I watched the Chronicles of Narnia movies when I was younger, but I never bothered reading the books. As the years passed, and as I delved deeper into fantasy, I knew that I needed to read the Chronicles of Narnia books, but I continued to put it off. I will procrastinate no longer! The series consists of seven books of which I am on the fourth. There are two orders in which the books can be read: publication order or chronological order. I decided to go with publication order. I will list both orders here:
1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
2. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (1951)
3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
4. The Silver Chair (1953)
5. The Horse and His Boy (1954)
6. The Magician’s Nephew (1955)
7. The Last Battle (1956)
1. The Magician’s Nephew
2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
3. The Horse and His Boy
4. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia
5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
6. The Silver Chair
7. The Last Battle
Why did I chose publication order? Well simply because The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobewas the first book to be released, the first movie I watched, and it just felt right starting with the most famous of the books. I am currently reading The Silver Chair, and enjoying it immensely.
These books are best described as children’s books. I was surprised when I began reading them to find how short they are. A single installment can be read in just a few hours. The ideas behind each book’s plot are magical and deeply based in religious beliefs. C.S. Lewis was a Christian who wove biblical ideas into his writing. The most obvious of these was in the first book when Aslan (the lion) was forced to sacrifice himself for Edmond’s bad behavior. That act drew parallels with Christ dying on the cross. I was rather impressed that Lewis was able to weave these ideas so fluidly into the stories. My favorite line from the first book (and all the books so far) was this: “Rise up, Sir Peter Wolf’s-Bane. And whatever happens, never forget to wipe your sword.” Peter had just killed a wicked wolf who worked for the White Witch, earning the title of Wolf’s Bane.
In all honesty, I found myself a bit disappointed with each of the books so far (even though I am still enjoying them). While the content is great, I must remind myself that these are written as children’s stories. This means that the writing is not highly detailed, and the events move quickly. The conflicts are simple. I think the main issue is that the books were so hyped up, that they fell short for me. I also did not find anything particularly prosy or impressive about Lewis’s writing. His word formation, sentence construction, paragraph building, and all other aspects of his writing did not strike me with the same awe that someone like Tolkien does. I suppose that may be a personal taste issue.
One of my favorite aspects of this series is the manner in which the children find themselves in Narnia in each installment. The doorway/pathway leading into the other world is different every time. And each time there is a degree of magic taking place to move the children from one world to the other. I also like the aspects of time itself. Time moves differently in Narnia than it does in our world. That left me intrigued. It also gave me ideas for my own Dragonwall series, which also has a magical portal aspect to it.
Each story is based on children that Aslan selects to travel into Narnia to save the kingdom, or help the ruler of the kingdom on various endeavors. In the first instance, the Pevensies (four siblings escaping the Second World War) are staying with a professor in the countryside when they discover the gateway into Narnia hiding in a wardrobe full of fur coats. They are meant to come to Narnia to destroy the White Witch, save Narnia from perpetual winter, and to become the Kings and Queens of Narnia.
The second installment (Prince Caspian) brings them back to help young Prince Caspian gain the throne, which is his birthright. At the end of this installment, Aslan informs the two oldest siblings that they will no longer be able to come back. The third installment, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we see the youngest two siblings and their cousin (Eustice) venture into Narnia to help King Caspian fulfill a quest. At the end, the youngest two siblings are told they will never return. This was rather heartbreaking for me. I grew very close to the Pevensies and knowing that I wouldn’t get to read adventures with them any more was a bit of a let-down, and not in a good way either. I say this especially because I knew Lucy, the youngest, had a special bond with Aslan. Knowing that she would never see him again was hard for her. It didn’t really seem fair to me.
Now in the forth book, Eustace, the cousin of the Pevensies gets to return with his friend Jill. They have a new quest to fulfill for Aslan. They must find the lost prince, son of King Caspian, who is now old and decrepit. Remember, time moves differently here.
So I’m beginning to see a theme develop. It seems there is a very good reason that the children are not permitted to enter Narnia after a certain age, and a certain level in their maturity. I am hoping that Lewis has a very good underlying reason that will be revealed soon as an “ah-ha” moment. Hopefully I won’t be let down.
One of the reasons I’m inclined to think this is because in the second book, the older children struggle to see Aslan when he appears. There is an issue with their mental capacity to see him, their beliefs. They must trust Lucy when she says that Aslan is standing just right over there. But unfortunately they do not believe, and as unbelievers, they do not get to see Aslan. Over time, they eventually begin to see him when their minds open. This theme I believe is directly tied to why the children eventually are no longer allowed back into Narnia. I need to read further to solidify my suspicions on this.
Overall I would say that these books were not as great as I always thought they would be, but I’m happy I’m reading them. I feel like the Chronicles of Narnia is a series every fantasy lover must read, kind of like a rite of passage. I do recommend them, so don’t let my disappointment spoil anything. I merely wish they were as good as I hyped them up in my mind to be. I still have three books left after The Silver Chair, so maybe they will redeem themselves. I won’t give up hope just yet.
EDIT (9/17/19): I decided by the end of this series that I LOVED it more than I loved it when I first wrote this. It totally won me over. I especially enjoyed how quickly the books read. I was able to read several over Christmas Break. This series definitely holds a special place in my heart.