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The oddly numbered Chronicles of Narnia - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
The oddly numbered Chronicles of Narnia
First, I must say that a day spent with books is just never, ever bad. I owned four of the Chronicles of Narnia (The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Horse and His Boy; The Magician's Nephew), and today, I wandered into the library as a regular library user, and checked out Prince Caspian, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle. I read them all in a lovely day of ignoring writing and housework to just yum-up the stories. I'm pretty sure I'd read them all before, but not entirely--I hadn't touched Narnia for years. No animosity, just no real zest for it.

What set me off on this was only partly the upcoming movie, or rather an offshoot of it. Over at Snopes, there was an article about people asking why TLtWatW was being billed as "Book 2 of the Chronicles of Narnia." Which made me scratch my head and go "HEH?" because Narnia was arbitrarily assigned children's status at my library, and I'm therefore not handling the books all the time, and had no idea that about fifteen years ago, the publisher decided, based on an offhand comment of Lewis's, that the books were going to be renumbered.

For newbies who've read it in the last fifteen years or so, you'd be familiar with this numbering:
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

The reason older fans scratch their heads is that we grew up with this 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

My first reaction to hearing about this was to go into my usual "AAAGH! WOULD THEY CHANGE THAT?" mode. My second was to say, "Well, I guess Lewis did mention that reading in chronological order would be good."

I, of course, didn't read them in any order whatsoever, at least on re-read, so I guess I shouldn't talk, but just re-reading them casually, I'm left scratching my head rather than being furious at or sanguine about the order change. Because here's the thing:

Chronologically, they may be in order now, but Lewis wrote them in the old order, and the exposition fairy visits most agreeably in that direction. Lion introduces the world in all its mysteries, slowly brings in Aslan, unfolds the whole thing quite expertly. The Magician's Nephew tacitly assumes you'll know who that singing Lion is when you see him, and have a pretty good idea who the witch is, and squeal in delight when you see the lamp-post grow, because you know it's the first thing Lucy will see--in other words, it functions as a prequel, and prequels work based on knowledge of later things. There's even explicit acknowledgement of this in the text, when Lewis mentions that the boy Digory, one of the two heroes of TMN, grows up to be Professor Kirke, with whom he expects readers to be familiar from other stories. And in The Silver Chair, there's a reference to The Horse and His Boy as a story that will be told later on, rather than one that was told a couple of books ago. Lion shows briefly that time moves differently and Caspian demonstrates it more fully, but TMN takes it for granted that readers are already familiar with the concept, and Lion doesn't open up with an explanation of why it's so much later in Narnia for Lucy... because Lion is the first book, and doesn't need to explain such a thing. Except that now, as it's the second book, it should.

The old order was sensible enough--it told things in the lives of the Pevensie children and their cousin Eustace for four stories, then went back and told a couple of legends about other people, then pulled it all together for the finale apocalypse. It wasn't chronological in terms of the order the stories occurred in, but it kept a reasonably good throughline on the people. Sigh.

I suppose as grand problems go, this isn't going to rate with world hunger, but I just want Conjure Lewis's ghost and say, "Um, I know that was a quick question to which you gave a quick answer--probably something like a JKR interview chat about Weasley ages... did you think about the aesthetic consequences of changing the order?" Because I don't think he could have, but the publisher is really wrapping it in the mantle of authorial intent.

I mean, I know SW re-numbered when ESB was released, but that was to give the idea that we were in medias res, and would probably get back story later. That was part of the thing, and the exposition in the Classic builds into the prequels, no matter what the numbers. Narnia appears to be making a serious effort to change the order in which the stories happen.
33 comments or Leave a comment
sixth_light From: sixth_light Date: November 20th, 2005 02:26 am (UTC) (Link)
I've only _ever_ seen them in chronologically numbered order. But I read them in the order that they were originally written, pretty much. (At least, I know I read Lion first. The rest...I was four. Can't remember.) And I think this is pretty typical of people who read Narnia; no matter the chronological order, they will read Lion first, because that's the one most people are familiar with.

