The Best (and Worst) Narnia Books | Talking Beasts

Podcast Discussion

Douglas Gresham (stepson of C. S. Lewis) famously said his favorite Chronicle of Narnia was “whichever one I’m reading at the time that someone asks me.” But, most readers know which is their favorite and least-favorite.

Listen to the discussion and post a comment.

Rilian, Gymfan, Glumpuddle

Read the transcript of this episode


38 Responses

  1. Col Klink says:

    Is it weird that I agree with both Gymfan and Glumpuddle about the character of Caspian (in the book bearing his name?) LOL. At the beginning of the book I really like Caspian's character. The whole part about him not feeling at home in the Telmarine world and wishing he could live in Old Narnia is really emotional, the whole Disney Princess-ness of it all. (Ugh! Forgive me for making that comparison, C.S. Lewis. But Disney Princesses are probably the best examples from popular culture of protagonists who feel weirdly discontented with their lives and feel like they were made for something more.)

    But I feel like during the last third of the story, and even in the middle, he just fades into the background. Since there is a prejudice against passive protagonists, I'd like to say that I DON'T mind that he's a passive character. In the last third of The Horse and his Boy, Aravis is passive but I still really like her. But the other characters are just so much more charismatic than Caspian in latter parts of the book that he feels more like a prop. Most of his dialogue is very bland and functional.

    I can sympathize with Glumpuddle about being teased for loving 2001: A Space Odyssey. One of my favorite movies is Disney's animated Alice in Wonderland (I guess I'm in a Disneyesque mood today) which some people find too crazy to be enjoyable. I find the craziness of it awesome. And I think we can all relate to the character of Alice at some point.

    I'm going to comment more later about my own favorite and least favorite Narnia books. I just wanted to respond to some things you guys said first.

    • Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

      Slightly off topic but could you explain more what you mean with characters feeling disconnected with life and (dramatic gaze into the distance) being made for something bigger?
      Assuming I understand your meaning, is the protagonist from God's Not Dead a good illustration? (I did find him bland as dry toast)

      I always thought they (the Disney princesses) didn't fit into their communities because they were outside what was expected of them (Mulan was outspoken/kind of a tomboy, Jasmine was expected to be married off when she was like 16, Moana was expected to keep the island safe though isolating the people) not so much as oh I'm MEANT to symbolize girl power (she returned home after the war) or I'm MEANT to break down an old law (she married Aladdin like in the same timeframe) or I'm MEANT to sail across the reef. Actually the ocean was calling her or something so scratch that. Maybe Ariel fits the bills?

    • Col Klink says:

      Um, I'd love to explain more about what I was saying since it's very flattering that you found it intriguing but…I'm not sure what else I can say. (Embarassed chuckle.) I can't remember the main character from God's Not Dead having a similar longing (I kind of disliked that movie actually) but if my comment reminded you of it, then, yes, he probably did.

      While I'm not an expert on C.S. Lewis, I believe he wrote that he had felt a longing for another world, for a certain joy, throughout his life. He believed that everyone had a longing for something beyond this world and that this proved there was another world. I'm guessing he was wrong about everyone feeling that way (people are pretty different) but the idea definitely has a poetic appeal. A lot of Narnian characters reflect this. If you stop to think about it, I'm sure you could think of a lot of fictional characters who are similarly "starry eyed and vaguely discontented" to quote Oscar Hammerstein II. (I picked Disney Princesses because I could count on people remembering them. Plus they have songs about their desires which makes them stick in the mind.)

      • Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

        Okay I think I get what you mean… Actually I'm pretty sure Jewel/Farsight said something almost exactly like this. And I suppose Reepicheep is very much in that category.

