There are three ways to read the seven Chronicles of Narnia, but only one of them is best.

Date of Composition

Some fans of Lewis like to read the Narnia series in the order he wrote the books.

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

Chronological Order

Recently, Harper Collins has repackaged the Narnia series in the order that best fits with the internal chronology of events. The compilation book includes this 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.”

  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

Publication Order

The third way to read Narnia is in the order the books were published.

  1. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950)
  2. Prince Caspian (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)

Why You Should Read Narnia in the Publication Order

As one who has read The Chronicles of Narnia multiple times, I have strong opinions on how they should be read.

Date of Composition? Only if you’re a Lewis scholar interested in the development of his thought.

Chronological Order? Please disregard the Harper interpretation of Lewis’ views. That statement is up for debate.

In C. S. Lewis – A LifeAlister McGrath summarizes the reasons you should stick with the publication order. I agree, and this is the way we introduced the books to our kids.

1. Repackaging the books by internal chronology is not really possible.

“The chronological approach raises considerable difficulties for readers. For example, the events of The Horse and His Boy actually occur during, not after, those of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This makes the reading of the work quite problematic if strict internal chronology is used as the criterion for determining the correct order of reading.”

2. The introduction of Aslan is best in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

“The most significant difficulty concerns The Magician’s Nephew, the last in the series to be written, which describes the early history of Narnia. To read this work first completely destroys the literary integrity of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which emphasises the mysteriousness of Aslan. It introduces him slowly and carefully, building up a sense of expectation that is clearly based on the assumption that the readers know nothing of the name, identity, or significance of this magnificent creature.”

“In his role as narrator within The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lewis declares, “None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do.”But anyone who has read The Magician’s Nephew already knows a lot about Aslan. The gradual disclosure of the mysteries of Narnia—one of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe‘s most impressive literary features—is spoiled and subverted by a prior reading of The Magician’s Nephew.”

“Equally important, the complex symbolic structure of the Chronicles of Narnia is best appreciated through a later reading of The Magician’s Nephew. This is most helpful when it is placed (following the order of publication) as the sixth of the seven volumes, with The Last Battle as the conclusion.”

3. Lewis’ subtitles reveal his intentions.

“Subtitles are generally omitted in recent printings of the works. One of these is Prince Caspian, the full title of which is Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia. Its illuminating subtitle clearly suggests that this work ought to be read immediately after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Lewis uses the subtitle A Story for Children for two, and only two, works of the Chronicles of Narnia—namely, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Last Battle. This phrase, “a story for children,” is Lewis’s inclusio. The remaining five novels are thus bracketed or enfolded within these two bookends, which define the start and end of the series. The decision not to reproduce these subtitles in recent editions of the Chronicles of Narnia has obscured Lewis’s use of this literary device, and thus somewhat concealed his purpose.

Russell Moore also advocates for reading Narnia in publication order:

The Magician’s Nephew is what would be called in today’s film lingo a “prequel,” rather than a beginning. The narrative takes place chronologically before the other stories. But it makes sense only when read after them. That’s because it ties together loose ends and throws further light on the origins behind some of the characters and plotlines readers have already grown to know.

The Magician’s Nephew, then, is not like Genesis in the biblical canon. That’s the place of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,providing the foundational story.

Narnia scholar, Devin Brown, concurs:

One need not be a Lewis scholar or an English professor to see that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe must be read first if we want to walk with and not ahead of the four Pevensie children as they hide inside the Professor’s strange wardrobe and enter an enchanted land called Narnia. Reading this story first is the only way we can share their wonder.

Take my word for it. If you’ve not read Narnia for yourself yet, or if you are getting ready to introduce your kids to this series, please read the books according to the publication dates, not the publisher’s statements.

Print Friendly
View Comments

Comments:


25 thoughts on “Why You Should Read Narnia in Publication Order”

  1. Sean Wilson says:

    See also: Star Wars.

  2. Greg says:

    Agreed. This is how I read them as a child and how I am having my children read them as well.

  3. Thank you so much for writing this! I too have read it several times and am just appalled at it being available in chronological order. It ruins the true design of CS Lewis’ storytelling. It makes so much more of an impact when you let CS Lewis take you through the story they way he intended.

  4. Melody says:

    If you haven’t read them but have seen the movies. As an adult, do you recommend the same way?

    1. Adam Shields says:

      Yes. Probably even more so because the way that the themes build on one another. Often kids will miss some of this if reading on their own, but as an adult it just makes more sense.

  5. Nathanael says:

    You have no idea how much this warms my heart!