lannamichaels From: lannamichaels Date: November 20th, 2005 02:29 am (UTC) (Link)
I got my hands on them from my brother and the only order I ever knew them in was the original one. When I found out that apparently the Magician's Nephew was supposed to be first, I thought the smae thing you did. I can't understand how you can read that one first. The whole thing about LWW is that it's new, that the reader is discovering it along with Lucy. If you have TMN first, then it ruins the surprise.
kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: November 20th, 2005 04:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Your icon is the best thing I've read all day.
cheshyre From: cheshyre Date: November 20th, 2005 02:38 am (UTC) (Link)
We're of similar age, and I've long had the box set which were in the original order. For a while in high school, I reordered the books in chronological story order, but I always recognized that was me being anal. I don't think I'd ever have wanted the series republished with that order. Maybe a note in the books somewhere listing the order of the stories (such as the timeline in my Companion to Narnia reference book), but this seems a poor choice for the reasons you state.
antonia_east From: antonia_east Date: November 20th, 2005 02:45 am (UTC) (Link)
*happy sigh*

I love the Narnia books. I learnt to read on them - my dad would read, fall asleep mid-chapter, and me being the impatient little thing that I was, would take the book and finish it off for myself. Right now I'm doing a dissertation on them. I think when I was younger I just read the first four books about the Pevensies and Eustace and Jill, and then read the others when I was ten or so. I remember being snootily angry about the ending to the final book. I've always had them as a set which numbered them with TMN as 1 and so forth. I think it works both ways. It's wonderful to read the evolution of the world in terms of its creation through to its destruction in a physical sense, but also its evolution in the author's mind, when read in publishing order. I think it's a good thing to have them packaged chronologically - everyone starts with TLTWATW anyway as it's so famous, but you get from the beginning a sense of where each book fits in in the time-scale.

I wonder how the two orders affect the religious analogies? That'd be interesting to look at, actually, and I hadn't thought of it before.
texasmagic From: texasmagic Date: November 20th, 2005 03:18 am (UTC) (Link)
I think there is a big impact on the powerful effect of LWW when it is read after TMN. When you already know who Aslan is, and the depth and range of his magical power, you lose a bit of the sense of awe for his sacrifce for Edmund.
doomandnachos From: doomandnachos Date: November 20th, 2005 02:51 am (UTC) (Link)
Word. I wish I could find a publishing-order set of Narnia books - I am a complete sucker for backstory (part of the reason I liked HBP so much) and greatly prefer starting the series with LW&W. Perhaps I can wheedle my old set from my mom and dad. :)

harriet_wimsey From: harriet_wimsey Date: November 20th, 2005 03:39 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I think they work best in the order in which they were written, but when I got my very own set a few years back they were selling them chronologically. Hmph! I don't normally read them in any particular order at all, I just read the bit I feel a need for, but I still think of them as existing in the order in which Lewis wrote them. I read an excellent article a while ago discussing the underlying views about the series, Narnia, allegory, etc. that made one system or the other predominate, but I can't remember where. If I find it again I'll let you know, because it was good and really thought-provoking.
hermia7 From: hermia7 Date: November 20th, 2005 03:40 am (UTC) (Link)


Oh man, I'm completely with you, and I guess I hadn't thought it through thoroughly enough to know *why* it seemed so wrong to renumber in chrono order. You're right, though--the flow of Lewis's story crafting is lost when you get all literal with the timeframe.
The box set at my parents' house is in pretty bad shape at this point, and I need my own set, but I keep putting it off because I want an older publishing-order set and I can't afford to get a nice clean one from Alibris or somewhere just now. Ew, on the subject of the new sets, have you seen the all-in-one paperback with all 7? It only has a few of the drawings, and it's tiny print, and so bulky...ugh.
From: venuselle Date: November 20th, 2005 03:40 am (UTC) (Link)
I had NO idea. I read them very recently; a few years ago and absolutely loved the Magician's Nephew but found some of the other books hard to get into. I particularly didn't like the last book. But I can't believe they messed with the order of them! I suppose TMN was supposed to be a prequel but even so,... it'd be like putting the appendices from Lord of the Rings right at the beginning.
ivylore From: ivylore Date: November 20th, 2005 03:46 am (UTC) (Link)
It's been a long time since I read them, but I did read the entire series more than once when I growing up. Had I started with The Magician's Nephew (Digory and Polly right?), I'm not sure I would have read the rest. From what I recall, The Magician's Nephew wasn't my favourite book, not even near the top of the list out of all of them.


Well I suppose they can muck with the ordering since the series was so successful, but to me, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will always be first.

