“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. . . . That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as much like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.” ~ The Silver Chair p181-182
My first introduction to the world of Narnia was my mother reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe out-loud to my younger sister and I when I was around 8 years old. This was followed by attending a production of this book put on by a local kids group. I distinctly remember sitting in the back of my closet hoping the wall would open like the wardrobe to reveal a lamppost shinning in the centre of a snowy wood! I reread The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe a few more times growing up, but somehow I missed out on the rest of this wonderful series!
Over the course of seven books, The Chronicles of Narnia details much of Narnian history from its creation to its eventual destruction and, in the in-between, includes wicked witches, kidnapped Princes, grand sea voyages, runaway children, plucky heroes and heroines, enchanted caves, talking animals and all manner of mythical creatures, epic battles, and of course Aslan. The beautiful illustrations by Pauline Baynes are whimsical and add so much to the overall feel of the novels.
There is considerable debate among fans about the correct reading order of these books; whether chronological order or publication order is better. Although I can see the merits of chronological order as it does make more sense allegorically in that fashion, I prefer publication order as I think some of the magic is lost if the reader doesn’t first enter the snowy and mysterious world of Narnia through the back of a forgotten wardrobe.
As a Christian I personally enjoyed the various religious symbolism and narratives that were interwoven throughout the Chronicles. Some of my favourite moments with religious overtones include Eustace’s failure to shed the dragon’s skin without the help of Aslan and Puddleglum’s proclamation of faith in the face of doubts (which I copied at the top of this post). And of course many of Lucy’s interactions with Aslan are heartwarming including her goodbye before his sacrifice in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, his gentle admonishment after she neglected to follow his path in Prince Caspian, and her joy and elation upon seeing the new Narnia in The Final Battle. I do wonder if those from other faiths would find the series a little too overtly “preachy” at times though?
My favourite book in the series is either The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe just seems so much like the quintessential Narnia, and I love it all from the snowy landscape to the conflicted Mr. Tumnus to the children’s oversized furs to the seduction of Edmund with turkish delight to the delightful Mr. and Mrs. Beaver to Aslan’s resurrection and reuniting with the children. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader had an equally magical air and I am partial to it because it is the story of a fantastical sea voyage. I especially enjoyed the progression of Eustace’s character arch. And who could forget the ever gallant mouse, Reepicheep? The various islands they land on with unique challenges for each of them reminded me quite a bit of A Little Prince and the different planets (types of people) he encounters on his trip.
My least favourite of the seven is The Magician’s Nephew which likely had an influence on my opinion of reading order as well. I found it a little disjointed and especially didn’t like that the White Witch managed to follow the children back to England. I also hated the Uncle Andrew character (He is a villain after all!) and didn’t like that Narnia and Jadis’ entry into the realm was a result of his meddling with magic. While it was a good fantasy novel, it just didn’t FEEL like a Narnia story in my opinion.
All in all I thoroughly enjoyed the series and am very glad to have finally read all the books. The Chronicles of Narnia definitely deserves its place as a classic of children’s literature. Narnia remains as enchanting now as it was when I was young!