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>Chronologist or Publicationist?

>We got an email this morning objecting to the way we sequence the Narnia books on our website. Is there any consensus in re whether the books should be read in the order they were published, or in the order that the events chronicled take place? Was Lewis just being nice when he told a young fan that, yes, it made more sense to read The Magician’s Nephew before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Was HarperCollins messing with a good thing when they re-ordered the books per Douglas Gresham’s instructions? I’m no Lewis scholar but sense there is a seething hotbed of fan rage beneath these questions. Small stakes always make for the most drama!

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. :: Suzanne :: says:

    >As for me and my house, we read them in chronological order.

  2. grrlpup says:

    >I remember vividly the joy of retrospective discovery as I read The Magician’s Nephew– “hey, the lamppost!”– and would be very sorry not to have had it.

  3. >I agree with grrlpup, absolutely. Reading the Magician’s Nephew was like uncovering an archive. I remember re-reading Wardrobe after I read it, looking for more details like the lamppost.


  4. Lisa Chellman says:

    >I always tell my library patrons that if they’re going to read just one Narnia book, they should read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It’s arguably the strongest book of the series, it’s certainly the best-known, and it lays the groundwork for all that follows. I vote for the order in which they were written!

  5. Ben Bleckley says:

    >I’d argue there’s a reason Lewis wrote the Chronicles in the order that he did. Starting with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has symbolic significance.

  6. Anonymous says:

    >I’m a children’s librarian, and in my library, the books are in publication order. This means that the spines read: “J Lewis Chronicles #1” with “Lion” as the first book. When I was in college, I was told by several friends who took a class on C.S. Lewis from a C.S. Lewis expert that Lewis did not intend the books to be in publication order. The letter that HarperCollins uses to defend their position in changing the order of the books is taken out of context: if one reads the whole letter, one will see that what Lewis is really saying is that yes, it does make sense to read the books chronologically, but narratively the books read better in publication order. Honestly, Lewis didn’t really care one way or the other but I think it stands to reason that if he really wanted the books renumbered, he would have done so during his lifetime. Also, my friends and the professor both have stated that the publication order does carry significance– albeit not allegorical– in the messages that Lewis was trying to portray.

    One last thought: why didn’t Harper edit the books when they were renumbered? Right now, it says in “Magician’s Nephew” that it’s not the first time the reader will have met Aslan, but with the current order, it will be! And what about the end of “Lion” where it implies that it was the first of the children’s adventures in Narnia? All points to ponder…

  7. >According to the Pocket Companion to Narnia (HarperCollins, 2005) C.S. Lewis recommended reading them in this order 2,4,5,3,6,1,7. That’s the order I recommended when I worked in a bookstore for many years.

  8. >Publication order, of course!

  9. Roger Sutton says:

    >It’s interesting, Lizamo, that HarperCollins’s own order is different from the one recommended in the Pocket Companion.

  10. Anonymous says:

    >As I hopped off the tram this morning on the way to work this statement in very large letters stared down at me: “Everything you know is about to change forever”.

    At this point I had not even had a cup of coffee. If I was a suggestible type such wisdom might have changed the course of my day. Or my life…

    Turns out it’s the tag for the new Narnia movie. Phew! Close call.


  11. >Having taught the books for 18 years, I can’t tell you the thrill of hearing dozens of normally reticent 6th graders exclaim aloud in joy, “so THAT’S how the lampost got there!” What a loss for those who have read them chronologically. Besides, Mr. Lewis took great pains to introduce and set Aslan up in LWW, and did not in The Magician’s Nephew, presumably becasue he knew that readers already knew who Aslan was by that time.
    How lovely it must have been for readers in the 50’s to have finished the Silver Chair, thinking it was all over, only to find a few years later that they could go back to Narnia via The Horse and His Boy, M N, and Last Battle.
    I also prefer the 2nd version of chapter, Dark Island, in The Voyage of the DawnTreader, which appeared in the original American version, but not the British, because Lewis changed it when he edited the galleys for American publication. They reverted to the original British version when they changed the order.
    Imagine meeting ObiWan Kinobe as a young man before meeting him as a Jedi Master!! Ach! 😉

  12. ladydisdain says:

    >It is nine thousand billion trillion times more magical to step through the wardrobe with Lucy first. I was, am, and always will be horrified by the renumbering, and in the bookshop where I work, we always tell people to read LWW first (and they’ve listened every time).

  13. Anonymous says:

    >I agree that reading them in the order published is more rewarding. Though my biggest problem with Harper’s renumbering them is that they erased the original sequence altogether. Including a list of the books in both arrangements would allow the reader to choose and thus alleviate some of the angst.

  14. Anonymous says:

    >Has anyone ever heard any reader respond enthusiastically to the magic and mystery and discovery of the chronological numbering? The countless fans who advocate for publication numbering are correct.

    Frankly, I’ve never seen the Harper’s renumbering as anything but a sales and marketing stunt. (Which worked–as this discussion proves.)

    Please, please, Roger–put them back in the right order.

  15. ifahren says:

    >Most of the good arguments have been made, but I just want to add to the chorus: publication order, please! When replacement paperback copies arrived at my library with chronological numbers on the spines, we renumbered the renumbered volumes.

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