Six years ago, about the time the first movie came out, I went to Barnes & Noble and bought the boxed set of “The Chronicles of Narnia.” I then proceeded to read the first two books and immediately lost interest. I don’t recall what I actually thought of the books, it could have been that we were going on vacation and I didn’t have as much time as I would have like to read them. Well, six years later, I challenged myself to read all seven of the books in seven days. Along with Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings (which I still haven’t read), “The Chronicles of Narnia” seemed to be a series that everyone on the planet should read sometime in their life.
There are two orders in which you can read the books. You can read them in order of publication which is, “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “Prince Caspian,” The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” “The Silver Chair,” “The Horse and His Boy,” The Magicians Nephew,” and finally “The Last Battle.” The other order is internal chronological. This order makes “The Magicians Nephew” the first book and “The Horse and His Boy” the third book, all the other books remain in their order.
There is a lot of dispute as to which order is best to read the books. I’m not entirely sure it makes as big a difference as many scholars will cause you to believe. The fact that there is such a heated debate among scholars regarding the books order is a testament to just how much time they have on their hands. Regardless of the controversy, I went ahead and read them in internal chronological order as Harper Collins, Lewis’ stepson and C.S. Lewis agreed was the best way to read them.
I was thinking about how I was going to write this review. I thought about reviewing each book individually, then I thought it would be better if I reviewed the entire body of work as a whole. I’ve settled that it will be a mixture of both. The series as a whole is rather good. There are definitely some strong moments and quite a few weak moments in the books that detract from, what I believe is, the fantasy of the story.
Published in 1955, “The Magicians Nephew” was published as the sixth book in the series. It is basically the origin story of Narnia. Introducing you to Aslan and the White Witch as well letting you in on how the famous light post was born in the woods of Narnia. There are those who believe that this isn’t the best book to start with because it’s not as interesting of a read. I found that it really did a great job at setting the groundwork for the rest of the series, and helped me to connect some of the other books together.
I found while reading the series, that these books are definitely for children. There is very little depth to the writing, and practically no nuance. They read much like instruction books giving you a very factual account of the goings-on in Narnia. The characters lack emotion, Narnia itself seems like nothing more than Earth with talking animals, although I will admit that later in the series Narnia became more fantastical, and the dialog was extremely robotic, lacking any flow.
The book in the series I hated the most is also the most beloved. “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” was practically unbearable to read. Only a couple reasons made this book unbearable and that was a surly child and Christmas. Throughout the entire story, Edmund was just a sour and evil child. Even though he changed his tune at the end, it made reading any subsequent books where he appeared difficult to stomach. The other part of the book that I hated was the introduction of Christmas and Father Christmas. I can’t imagine a scenario in which Christmas should be present in Narnia, a world outside the realm of Earth. I would have liked complete separation between Earth and Narnia. Thankfully throughout the rest of the series, there wasn’t any more of that nonsense.
I found throughout the series that C.S. Lewis didn’t like to go into detail about almost everything. Claiming that it would take to long to explain, or he didn’t have the information. There were a lot of opportunities lost when he didn’t add these little gems or expound on what was going on. This also hampered the clarity of the events because there wasn’t enough description that allowed the events to sink in.
“The Horse and His Boy,” the third book in the series just kind of hangs there without any real context within the Narnia world. Three of the four Pevensie children take a minor role, but other than that I didn’t feel Narnia at all in the book. This could be because the book doesn’t actually take place in Narnia proper, but rather in Calormen, a country south of Archenland, which is south of Narnia. Even though “The Horse and His Boy” lacked any Narnianess, I found it to be one of the better reads in the series. One of the downfalls is that there is a lengthy race to Archenland through a desert where absolutely nothing takes place.
Reading through the books I found that there was a definite theme going on. The adventure was always based on traveling to another location to do battle. We see it in practically every book in the series, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, once you get to the fourth book, it gets rather predictable and I longed for something else to drive the story.
The only other book I didn’t like as much as I didn’t like “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” was “Prince Caspian.” From beginning to end, nothing happened that was of any interest. “Prince Caspian” feels like a prologue to the later books that feature Prince Caspian as a main character. As much as I didn’t like the book, it did feature the only humor I read in any of the books and it featured a bear who sucks on his paw. Sadly I had to wait till the fourth book to get it and even more sad that I didn’t get any more humor throughout the rest of the series.
It wasn’t until the fifth book, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” that I felt the series was actually gaining some ground. This is where real adventure begins, and even though it follows the same travel to a location to do battle motif that was ever so present in the other books, there was enough in-between that kept the story interesting. It did introduce a new character, Eustace Scrubb. A most unlikable character in the beginning, but, like in any good story learns his lesson.
Moving onto “The Silver Chair” I really began to feel that the end was coming. It was easy to see and it felt good that I was accomplishing my goal of reading the books in the 7 days I allowed myself. This one, as well as “The Last Battle” intrigued me the most based solely on the cover art. Along with the cover art, the story had a lot of interesting action, even though again it featured the same story structure as all the other books. This is only the second book in the series that doesn’t feature any of the Pevensie children, making the book lonely in that sense.
Finally, “The Last Battle.” This was my favorite in the series. I have an intense interest in the end times that will one day come, maybe not in my lifetime and certainly not on May 21, 2011 but eventually. “The Last Battle” chronicles the end of times for Narnia, and in a way is set to mimic the end times of Earth. Lewis couldn’t have been more overt when referencing Biblical prophecy. In addition, the last page of the book was everything I want to read in a book.
“The Chronicles of Narnia” is famous for having undertones of Christianity, sometimes subtle, mostly obvious. Aslan is obviously meant to be Christ and I could go on explaining what characters represent. In that respect an adult can get a lot from the books. In that respect there is a lot of depth. You can read into almost everything that C.S. Lewis wrote in the books. Maybe because of his simplistic writing style, you are given the freedom to make those connections, religious or otherwise.
As a whole the series is pretty amazing. However, when looking at the books individually, I found them extremely disappointing and in some cases on the verge of boring. What I found really left an impression was reading them in internal chronological order because it allowed me to see the scope of the story and of Narnia. Starting with “The Magician’s Nephew” showing the creation of Narnia to it’s destruction in “The Last Battle,” you saw and experienced it all.