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There are two common reading orders for the Chronicles of Narnia:

The original publication 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

The chronological order, preferred by C.S. Lewis:

  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

Why is the order of The Chronicles of Narnia changed from original publication? asks why publishers changed their minds regarding the reading order; but this question is asking for the reasons for and against reading the books in the two orders listed.

Specifically, I am interested in things such as, For example:

  • How does the reading order affects the reader's understanding of the world, if they are approaching it for the first time. Does one reading order make it harder to follow than the other?
  • Do you notice a lack of character progression (or not get introduced to a character properly) if you read in a different order to the order in which the books were written?
  • Does reading the books in a different order add to or lose some of their algeorical impact?
  • Does reading the books not in in-universe-chronological order cause issues when reading them?

I am looking for objective reasons to back up your possibly-subjective answers

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    Hi. Since you have been on the Stack Exchange network, I assume you know that the rules are against questions that invite strongly opinion-based answers. (See e.g. What types of questions should I avoid asking?) For this reason, I would appreciate it if you could edit your question to clarify how people should answer your question without relying solely on personal opinions. – Tsundoku Jul 20 at 11:39
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    In my opinion, asking for "reasons for and against" makes this a Good Subjective question, inviting answers based on objective reasoning rather than personal opinions. Questions about reading-order are well established on this site, including many less objectively worded than this one, and also approved by community consensus on meta. – Rand al'Thor Jul 20 at 12:21
  • I've expanded the question a bit to try and help it fit better. @Randal'Thor if you want to edit to add further points, feel free; seeing as your comment inspired the question – simonalexander2005 Jul 20 at 13:25
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    For proper chronological order you need to stop near the end of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, read The Horse and his Boy, then finish off the last few pages of TLTWATW. – Showsni Jul 24 at 12:53
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I first read the books in the chronological ordering when I was about five. And that, I think, makes a big difference, because to a five-year-old, The Magician's Nephew is a slog. I didn't understand what the Victorian era was, or why we were in the Victorian era, or why the characters used such odd slang, or what a hansom cab was, or any of the references Lewis was making to other genres of literature, or how the whole book is a clever fantasy spin on Genesis and original sin. Don't get me wrong; it's a great book, and I got a lot out of reading it at such a young age. There was imagery and symbolism that was so powerful I could feel exactly what it was meant to express, even if I missed the delicate web of references it spun. But it's not representative of the rest of the series. It doesn't set the tone for what's to come, and it's harder for younger readers to get through.

On the other hand, I absolutely loved The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. I was less bothered about the details of the real world, because the book seals itself off in the Professor's country estate, and the war that drives the Pevensie children there is more stage-setting. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe sets the tone for the series much better than The Magician's Nephew. It's a lighthearted adventure with fun moments alongside its scary moments, heroes alongside its villains. The characters have agency and grow, and redemption, one of the major themes of the series, comes through much stronger.

So after I finished The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, I was eager for the next book and I picked up The Horse and His Boy. I was in for another shock, because even though the Pevensie siblings (in their adult forms) appear as minor characters, the main characters are completely unrelated to anyone we saw in either of the first two books, and the action takes place entirely outside Narnia. The tone is much closer to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe than to The Magician's Nephew, but it was still odd to think of the book as a sequel to either of them.

Then with Prince Caspian we're back with the Pevensies and it's a direct sequel to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. And that continues with each of the last four books in the chronological ordering. Edmund and Lucy and Caspian himself reappear in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, then their cousin Eustace brings Jill Pole into Narnia in The Silver Chair, and Eustace and Jill come back to finish things off in The Last Battle. The tone is always fairly consistent, though The Last Battle reintroduces some of the cosmic tone of The Magician's Nephew, especially towards the end.

There's an obvious through line to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Silver Chair; and The Last Battle. Four of the five books have got a Pevensie in there somewhere (only The Silver Chair has no Pevensies at all). All of them have got at least one major character from the previous book. All of them have a tone of lighthearted adventure that gets heavier at certain moments. All of them have themes of redemption, and give their child heroes agency in the plot. Reading The Magician's Nephew before the other books muddles and confuses things. It shares some elements with them, but I found when I reread it later that a lot of it lands better if you already know Narnia. To take a very obvious example, there's a throwaway line on or near the last page that explains how the wardrobe from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe came to be. If you've read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, that line causes a little thrill as you see the pieces come together. But the first time I read the book, all that line made me think was "What's a wardrobe?" That's always the way with prequels; they're written after the original, so they assume you understand the significance of certain things.


