Monday, March 21, 2011

Part 2: CORRECT reading order for the Chronicles of Narnia

NOW, onto a much debated and annoying issue. I want to take a moment here to thank Wikipedia for this pretty table depicting the controversies and differences, and also this hilariously understated caption:
                                                                                                                                                                                   "Fans of the series often have strong opinions over the order in which the books should be read" 
                                                                         NO SHIT.

Honestly, most of you will probably stop reading here with a dignified air of "who on earth cares?" Fair enough. But the sad reality is that I actually do find this fascinating and well worth discussing. I am yet to find someone as fascinated  as I am to discuss this with, so untill then this will have to do...                                         
My stance on reading order: Order of Publication. 
1. LWW must be read first and LB read last. No argument. All the others are not as important.
2. PC, VDT and SC read next in that order
3. MN must be read before LB

Why? And why on earth does it matter enough to make a freaking blogg about it? Well a few main reasons that I think need addressing:

1. Why read LWW first and not MN (which is chronologically correct)?

Firstly it creates gaps for the reader to experience questions that need answering:
  - What the fuck is a lamp post doing in the middle of a wood
  - Who is the White Witch
  - Is there only one other world, Narnia, or myriads more?

Secondly, if you don't read it first (the alternative being to read MN first) there are problems: 
  - You sacrifice strategies Lewis used to draw readers into Narnia, like the initial description    
     Lucy feels as she enters it, and Tumnus describing the Narnia that used to be...fauns and 
     dryads  and animals living in peaceful coexistence
  - Most importantly, the build up of Aslan is lost. Instead of feeling the joy, wonder, confusion, 
    excitement and fear you are meant get stuck with: "Ok, there's a Lion singing...and 
    things are sprouting out of the ground. Cool." Big difference there. Despite what Lewis may  
    have said himself about the reading order, missing this experience is missing a whole chuck 
    of the Narnia experience.
  - Both the lamp post and the White Witch lose their mystery - you already know. Lamp post was 
    from our world, and the witch is Jadis. BORING. 

Lastly, and most importantly: MN is meant to be read as a flash back. LWW starts the story 
  In medias res  (into the middle of things) is a Latin phrase denoting the literary and artistic   
  narrative technique wherein the relation of a story begins either at the mid-point or at the 
  conclusion, rather than at the beginning, establishing setting, character, and conflict via 
  flashback and expository conversations relating the pertinent past.  (thanks again Wiki)
  Schakel notes the importance of this in his book Reading with the Heart: The Way into Narnia:

"The only reason to read The Magician's Nephew first [...] is for the chronological order of events, and that, as every story teller knows, is quite unimportant as a reason. Often the early events in a sequence have a greater impact or effect as a flashback, told after later events which provide background and establish perspective. So it is [ ...] with the Chronicles. The artistry, the archetypes, and the pattern of thought all make it preferable to read the books in the order of their publication."[15] 
There you have it.

2. Why read PC, VDT, and SC in that order?

Mainly because as a reader, you are already in the flow of things with the Pevensie children. It makes little sense to jump into HHB after LWW just to be chronological (already discussed why that is moot) and even LESS sense to chuck it in after VDT! I really don't know why the Final Completion order has that...very pointless. It works to experience the entire journey the Pevensie children go through, with them. Then jump into flash back mode and read about their adventures  in Calormen.

3. Why read MN directly before LB?
This is almost too obvious to even state but I'll say it anyway. It's like reading Genesis and Revelation...actually, scarily so (from an 'agnostic lover of Narnia' viewpoint). There is a sense of satisfaction about reading a beginning and and an end back to back. A perfect completion. Also, there's nowhere else you could fit it in the sequence. But shhhh that's not important. I suppose it would not KILL YOU to read MN as the second book, right after LWW. But none of the orders stated above has that combination, and I wanted to pick one. So sue me.

So there you have it. MY VIEWS. Please feel free to agree, disagree, call me names - I'm all ears for a debate. In fact, I'm kinda hoping someone does disagree :P
I realise I left out allot of stuff but I didn't want this to go on and on unnecessarily - just wanted to get the main points on the table.

Post Script: All these views are a combination of my own, and some from  Peter Schakel's : Imagination and the Arts in CS Lewis which you should read more of if you want a more detailed version.

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