In Search of a Better Country

C.S. Lewis’s Biggest Mistake

…was apparently being indifferent about the order in which the Chronicles of Narnia should be read.

I was shocked to discover, on the first page of Walter Hooper’s preface in Lewis’s collection of essays On Other Worlds (1975), that he mentioned how Lewis recommended the Chronicles be read in chronological order, starting with The Magician’s Nephew.

Now, The Magician’s Nephew is a fine book as origin stories goes, but there’s no way it should be read as the first book in the series. Turns out, I am not alone in this opinion. In fact, the official website of C.S. Lewis includes an article about the suggested order for the books:

Lewis scholars almost universally agree that we should disagree with what Lewis said about the order of publication. C. S. Lewis was not the kind of person to focus on himself, and though he remembered everything he ever read almost word for word, he lacked such perfect memory toward anything he actually wrote. He was truly selfless not only in his actions towards others, but in his constant practice of ignoring himself in order to make God, not Lewis the center of his life. I’m not convinced Lewis was thinking about his books and their content when he gave thought to the best order in which to read them. He was probably thinking about what might be easiest for children to understand. And while he “preferred” chronological order (Collected Letters III, 847n.), he also said, “perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone reads them” (Collected Letters III, 848).

Perhaps, once having read all seven books, Lewis might be correct in this. However, when reading them for the first time, the best place to start is, without a doubt, a little girl and a big wardrobe.