        Incidentally, with the God's Not Dead character, I distinctly remember him (I have no idea what his name is) saying something to his crazy girlfriend like, "I just FEEL that God wants me to defend him." Not really the same thing but that sprung to mind (the statement also bugs me but I won't go further down that tangent)

    • To be honest, I don't see the problem. Prince Caspian might be the Narnian lead of the book of the name, but actually he is not the main character. He is mainly the reason why the Pevensies are there, because he was the one to blow the horn to summon help. Prince Caspian, the book, is still a good yarn, but for the first third of the book the Pevensies are sitting around in what used to be Cair Paravel whilst Trumpkin brings them up to speed about Prince Caspian. The next third of the book is getting to meet this Prince Caspian, and the Pevensies' experiences of Narnia in doing so. This is mainly Lucy's journey and her learning that just because she is the youngest of her family doesn't mean that she, too, cannot be called to lead, however respected her eldest brother might be. When they finally get to meet Prince Caspian it is her two older brothers and Trumpkin, himself, who are the most help to Prince Caspian. The remainder of the book are the events ensuing from that well-timed help, and though Prince Caspian no doubt fights bravely in the Battle of Beruna, I agree he becomes less and less important as the Aslan-led revolution gathers pace. At that point the Pevensies go home, job finished. Hopefully they have learned a thing or two about themselves in the process. Lucy, going to school for the first time, has learned a lesson about Aslan's boosting her self-reliance, because her brothers can't be with her at another school, and her sister, Susan, is not nearly as confident of herself than she at first appears to be.

    • Roger says:

      Col Klink, I agree with you about the animated version of "Alice in Wonderland". 1) Lewis Carroll (i.e. Charles Dodgson) was a mathematician, and the book is full of mathematical references. I am an engineer, and I enjoyed the math. 2) The book "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" was written for children specifically for a girl named Alice Liddell. She urged Dodgson to write the story down. Alice was given the original illustrated manuscript. Lewis wrote the Narnia books for the child in all of us. You are in good company hanging out on a Narnia web site and enjoying "Alice in Wonderland". One of the main reasons that I enjoy the Narnia books more than about all others is because, thought I am retired, I am a child at heart and proud of it.

  2. My Favorite: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

    It has the best character development and characters in the series. The juxtaposition of who Edmund has become with who Eustace currently is fits perfectly into the narrative. I loved Glumpuddle’s point about the seven lords not actually being the main narrative’s focus; as readers, we are much more interested in the episodic adventures the crew goes on. Also, the line: “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it” is probably my favorite first sentence in a book.

    My Least Favorite: Probably The Magician’s Nephew

    It’s not a bad book by any means, but it takes a little longer to get moving. I enjoy the relationship between Digory and Polly, but it just feels like a less interesting version of Eustace and Jill in The Silver Chair. There’s also few interesting supporting characters outside of Uncle Andrew. In every other book, I can think of at least three or more supporting characters that I love.

    • Col Klink says:

      Out of curiosity, why do you feel The Magician's Nephew takes a while to get going? The first four chapters end with cliffhangers.

      It's interesting that you find Digory and Polly less interesting than Jill and Eustace. I find D&P more interesting because it's interesting seeing them bond over their similar interests (in books and in exploring.) I suppose friendships that are forced on people by circumstances, like that of Jill and Eustace, are theoretically more interesting. But there are so many of them in the Narnia books that "normal" friendships actually end up feeling more unique. Anyway, C.S. Lewis did a good job writing both.

  3. JFGII says:

    Glumpuddle… my favorite Narnia Book is LWW and always has. My least favorite has gone LB when I was 12 to now PC at 24.

    Also… I LOVE 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY TOO! (I saw 2001 at a major event in theaters with the lead actor present. Sorry to make you envious – I just live close enough to AFI silver spring.) The only other movie I’ve seen that is as awe-inspiring and mentally stimulating to me as 2001… is Lawrence of Arabia, my favorite film.

