God of Thunder and Rock'n'Roll (archmage) wrote,
God of Thunder and Rock'n'Roll

Chronicles Of Narnia - Don't Tinker With History

Yes, I'm talking about the book series that starts out with "The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe".

At least, it USED to.

Did you know that the books are now being packaged as a set and sold...in a different order? It's true. I discovered this at Christmas, as my Mom bought the set for Erik, and I thought that was pretty cool. I looked at them, though, and saw they are clearly numbered, one through seven...in a vastly different order than I remembered. This has confused me for a while, and I finally looked it up. Seems that, now that C.S. Lewis is dead, someone else holds the copyright...and they apparently decided that the books should be read in "chronological order".

There's more than a few problems with this. Here are the book orders:

As written:
1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
2. Prince Caspian (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)

This is the order in which the books are now packaged.
1. The Magician's Nephew
2. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
3. The Horse and His Boy
4. Prince Caspian
5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
6. The Silver Chair
7. The Last Battle

First off, this is not a book series whose continuity is chronological. Take, say Stephen King's 'Dark Tower' series, or even better, the Harry Potter novels. Each book comes clearly after the next, continuing a story. The Narnia books, though, aren't like that. "Lion" is a self-contained story (as C.S. Lewis wasn't originally writing a series, just a book). Later books do similar things. On top of that, some of these books span time periods that end up including others (for instance, "Horse" is only a few years long, occurring alongside "Lion", which spans decades).

For that matter, because Lewis wrote them as he did, later books build on concepts presented in earlier books. Changing the order makes this harder to follow. "Caspian" follows "Lion", better showing how human children move between the worlds...and you are gonna want to know this for "Dawn Treader" and "Silver Chair"...but moving them so far apart makes this harder to follow.

One rumour is that the new order makes a stronger case for the series being a biblical allegory of Christ. C.S. Lewis has stated on record that this is NOT his plan, nor should it have been inferred.

Speaking of Lewis, though, there is an interesting side note. In 1957 an American boy wrote C. S. Lewis to ask about the best order for reading The Chronicles of Narnia. The boy's mother believed the books should be read in order of their publication, beginning with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But the boy thought it would be better to read them in order of Narnian history, beginning with the creation of the enchanted world in The Magician's Nephew. C. S. Lewis wrote back to the boy, saying, "I think I agree with your order for reading the books more than with your mother's," and soon afterward the publishers began to number them in this way. HOWEVER, Lewis, who had written bits and pieces of the books at different times, also noted that the order probably didn't much matter: "I'm not even sure that all the [books] were written in the same order in which they were published." So, take that as you will. Most fans today take this as him encouraging the mind of a child, and admitting that the order probably wasn't the be-all and end-all of importance, since, as he wrote the books, each time he never really meant to do another and thought he was finished.

"Magician" is really more of a prequel than anything. But, to read it, you need to already understand the time continuum between Narnia and Earth...which, of course, you don't really have a grasp of, unless you've read the first four books.

Gotta give props to a reviewer on Amazon.com, who says it best: The series is a masterpiece of children's literature that invites every adult to return to a simpler time, when the joy of wonder was real. Given their importance, these books should be read in the original order, period. By changing the order, the current copyright owner spoils the charm of discovering the origins of key plot elements and arrogantly presumes to meddle with this great author's delightful work. Ownership of a copyright does not imply the right to change history or alter in any way a major work that has found a sacred place in the hearts of millions and will continue to speak to readers young and old for generations to come. In this case, because the author is no longer alive to protect his work, copyright should be stewardship, protection and trust...values found in Narnia, and here with us, so long as we remember our own journey into the wardrobe.

'Nuff said.

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