Humph. If it's not one thing I adored growing up being altered, it's another.
kat_denton From: kat_denton Date: November 20th, 2005 04:06 am (UTC) (Link)
I've read my publishing order paperback box set (from c1969) to bits. And what I didn't mangle, the Marine!Goth did as a small child. (The series was our "Mommy, read me THIS book" for quite a long while.)

So as of this afternoon (courtesy of a 10% off coupon and an old gift card from B&N with quite a bit of dosh still on it), I am the proud possessor of a brand new hard bound box set. I was a bit shaken to see the reordering, but, since I know this series so well, as I've been dipping into it all day, I find myself re-reading them in the old familiar order.

I adore Lewis in general, and the Chronicals in particular. And if you are a Christian, run, don't walk and get some of his non-fiction works. "The Problem of Pain" was a lifeline last year.

From the trailers, I have high hopes of the movie.

soonest_mended From: soonest_mended Date: November 20th, 2005 08:13 am (UTC) (Link)
Can I just say this? A-FREAKIN-MEN.

Abolition of Man and Mere Christianity are also amazing, life-altering books. And the Space Trilogy deserves a HECK of a lot more attention than it gets.

Get thee, all of you, to the closest source of Lewis you can find, and *revel* in it.
mistralcat From: mistralcat Date: November 20th, 2005 04:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Word to your entire post. The unfolding of the story and the world just don't work as well if the books are in chronological order.

I think it's telling that the movie series is starting with TLtWatW. Do you know if they're planning on staying with publication order for all of them (if they make all of them, which will, of course, depend on the box office)?
trinity_clare From: trinity_clare Date: November 20th, 2005 04:36 am (UTC) (Link)
I have them in the original order. I'd know that they changed it to put TMN first, but I hadn't realized that they'd moved the other ones around too. If I'd read them in the new order, I would have put them down and never finished. Prince Caspian and Dawn Treader kept me reading all the way through. If Horse and His Boy came right after LWW, I would have run screaming.
caitie From: caitie Date: November 20th, 2005 04:56 am (UTC) (Link)
UGH. I had no idea they'd changed the order. I HATE THAT.
galaxianomiko From: galaxianomiko Date: November 20th, 2005 05:06 am (UTC) (Link)
Heh, I read them differently from either of those when I was little--I had half of two different sets with different numbering. I read them as: LWW-->Magician's Nephew-->Prince Caspian-->Dawn Treader-->Horse and His Boy-->Silver Chair-->Last Battle. I don't remember if reading them out of order had any effect on my understanding, though.
rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: November 20th, 2005 05:12 am (UTC) (Link)
Since I thought the Magician's Nephew didn't hold a candle to the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (and still don't), I always tell kids to start with tLtWatW, and not worry about the numbers...

I had a class this summer that had "the Chronicles of Narnia" on their reading list. As in all of them! To count as one title.

murasaki99 From: murasaki99 Date: November 20th, 2005 05:43 am (UTC) (Link)
I guess I'll hang onto my boxed set, bought way before the revisionist crazies attacked. I'm with you, read them in the order written, it's better that way in terms of flow.
gentlespirit From: gentlespirit Date: November 20th, 2005 05:49 am (UTC) (Link)
I knew that there was some debate about where The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe fell, but I had no idea about the rest. I hadn't read any of the books until last summer when I got a compilation that has all of them. It's in the new order, and I hadn't thought to question it, but now I am curious.
toastedcheese From: toastedcheese Date: November 20th, 2005 06:06 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh good, I'm not the only one who is hopelessly devoted to the original order. Authorial intent is all well and good, but like you I'm pretty sure that if I sat down with C.S. Lewis's ghost and explained to him carefully why his offhand suggestion was a bad one, he would agree with me.