    I get what you said about the emotion of exploring a new place in the universe – fictional or otherwise. I saw First Man, about the 1969 landing on the moon, and that movie is really inspired in how it shows Neil Armstrong & NASA trying to reach the moon – and when it actually happens – it’s a moment for the ages. 😉 😀

    • Glumpuddle says:

      'Lawrence of Arabia' is an excellent film! It probably affected how I imagine the HHB book. Similar themes and locations.

      And, overall, I enjoyed First Man too. Although the moon landing at the end is indeed an awe-inspiring moment, the punchline of that scene was very personal and heartbreaking.

  4. Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

    Hmmm… well my favorite also bounces between Horse and His boy and Dawn Treader 😀 I think as a stand-alone I prefer HHB whereas in the context of the series it's DT.

    Least favorite is Prince Caspian. I guess… I didn't find many of the characters very compelling? Even Reepicheep, his character is revealed and developed the most in DT. I suppose I'd give PC a 4 out of 5 stars; I enjoyed it, but the rest of the series gets all 5 in my opinion.

  5. Cleander says:

    Not that I dislike Prince Caspian overall, but compared to the others, it just didn't feel as real. The sudden appearance of Bacchus and his crew just seemed like a plot resolution pulled out of a hat. I realize the whole series is considered a kids series, but I think Lewis didn't describe the battles in great enough detail; he probably wanted to avoid describing the deaths of charming, lovable Narnians on the battlefield, but this had the effect of making the battles less real (Narnian critters get "terribly wounded" but never actually slaughtered with the edge of the sword as they are in the movie). I think Lewis really began to believe in Narnia (or at least think of it as real) as he continued to write the books. By the Last Battle we see him boldly working in dark, frightening imagery along with the charm and beauty of Narnia.(Tash's demonic spirit appears, a hopeless battle is fought in which several Narnian animals lose their lives, the terror of the forces of evil are unleashed on its own agents, like Shift, Ginger and Rishda Tarkaan, leaving them insane and unable to speak, etc. Even so, LB is not my favorite book.Though it's a good one and I'm reading it right now.)
    My favorite book would probably be the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Even though it does not take place in Narnia, it has the same beauty and atmosphere of Narnia, perhaps even moreso. It has many themes and messages but each one is powerful; the slavery imposed by a rules-obsessed, self-centered government, the foolishness of those who deny absolute truth (otherwise called Dufflepuds) and the power of God's promises against despair. I love the suspense Lewis creates when Lucy enters Coriakin's hall of instruments. I love the experience of the Last Sea, where the travelers hear the call of Aslan's country, and feel a heartbreaking longing (what Lewis and others called Sehnsucht) for a better world. After all, isn't it that longing that makes some of us like Narnia so much?
    P.S.- Under 11 hours until the Great American Read contest is over! (Not sure if I'll do countdown comments for that) Vote for Narnia, ya'll!
    P.P.S.- You nailed my voice in the last podcast, Glumpuddle. Sort of…

    • Col Klink says:

      Cool. You had the exact same favorite and least favorite as the podcasters. High five.

    • Cleander says:

      Whoops! That's more like 23 hours until the contest ends! Sorry.
      Col Klink: What makes me feel even better is that I haven't actually listened to the podcast yet, so I wasn't influenced! (if that's a problem). Okay, maybe I also feel kinda bad for not listening yet, too…..

    • Glumpuddle says:

      From PC: 'Peter swung to face Sopespian, slashed his legs from under him and, with the back-cut of the same stroke, walloped off his head.'

      … Compared to that, I'd say this scene in the movie is pretty conservative, haha (in the movie it's just a random solider, not Sopespian). There's something especially gruesome about the choice of word "walloped."

      I think the violence and PC intentionally feels more raw and less idealized than the other books. The sword pricks and sprained wrist in the single combat. The mice poking feet at the battle. A hint at how messy it is to skin a bear. Long paragraphs describing how wounded and miserable the Old Narnians were and how few had not lost blood.