Now, to more directly answer the questions:

  • Reading The Magician's Nephew first means that you understand exactly how Narnia was made from the beginning. But if you've never seen Narnia before, who cares how it was made? Reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian first teaches you what Narnia is and why you should care about it. At that point, you're more interested to see what's in that world outside Narnia in The Horse and His Boy, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Silver Chair. And the beginning and end of Narnia that you see in The Magician's Nephew and The Last Battle have a lot more impact.
  • The characters still develop naturally in the chronological order. Time in Narnia passes more quickly than in our world, so the children often show up hundreds of years after the last time they were there, and that means there are very few recurring characters. The Magician's Nephew and The Horse and His Boy aren't important to the development of any of the major characters, and the other five books are still in the same order relative to each other as the release order, so it's more like you get the same character arcs but they're interrupted by extra material in the chronological ordering.
  • Some might prefer to read The Magician's Nephew before The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe because it contains the allegory for original sin, while The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe contains the allegory for Jesus dying on the cross. On the other hand, Aslan's sacrifice in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is perfectly well motivated within that book, and if you understand the Biblical context enough to care about this, you probably already understand what original sin is. What allegory The Horse and His Boy has is more general and self-contained, and the other books are in the same relative order either way.
  • Reading the five books that I think of as the "Pevensie arc" out of order could make things very confusing. These books do continue on from each other, and you'll miss important character development if you read them out of order. It's especially important to read The Last Battle last, because it really is the end of all things Narnia. You could read The Magician's Nephew and The Horse and His Boy pretty much anywhere and be fine, but I think they'll make more sense and land better if you read them after The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian.

To wrap up, this is my preferred reading order for continuity of plot, character, theme, and tone.

  1. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe - It introduces the four Pevensies, who are pivotal characters in Narnia. It introduces the world of Narnia, and Aslan is a major presence instead of being on the outskirts like he is in a lot of the other books. The later books have lots of references back to it. Only sometimes are these vital to the plot, but it's still nice to get them.
  2. Prince Caspian - The direct sequel to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, with the same cast of four Pevensies.
  3. The Horse and His Boy - The middle to end of Dawn Treader to me feels like the point where the series starts to get a little more mature, a little less lighthearted. The Horse and His Boy has the same lighthearted tone as the earlier books, so I recommend reading it here. Dawn Treader also wraps things up for the Pevensie siblings, so it makes sense to see them as kings and queens in The Horse and His Boy before then.
  4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - Introduces Eustace, the Pevensies' cousin, who will be important for the last few books. Wraps up Caspian's arc for the series.
  5. The Silver Chair - Eustace returns, along with Jill, who will be the main character for this one and The Last Battle. The Silver Chair continues the slightly darker tone that began in Dawn Treader.
  6. The Magician's Nephew - I think this is the right time to see how Narnia was made, once you care about it from reading the previous books. This book also has a darker tone, which will be less jarring if you've read The Silver Chair already. Otherwise it's pretty self-contained. Most of the characters are completely new. It's the first book to really dive into the weird cosmic multiverse stuff.
  7. The Last Battle - This needs to go last. It's basically Narnia's version of the Book of Revelation. Jill and Eustace return from The Silver Chair as main characters.
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    Great well-reasoned answer, even though I started with The Magician's Nephew at less than five years old and had no problem with that :-) A couple of minor things: I'm not sure what you mean by "darker tone"? Silver Chair yes, but is Voyage darker than Prince Caspian?? Maybe it's been too long since I looked at the books ... Also, I'd say it's technically Silver Chair that wraps up Caspian's arc for the series: Voyage gets him married, but Silver Chair sees his line continue, his life as an old man and death, and even the return of young Caspian at the very end. – Rand al'Thor Jul 26 at 5:25
  • @Randal'Thor Eh, I guess it's debatable if Voyage of the Dawn Treader is darker than Prince Caspian. I think it transitions from lighthearted to darker over the course of the story. The turning point for me is Lucy looking at the book in the magician's house and fantasizing about making Susan envy her. In the other books Lucy is always portrayed as the purest and most virtuous, so it feels darker for her to show a flaw like that. The book also ends on a more somber note than Prince Caspian; Reepicheep basically commits suicide in search of a greater truth. – Torisuda Jul 26 at 6:14
  • I'd say Caspian's presence is still felt in Silver Chair, but I don't think the book advances him much as a character, which is why I say his arc wraps up in Dawn Treader. Silver Chair is the book I remember least, though, so I could also be underselling his importance. – Torisuda Jul 26 at 6:16
  • Also, regarding The Magician's Nephew for young readers, it might be somewhat culture-dependent. I'm American, so The Magician's Nephew was literally the first time I had ever heard of the Victorian Era, and I'm not sure I was even completely aware the book was in a different country. A British reader, even a very young one, might have absorbed more of that context. – Torisuda Jul 26 at 6:21
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As others have said,

