Some months ago Chris of Calmgrove announced plans for a Narniathon — reading through the seven Chronicles of Narnia, one per month, starting in December with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I’ve been looking forward to this chance to revisit some of my childhood favorites together with other readers, and I’m so excited that now it’s finally here!
The Narnia books are far from unproblematic. With my adult eyes I can see their lacks and flaws, some of them quite egregious. But these books were incredibly formative for my imagination, and still hold a certain amount of magic that makes me interested to explore what a journey through Narnia might have to teach me today.
If you are also inclined for such an adventure, please visit the introduction post to learn more.
You might wonder why we’re starting with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when many sources state that The Magician’s Nephew is the first book in the series. According to internal chronology, it is, but I think it makes much more sense to start with the first in publication order, because of how the series developed. It started not with a thought-out plan of origins and world-building, but with a picture in the mind of author C.S. Lewis: a faun holding an umbrella in a snowy wood, with a lighted lamppost amongst the trees. This oddly assorted image took hold as he started a story for his goddaughter, Lucy Barfield, and although the book was not completed for years, it remained the seed of all that comes after.
Why a lamppost in the middle of a wood? This location is the starting point of the fictional child Lucy’s adventures in Lion, the first thing she sees when she comes through the magical wardrobe into a different world, and it’s never explained in that book. It becomes a touchstone for the strange-yet-familiar environment in which she is destined to behold the overcoming of evil and become a queen. Later, in the sixth published book of the series, Lewis went back to explain the origins of the lamppost, the wardrobe, and other mysteries, no doubt prodded by queries from readers. But to start there spoils the chance to be like Lucy, and encounter this landscape in a state of unknowing wonder. It’s better, I believe, to start with the book that was published first, and in general to read in publication order.
Yes, Lewis answered a young reader who wrote a letter asking what order the books should be read in, by saying in chronological order. But I would venture to say that in this case his logical, analytical thinking got in the way of artistic narrative sense. He probably didn’t stop to consider what that experience would really be like for a reader coming to the books afresh, having been so long immersed in them himself.
At any rate, the Narniathon had to start somewhere, so we’re beginning quite appropriately for December with the book that takes us to a land where it’s “always winter but never Christmas.” Join us, if you wish!