisher of the series, HarperCollins, decided to change the order to one of internal chronology, which would be as follows:

  1. The Magician’s Nephew
  2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  3. The Horse and His Boy
  4. Prince Caspian
  5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  6. The Silver Chair
  7. The Last Battle

Their rationale? C.S. Lewis wanted it read that way.

Baynes’ drawing of Cair Paravel

HarperCollins’ collected edition in 2005 included the statement: “Although The Magician’s Nephew was written several years after C.S. Lewis first began The Chronicles of Narnia, he wanted it to be read as the first book in the series. HarperCollins is happy to present these books in the order in which Professor Lewis preferred.”

When did Lewis state he would rather readers begin their Narnia adventure with The Magician’s Nephew and not The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? The only place that has ever been indicated was in a letter to an American child named Laurence Krieg.

He wrote several letters to Laurence and his mother. (You can see one of the actual letters here.) In one famous letter, Lewis tells the mother to allay the fears of her son, who has become worried that he may love Aslan more than Jesus.

But in the letter relevant to our discussion, Lewis sided with Laurence in a discussion he was having with his mother over the correct order of the books:

I think I agree with your [chronological] order for reading the books more than with your mother’s [publication]. The series was not planned beforehand as she thinks. When I wrote The Lion I did not know I was going to write any more. Then I wrote P. Caspian as a sequel and still didn’t think there would be any more, and when I had done The Voyage I felt quite sure it would be the last, but I found I was wrong. So perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone read them. I’m not even sure that all the others were written in the same order in which they were published.

That tepid endorsement of sorts for 11-year-old Laurence’s preferred chronological order is the justification for changing the suggested reading order of The Chronicles.

Lewis, as has been widely discussed, responded to all of his mail and wrote back to children fans with astounding grace, humility and appreciation. He wanted to encourage them in their love of literary and their faith.

Is it not just as, if not more, probable that Lewis was encouraging his young fan rather than prescribing the order his books should be read from that day forward?

Aslan through Baynes’ pen

Count me with Paul Martin of NarniaFans.com, Russell Moore, Alister McGrath, who wrote the fantastic C. S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, and Trevin Wax, who summarizes well the best arguments in favor of publication order. Reading the books as they were first published tells the best story of Narnia, particularly beginning with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Wardrobe gives such a magical introduction to Narnia, the world and her people, and a mysterious and alluring introduction to Aslan. Magician’s Nephew does not come close because it was not written to do so. It is constructed as a prequel — showing us the background of a story we already know and love.

That is not to say you cannot appreciate the series if you start with Magician’s Nephew or even if you randomly pick up Silver Chair and branch out from it.

But I do believe there is a sense of awe that is missing if your journey does not start with Lucy stepping in the wardrobe, past the fur coats, through the rough tree branches and out into the magical world that is always winter and never Christmas, waiting for the Lion, who is good, but not safe, to come and sacrificially redeem a life and restore things as they should be.

After all, aren’t we waiting for the same thing?

Lucy walks through Narnia with Mr. Tumnus the faun

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About Author

Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.