      Cleander, have you sent in a Voice clip? You should. Then I can perfect my impression. 😉

      • Cleander says:

        My point was that in PC no Narnians got killed; the good guys don't seem to have too many losses, so it doesn't feel like a real war especially not one that's supposed to be going badly for Narnia. Lewis was fine with beheading bad guys; not even small children feel sorry for them.
        Also, I think I remember reading that the camera angles were altered by the director of PC to make it clear that the falling helmet you see on the ground does not contain a severed head.
        Maybe I'll send in a voice clip. Someday.

      • JFGII says:

        Off topic: Anybody wish Sopespian HAD been beheaded in the PC movie? That would have been shocking for audiences unfamiliar with the book, and would have avoided putting him as lead-villain-for-10-minutes (he’s not that great a character) before being drowned on the bridge by the water spirit. 🙁
        (General Glozzel, a compelling character in the film, should have been the one to lead the armies in the film (just doing his duty) before being attacked by the trees and fleeing to the Ford of Buruna. Instead of being killed on the bridge, he could have kept off and surrendered. How All Were Very Busy.) 🙂

      • Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

        JFGII personally I don't. For one I barely remember him being beheaded in the book whereas the Romp (which although I didn't particularly care for those scenes) is very prominent and probably deserves its spot first.
        However, aside the fact that the movie was edging three hours, I would bet that both scenes got cut because of the almost PG-13 rating, beheading because duh and the Romp because of all the alcohol.

        Cleander does that mean you think the castle battle in the movie was a good example of creative liberty? Because I'd agree, the failing Narnians/a battle gone wrong was mentioned in the book whereas watching all those noble creatures die.. :'( then again it really shredded Peter's character:/

      • Cleander says:

        I think the castle scene in the PC film was a liberty to a certain extent, Keeper of LW. It was based off the failed battle (where giant Wimbleweather ruins everything) but I think the filmmakers used it as a tool to develop the Peter/Caspian conflict (which, while an interesting idea, is annoying because it's not in the book). It was also probably an excuse to show more of their incredible mammoth castle set which they poured so much investment into. It also helped avoid doing ANOTHER battle in the wilderness.
        I'm not saying that I demand violence in the stories. I just want realism. Prince Caspian has plenty of detail, but since Lewis was trying in the first half of the book to create a dark, desperate feel for the story, it would have been better to have a bit more danger, loss and urgency than was shown in the book.

    • Roger says:

      I disagree very much with more battles. I have been to war. There is nothing glamorous about war. I think that the person who said that "War is hell" was an optimist. I will never forget looking across the runway and seeing a very large pile of aluminum boxes and finally realizing they were coffins waiting to be filled. Someone once said "The best judge of a person's character is the way they describe others." I am very much turned off by violence. To each their own.

  6. hogglestock says:

    Hmm…I think I'm gonna have to re-read all of them to make sure I know which my favorite and least favorite are.
    Usually my favorite is either Voyage of the Dawn Treader or The Silver Chair. If VDT, it's because of the travel, adventure, and new places, and also because Lucy might be my favorite character, and we see a lot of the voyage from her viewpoint. I love the atmosphere of The Silver Chair, though, all the walking across the moors (definitely an Anglophile here!). I also like the more realistic portrayal of Jill & Eustace combined with their struggle and victory in following the signs.
    I'm not sure I have a least favorite, but I do have a love-hate relationship with The Last Battle. It's so frustrating and sad to see Narnians turn from everything that makes Narnia amazing, but the ending always makes me cry when we move from fiction to reality.