  • The first list is in date of publication (but not necessarily date of writing) order.

  • The second is in "apparent timeline order".

The Magician's Nephew is unquestionably first in time order (within Narnian space-time).
In other space-times anything can happen relatively.

The time-location of The Horse and His Boy is more uncertain but its position in the second list is reasonable.

None of which answers your question.
I'll assert, with certainty of disapproval from some, that in providing his "approved order" list, and having become immersed in the Narnia universe as a whole, Lewis lost touch with his original vision, for his reasons for writing the original story and for the effect that his suggestion would have on his target audience.
Why publishers do what they do is more inscrutable - but using Lewis's approved order is reason enough if you don't care about the effect on the target audience.

TLTWATW is written solidly for both children and adults. The master storyteller is talking to you, no matter how old you are. There are hard lessons and harrowing passages and pain and anguish, but that young children are an utterly essential part of the target demographic is never forgotten.

By itself TLTWATW is a stand alone story - which is how Lewis originally intended it. We start off with a little scene setting (London in the Blitz meant children being evacuated and ...) - handled incredibly well by the opening scenes of the film. We rapidly progress to wonderment (what's in the wardrobe) friendship and betrayal (Tumnus) greed and betrayal by those close to you (Turkish delight) with forays into talking Beavers - indeed, talking everything, an unexplained magical something happening (always winter and never Christmas) and hints that the King is coming to set things right. Some fearsome stuff happens along the way. But a well watched over child might almost read the story, learn much, become a little more adult quicker than otherwise, and not end up vastly more scarred in the process. Everything is "well enough explained" along the way. Knowing where Jadis fits into the picture, why she thinks she knows the rules, why Aslan knows she doesn't and more might be useful knowledge, but the story is complete without this knowledge, because that's how Lewis originally intended it.

The Magician's Nephew is a completely different affair. It reeks of evil, murderous malfeasance and occult practice throughout. Lewis finely crafts Digory's uncle as an execrable, despicable, crawling failure. But it's hardly children's fare. The lessons of the magic rings are not good ones. The search for rings to get back to Narnia is never identified as the utter antithesis of "What would Aslan do?" which it clearly is. Mass murder beyond anything we have ever known - with pride and refusal to fail the key element - certainly an intended image of Lucifer but not how any childhood educator would choose to present the subject to impressionable minds.

I read the series as an adult starting, thankfully, with TLTWATW.
I read the Magician's Nephew last (I think). It was in large part a terrible tale - redolent of evil. Not badly written as a story, but not what I'd want in any part as a childhood memory. Or as a founding adult one. If I'd read The Magician's Nephew first I may well have read no further. Its "explanations" were interesting, but hardly necessary to any of the other stories. I would not consider introducing a child to the series with TMN. Nothing in the tale is essential and much is dangerous. The impression given overall is nasty. The story has its place, but not as flagship to a most valuable series of stories. The others all have hard and demanding lessons. But no other so consistently descends to TMN's depths.

TL;DR (at the end) For only the second time in my experience*, Lewis got it wrong :-). There may be other occasions, but I've not noticed them.


*Unrelatedish, but: The other was re his comments on the role of women in public worship. As a long time CSL reader and enthusiast, when I came upon it I thought I was about to read a reasoned & definitive statement on a rather fraught matter. I was astounded at the lack of overall perspective and amazed that the Lewis that I thought I knew had written it. Almost all else of his that I've met I lap up :-).

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