Thursday, January 31, 2013

Studies in Narnia - Choosing Book Order

One of the world's leading fantasy children classics is the wonderful series; "The Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis.  Since Alice has become interested in reading ever more complex books, and we read together a lot, I felt it was time to introduce her to this fantastic collection of stories.
Before you begin to use the Narnia Chronicles with your kids, you'll have a choice to make about which order to present them.  There is quite a controversy over which order the books should be read in.  When first written and published, "The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe" came first.  However, late in his life, Harper Collins got the rights to re-publish the books and wanted to publish them in order according to their internal chronology and got permission from Lewis to label "The Magician's Nephew" as book number one.  As with anything, there are fans that vehemently disagree with this change and others that argue, there is not other way to read them - Lewis signed off on the change after-all.

In the interests of "full disclosure" I'm going to say, I read them in the order in which they were first published, and I am really glad I did so.  If you read about the Pevensie siblings and their visits to Narnia first, followed by "The Magician's Nephew" you get a nice little surprise that is really fun this way.  If you read the books in the other order, the surprise is ruined for the reader.  I was glad to have that surprise.  Since The Lion, the Witch  and the Wardrobe was the first published, It makes perfect sense as a stand-alone story and the "earlier story" chronologically can later act as a flash-back.  Obviously, Lewis was fine with their original publishing order, as they were published in this order during his lifetime.

Here are some succinctly made arguments from Narnia Web:

1: The Lion is presented very much as the first of a series. It concludes with the words ‘That is the very end of the adventure of the wardrobe. But if the Professor was right, it was only the beginning of the adventures of Narnia.’ The ‘second’ book, Prince Caspian, is subtitled ‘The Return to Narnia.’

2: The narrator of The Lion says ‘None of the children knew who Aslan was, any more than you do.’ But if ‘you’ are supposed to have read The Magician’s Nephew, then you do know who Aslan was.

3: The charm of the opening of The Lion is spoiled if you already know, from Magician’s Nephew, that the wardrobe is magical; that the Professor has been to Narnia, and why there is a street lamp in Narnia. Similarly, the ‘shock of recognition’ in Magician’s Nephew is spoiled if you don’t know the significance of the wardrobe.

4: Why should The Horse and His Boy, which happens during the final chapter of The Lion, be set after it? Could an equally valid case not be made for saying that it should be set after The Silver Chair where it is presented as a story-within-a-story?

Having said all that, Lewis did indicate a mild preference for the Chronological order, but also says order probably doesn't matter at all:

"I think I agree with your order {i.e. chronological} for reading the books more than with your mother’s. 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 as 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."

C.S. Lewis in a letter written in 1957 to an American boy named Laurence.

The "Surprise" I mention that happens in The Magician's Nephew, if you read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe first, is not an earth-shattering one and does not make or break the story.  If you have not already read the books yourself and would prefer to read everything in its "chronological order" (more or less) there is nothing wrong with the Harper Collins order.  One book is a bit of a sticking point, "The Horse and His Boy" actually falls chronologically simultaneously with the adventures of the Pevensie children - or at least there is some overlap in time.  Since "The Horse and His Boy" takes place while the Pevensie children are in Narnia, its placement as set by Harper Collins makes a lot of sense if you'd like to read the story from its "beginning" to its "ending" with as little "flashback effect" as possible.

If you are interested in using the original publishing order, this article goes into more detail about the arguments for the original order and outlines which order the books go in, if you choose to read them this way.

I have personally decided to begin with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (ever after, abbreviated as LWW) with Alice.  The book is one of my favorites and I find the whole series more engaging when beginning with LWW.  It has all the information one needs about the rules of the world of Narnia, how one gets to and from Narnia, what life is like there and offers a sweeping sense of the geography and topography of this fascinating imaginary world.  I will not, follow the publishing order either though.  The Magician's Nephew will be moved from placement as book one, to the placement as book six and treated as one large "Flashback".  Other than that, I will be following the more chronological ordering Harper Collins has chosen.  Lewis himself, said, "So perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone read them."  Though I do think he does an injustice to The LWW for its introductory quality when he said it.  Point is, for that reason, if you would like to use the resources and lesson plans I will be using, it may be a bit of a wait for the resources that go with The Magician's Nephew and The Last Battle.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Educational resources

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