I never read the Narnia books as a kid. I did, however, read the Lord of the Rings books as a kid. I thoroughly enjoyed the Lord of the Rings movies that came out the last few years, to the point where seeing a Lord of the Rings movie after winter finals has left an indelible mark on my memories of college. On the one hand, this here Narnia movie that's coming out looks good. But at the same time... Does it REALLY look good, or am I just experiencing (surprisingly fast-acting) nostalgia for the Lord of the Rings movies?

A further question: Assuming I do go see the Narnia movie (as I undoubtedly will, in the end): How're the books? Worth reading? Worth reading before I see the movie?


I consider the Narnia books to be a mixed bag. As you've no doubt heard, there's a great deal of religious allegory in them. If I didn't have fond memories of enjoying them (and not understanding the religious allegory aspect) as a child, I think they might kind of irritate me. However, I adored them as a child and when I read them now it's with nostalgia and without much thought to their allegory nature. Overall I still think they're fantastic.

That said, the individual books vary in their character and their subtlety. There's at least one that gets aggravating -- how long can we read about people running up an endless unspoiled hill and being happy and perfect and never tiring because they're with Aslan, and this is not at all heaven that we're talking about? -- but there are others where the characters and scenery carry the book well. The tendency for each book to more or less take place in a different world -- another part of Narnia, another country in the same world as Narnia, another timeframe -- makes each book novel and intriguing and not quite like the one before it.

Are you aware of the controversy about the order of the books? I discovered this when I tried to replace my lost copy of book 3 and found it relabeled book 5. The series was originally arranged in a sequence that puts timelines out of order and leaves a lot of mysteries to be solved several books after they're brought up, which is to my mind one of the best things about the books. You get as far as book 6 and only then do you understand the background of the things that happened in book 1. It's fantastic. However, there is a 50-year commemorative edition which has been released in which the books are ordered strictly according to the timeline of Narnia history. There's a note on the re-ordering which claims that this arrangement was C.S. Lewis' preferred arrangement. I dearly hope that's not true, because it's much less exciting that way. The mysteries are explained even before they've happened, so there's none of that satisfying payoff of figuring out what hasn't been explicitly said.

If you do read them, I strongly suggest that you read them in the original series order. In case you're not sure which is which, or the copies you find are labeled with the new order, the original series order is:

1. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
2. Prince Caspian
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

Ah. That ordering is quite helpful. I read a rant somewhere regarding the re-ordering. All I could glean from it was that they were really upset that they put The Magician's Nephew first, and that it explained the lamppost from when the kids first enter Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. This, they argued, ruined the mystery of the strange land the kids found themselves in when you read the latter. The complaint wasn't that Lewis decided to explain the lamppost, but that the later editors decided they needed to make sure you knew why the lamppost was there before you saw it. I can understand the complaint; explained in the penultimate book, it would have a feeling of "Oh! So THAT'S why that lamppost was there!" whereas that's completely lost for no gain when you explain it first.

I wanted to read them in the proper original publican order (regardless of whether Lewis at some point indicated that he prefer they be read in Narnia chronological order) but, until now, I had no idea what the proper original publication order was.

We used to have a cartoon of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, from which I learned of the lamppost discussed above. I have fond memories of that, but they're only vague, and I don't think I even understood what was going on within the context of the movie, let alone the Christian allegory.

My concern going in is that Lewis may have been poisoned for me by my exposure to some of his political writings. I particularly recall a rather venomous piece arguing against the rehabilitationist view of criminal punishment. The rehabilitationist view holds that the purpose of punishment should be to cure people of their criminal ways, or otherwise to set them on the straight and narrow. Lewis believed that rehabilitation was an elaborate secularist plot to exterminate Christianity. The logic was something along the lines of "The types of people who are in favor of punishment as rehabilitation are the sort of hippie-types who believe in new-age religions and not Christianity. They already think Christianity is a mental disorder; if they define crime as a mental disorder, rather than the incarnation of the criminal's inherently evil nature that true Christians know it to be, they'll soon start treating Christians in the same way they treat criminals. They'll be locking us up and "curing" us of our Christianity." He then argued that all these new and liberal and modern ideas are wrong; the only true purpose of punishment is to harm the wicked. People commit crimes because they are evil, and if a society is truly good, it must endeavor to inflict as much harm on its evil members as is humanly possible.

My problem with the Lewis piece is that he took a position that I'm not entirely unsympathetic to and argued for it in such a profoundly distasteful way that I still feel uncomfortable expressing anti-rehabilitationist or pro-retributive views just because of the revulsion I have for that essay.

read the books after the Bar.

I read them when I was 10 - loved them
Took my kid to the movie, she liked it too, but paled in comparison to the books.


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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on December 9, 2005 9:55 PM.

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