Luckily, my copy of the series is about 20 years old and falling apart, so I remain in denial.
darreldoomvomit From: darreldoomvomit Date: November 20th, 2005 07:12 am (UTC) (Link)
A few motnhs ago i actually found an entire website devoted to the debate on whish order is correct. Lewis' stepson says publishing order, Lewis made an offhand comment about chronological blah blah blah.
In the end, they quoted Lewis himself saying that basically, as long as you read LWW first, it doesn't bloody matter. I think he was correct. But I still campaign ruthlessly for published order.
jv_mints From: jv_mints Date: November 20th, 2005 07:16 am (UTC) (Link)
When I first read them, they were bought for me as a numbered boxed set, with TMN being number 1. However, the note that accompanied the books from my dad told me to read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe first, so I did. Then, TMN made a lot more sense that it otherwise would have. Reading the rest of the series in numbered order always confused me a bit.
moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: November 20th, 2005 07:58 am (UTC) (Link)
I actually read the books in the second order - Magician's Nephew, first, all the way down to the last Battle - with one exception. By a strange stroke of (bad?) luck, I read 'The Lion, Witch & Wardrobe' last.
karintheswede From: karintheswede Date: November 20th, 2005 08:27 am (UTC) (Link)
I've only ever seen them in chronological order, but I didn't read them in that order and I always tell the children to read the Pevensie books first.
From: mrs_muggle Date: November 20th, 2005 09:09 am (UTC) (Link)
I read TLTW&TW several times as a child, but only got around to the others when my kids read them (so I read them in the new order, but already knew about Narnia). I think the old order makes more sense.
daisan From: daisan Date: November 20th, 2005 03:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
So totally WORD on this entire post. The best thing about reading the Magicians Nephew is understanding the POINT of everything it explains. Otherwise, why do we care so much about this world?
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 20th, 2005 04:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Until the Star Wars prequels came out, I always had a bit of trouble explaining what a prequel was. Now, it's easy. Even so, I can't believe the publishers were flooded with enough letters from enough confused readers wondering why TMN was sixth to make them think this was a good idea.

Good grief, why not just chop up any book that has back story brought in later? Why not chop up the Harry Potter books so we see Snape being publically humiliated before we read chapter one of book one? Why not have all the Tom Riddle memories before that? For that matter, why not change all murder mysteries to start with an explanation of who committed the crime and why?

lorelei_lynn From: lorelei_lynn Date: November 20th, 2005 04:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm 35 and I had never read The Magician's Nephew, Horse & his Boy, and The Last Battle until about 3 weeks ago. Since I didn't particularly care for either TMN and LB (they both seemed to be missing much of the humor that made the others interesting), I know I wouldn't have been motivated to read TLTW&TW (which is still my favorite) if I'd started in a different order.

Re-reading these as an adult made me aware of just how much the symbolism is layered on with a trowel. However, even in my first introduction to the series in the late '70s as a child, I recognized the Christian allegory (even though I didn't know that word at the time). Actually, I remember wondering if it had been done on purpose.
story645 From: story645 Date: November 20th, 2005 07:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
I read them in new cause that was how they were numbered, and I do have a peeve with the new order, basically that the religious overtones are just even stronger when you read the new order cause it's straight bibilical allegory. Kind of makes the books a bit overbearing.

Actually rereading Horse and his Boy now and am finding some clunkyness I don't remember on the first read, which surprises me a bit, cause usually I love rereads.
sunsethill From: sunsethill Date: November 20th, 2005 09:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
I, too, have never liked the reordering of the books, have a falling-apart copy of the original ordering and didn't want to get a new set, etc. I instinctively knew what you have put so well into words. What has interested me is the comments above which show that even those who are presented with the chronological ordering are ending up reading them in the written order. And I would imagine that the movie will just reemphasize that ordering. It seems that the publishers have a revolt of the proletariat on their hands. Maybe they should reconsider. ;-)
laureate05 From: laureate05 Date: November 21st, 2005 02:19 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow, I had no idea people felt this strongly about the reordering. It's really given me pause about what I want to say because I don't want to start a fight. I will try to tread carefully.

I wasn't much of a reader as a kid. Straight up, I prefered TV. So I just started read The Chronicles of Narnia recently, and I've been reading them in the order they came in the big black book, which would be the new order.

Now, as an adult reader, I will not presume to speak for children. I think that's something a lot of adult lovers of children's books do quite rudely. But, I don't feel like reading TMN before LWW ruined anything at all. There was still wonder and suspense and a feeling of being moved so deeply you can't quite understand it.

See, I feel, and I think many of the other comments to the post prove, that if the material is strong enough, it doesn't really matter what order you read it in. Nothing can ruin LWW because it is one of th best books ever written. And nothing can totally screw up any of the rest of the series for the same reason. So don't sweat it so much. We're not a lost generation, us newbies.
admiralmemo From: admiralmemo Date: May 5th, 2006 02:47 am (UTC) (Link)
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