  6. Kim Shay says:

    I took a children’s literature course in college, and we read them in the publication order because the prof felt strongly about the late introduction of The Magician’s Nephew. When we read them to our kids, we read them in publication order.

  7. rcjr says:

    Thank you dear brother for making this case. I have been a hard core advocate of this position since the gnostic, modernist, merely chronological order was published. The proper order also gives the best of the seven its greatest moment in the sun, The Magician’s Nephew. Not just plot lines but curiosities are cleared up. May we never give up the tradition that has been handed down to us.

  8. Andrea R. Smith says:

    Interesting positions to read. I read them in publication order, but after reading Magicians Nephew the first time, I was confused as to why it wasn’t before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, nor did I understand the placement of Horse and His Boy (at the time). I’ve decided to reread them in chronological order for the sake of seeing the timeline for myself and honestly, I see no problem with that.
    My daughter has watched the BBC and Disney versions of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and I entreated her interest by beginning with The Magicians Nephew first. That’s what I love about these books! They are ours to treasure, to read again and again.

  9. Brittney G. says:

    I wrote a paper on the Chronicles over ten years ago, and I remember a reading a response from Lewis himself when asked why he started with The Lion, Witch and Wardrobe rather than with The Magician’s Nephew – he said we all come to understand God first through our salvation (Edmund’s story), and only later come to understand Creation in light of our salvation. I think he’d be a pretty big advocate for reading them in that order – but I’d rather someone just read the whole series (even in chronological order) than not read it because a bunch of us are arguing about the order :)

  10. Pingback: Bookmarks 4/16/13
  11. Too late! I just re-read the entire series -chronologically – last month in anticipation of reading them to my girls. I wish I had read this before.

  12. Kirsty says:

    I recently bought the Narnia series, and I’ve spent ages trying to works out which order to read it in. After some research, I realised I bought the books on the exact ten year anniversary of Lucy Barfield’s death (the Dedicatee of LWW). This somehow made up my mind to read them in publication order.

  13. Wangari wa Nyatetu-waigwa says:

    Thanks to Trevin Wax for providing us with strong arguments against Harper Collins’ extremely presumptuous and disingenuous move. C.S. Lewis is no longer here to defend his preference, so publishers decide they can do whatever they want. That’s dishonest.

    To further bolster Wax’s arguments, authors who write series (e.g. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, etc.) have the whole series planned out before they write the first book. They know from the outset how they want to begin and end the series. And the fact that C.S. Lewis wrote “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” first for his Goddaughter Lucy, is an indication that’s her, and our initiation into Narnia. I read this series in the original order as a preteen growing up in Kenya. I had no problem with the order of the books. When my husband and I had children of our own in the USA we read The Chronicals to them in the original order, much to their enjoyment, and that’s the order I’ll recommend to children in my life to whom I offer them as a gift. I’ve already botched it with the first two children I gifted these books to because I sent then as packaged from the vendor, not realising the publisher had changed the reading order. Shame on Harper Collins.

  14. Wangari wa Nyatetu-waigwa says:

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Thanks to Trevin Wax for providing us with strong arguments against Harper Collins’ extremely presumptuous and disingenuous move. C.S. Lewis is no longer here to defend his preference, so publishers decide they can do whatever they want. That’s dishonest.

    To further bolster Wax’s arguments, authors who write series (e.g. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, etc.) have the whole series planned out before they write the first book. They know from the outset how they want to begin and, continue, and end the series. And the fact that C.S. Lewis wrote “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” first for his Goddaughter Lucy, is an indication that’s her, and our initiation into Narnia. I read this series in the original order as a preteen growing up in Kenya. I enhad no problem with the order of the books and enjoyed them tremendously. When my husband and I had children of our own in the USA we read The Chronicles to them in the original order, much to their enjoyment, and that’s the order I’ll recommend to children in my life to whom I offer them as a gift. I’ve already botched it with the first two children I gifted these books to because I sent then as packaged from the vendor, not realising the publisher had changed the reading order. Shame on Harper Collins.

  15. Meg says:

    Does anyone have any suggestions on which publication year is best to buy a set from. As far as the books having the best illustrations inside and best text print quality? I don’t have a set yet, and wondering if I should buy new or a more vintage set? Thank you!

  16. Ölvir says:

    But doesn’t the silver chair include spoilers for the horse and his boy ? If so the composition order is the best one (although I would mix the publication order and composition order into one and read it like this:
    The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
    Prince Caspian
    The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”
    The Horse and His Boy
    The Silver Chair
    The Magician’s Nephew
    The Last Battle)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

Trevin Wax's Books