The Bizarre Order that is Chronicles of Narnia...

I bought the Chronicles of Narnia over a two year time span, picking them up as I ran into them. When I finally had almost the entire collection complete, I started looking through my books.

Quickly I grew amazingly confused. I was with my friend at the time and neither of us could figure it out.   We were just looking through them for the order to read at the time.

First, to explain why I grew so confused in the first place...

As I was looking at them, I realized that I had thought the order of the movies had been wrong and that they had skipped one every other book when Disney made them. I thought that it started with the The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (second book), then they went to Prince Caspian (the fourth), then skipped a book to go to the sixth, Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Looking at my books I thought, well I was wrong about the movie order then, Dawn Treader is the sixth book and the fourth is Prince Caspian, so they must have made the movies...well, wait a minute right? It would make no sense for Disney to not make Magicians Nephew, then just make Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe, then make Prince Caspian (fourth book), then go backwards and make the third book (Dawn.)

THEN it got more confusing when I was looking at the covers more closely:

 I have one of the larger books open to show the order THOSE books list.

Then one of the smaller books from a different publisher - it lists Dawn as the THIRD book, not the FIFTH like on the list.

Then, The horse and His boy is listed on the cover as the FIFTH book, but on the list it's listed by a different publisher as the THIRD book and Dawn should be the fifth.

At this point I was very confused.

I decided to do some internet digging.

At first this didn't help!

I looked up the list on Goodreads figuring it would be in the right order:

Goodreads lists the order THIS Way:

1 - Chronicles of Narnia (Not Magicians Nephew)
2 - Prince Caspian (Most of my books listed this as book FOUR)
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

I realized this list matched the two smaller books in the two above pictures, but not the other five I owned.

I decided to next check out Wikipedia to see if I could figure out what was going on.

Apparently CS Lewis wrote The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe FIRST. He wrote Magicians Nephew last. Now on both lists, Magicians Nephew is never listed as the last book. In one list it's the first, and one the sixth.

The first five books were published in the UK under the publisher Geoffrey Biles. Then the other 2 books were published in the UK by The Bodley Head (Magicians Nephew and Last Battle).

When American rights were awarded, Macmillian Publishers published the books in the standard publication order, following the UK tradition.

In 1994 Harper Collins published the books in sequence order, not publication, at the suggestion of CS Lewis's stepson.

Now it's starting to make sense. Well, sort of.

The Goodreads order lists the series in order by publication.

The five books I owned listed the series in order by sequence, not publication.

As you can imagine, this has spawned debates and arguments among readers on which order you need to read the books in!

The main issue always falls on two books, not all seven - Magicians Nephew and The Horse and His boy. Both of these stories fall significantly before the other stories, and also a bit outside the land.

The Chronological Camp and The Publication Camp

Many readers feel that starting with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe makes the best sense, and that Harper Collins intro to some books below is not faithful to his adaptation and how he wanted things. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe begins with an introduction into Narnia and was the first book he wrote. If you begin with The Magician's Nephew, when the name Narnia is mentioned in the first page, it is written as if assuming you already know about that world.

Also, it should be worth noting that the books were republished in chronological order after CS Lewis died, so he wasn't around to give his input on this change. 

Basically The Magicians Nephew was written years later after the other five were written as a background and prequel. When it was republished by MacMillian, they wanted to put the prequel first, thinking this made more sense.

However, it doesn't, for if you read Magician's Nephew first, some of the stuff said in Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe won't make as much sense from CS Lewis being the narrator, such as speaking in that book as if you've never heard of Aslan or Narnia before. Of course if you've read The Magicians Nephew first, you'd already know about these things.

It has been said by many who attempted to read Magician's Nephew first that they had trouble with the series and lost interest or had trouble holding interest in it. That book covered miniscule details you wouldn't care about so much if it was an intro the series. It does, however, seem interesting if you've read the other five books and are already interested in the world.

CS Lewis finished The Magicians nephew last, but published and set the Last Battle for the seventh. This is because he struggled with the writing of The Magician's Nephew for various reasons and took longer with it.

The stepson had a debate with his mother about the order, and quoted a letter from CS Lewis saying this in 1957 regarding how to read them. In 2005 Harper Collins adult versions of the books quoted this letter as the reason for their order of the books the way they did and do:

Although The Magician's Nephew was written several years after C. S. Lewis first began The Chronicles of Narnia, he wanted it to be read as the first book in the series. Harper Collins is happy to present these books in the order in which Professor Lewis preferred.

CS Lewis letter piece:

I think I agree with your [chronological] order for reading the books more than with your mother's. The series was not planned beforehand as she thinks. When I wrote The Lion I did not know I was going to write any more. Then I wrote P. Caspian as a sequel and still didn't think there would be any more, and when I had done The Voyage I felt quite sure it would be the last, but I found I was wrong. So perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone read them. I’m not even sure that all the others were written in the same order in which they were published.

Bottom Line?

Because of all this and not wanting the magic to be lost, I'm planning to read in PUBLICATION order - the order CS Lewis wrote it, the order he saw the books published in, and apparently the order the Disney company decided to make the movies in. I don't think CS Lewis cared much, but I agree more with the camps arguments on publication order.