  7. My favourite book is and always will be The Horse and his Boy. My least favourite book was The Last battle because it was so sad in places, especially the deaths of some of the poor innocent, faithful, Narnians I had liked so much, and the arrival of Tash. Somehow, Narnia had stopped being Narnia, even before the Battle of the Stable. Its friendly, warm heart was dying, and it felt like Tirian's struggle to do his best was all in vain. Susan was not one of my favourite characters, so my second least favourite book was Prince Caspian. But on the whole, I didn't mind the film suggesting that she was the sort of person who would would not be averse to getting romantic about Caspian. It did establish that Susan was no leader, despite the film making her into a warrior Queen, & that she would prefer to follow normal, everyday convention and what was "safe" whatever the rest of the Pevensies might prefer to do. The reason why Susan got the horn as a Christmas present in the first place, I would think.

  8. Roger says:

    My favorite books are a combination of HHB, VDT, SC and the last third of LB. They all have great graphical imagery. HHB and SC have the best stories. LB after the battle is beautiful seeing our friends go to heaven and them seeing their old friends. I have read these many, many times. VDT is a little down at the end when Lucy is told that she will not be coming to Narnia any more. Lucy is my favorite character with Jill second and Shasta third. The movie destroyed VDT. I would add "The Great Divorce" to this list of greats.

    My least favorite books are MN and the first half of LB. I almost put LB down the first time I read it, very depressing. In MN I can not stand Jadis in London. I think that it is way over the top. I always skip that chapter. I can not comprehend someone being that evil. I know there are evil people, but I can not empathize with them. I do not think that way. I can not relate to Jadis and also Shift being so evil.

    I appreciate PC more now that I have read "Plant Narnia". I really like that Lewis held back on showing the battle. That whole scene was expertly written.

  9. Fireberry says:

    Random interesting thought: the only Narnia book that does not feature/require the use of SWORDS to resolve issues …. "Magician's Nephew" … Which is why I put it at #1. VTD at #2. Others, variously at #3.

  10. Cleander says:

    Less than 5 hours before voting ends on the Great American Read! Just cast my final vote! May the best book(s) win!

  11. The Rose-Tree Dryad says:

    Expanding a little bit on what I said in the Voices segment…

    What Glumpuddle says about VDT speaking to him in a very personal way is largely how I feel about PC. Between scenes like discovering the ruins of Cair Paravel and the ancient treasure chamber, all of Caspian's dreams and adventures, Lucy in the woods at night, the Romp and the liberation of Narnia and the return of the Old Days… it all really jives with my personality. If I were going to pick a book in the series that I would most like to slip into the characters' shoes and personally experience, it would be PC.

    • Cleander says:

      I've tried to strike up a conversation with a tree or two in my time as well, Rose. Usually they just stare at me with this really wooden expression…

  12. Col Klink says:

    It's hard for me to rank the Narnia books because I feel like a lot of them are equal. So, I'm going to cheat and do two favorites and two least favorites.

    My two least favorites and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian. For me, LWW doesn’t pack the same emotional punch as the other six books (except for the last third or so which is really emotional.) When bad things happen to the characters, I don’t empathize with them as much. It’s not that the writing isn’t up to Narnia standards. It’s just that when I read it, I go “wow, this writing is so great” rather than “wow, that must have been so hard for those people.” Large parts of Prince Caspian involve trying to survive on an island or wandering in the woods. I know some people like to read about those things and there’s no reason a good book can’t be made about them in theory. But practically speaking, when I think of what makes PC great, none of those parts come to mind. And they take up a problematically large part of the book’s body.

    It’s harder to write about my favorites than my least favorites. I consider my least faves to be overall great books with a few flaws and limitations. There are so many things I love about my favorite Narnia books that it’s hard to summarize. The Horse and his Boy is the one I find the most exciting and suspenseful. When I was a kid, and my family listened to the audio drama on car trips, my dad insisted we not play it without him. And he’s not the type to be interested in Narnia. The main characters are also great. This may sound like a weird thing to praise but I’ve really come to admire the book’s structure. (Spoiler warning) When Shasta is “kidnapped” by the Narnians, it sets up his true identity, so it doesn’t come out of nowhere at the end, and it introduces the Susan and Rabadash plot without leaving the main characters. Aravis’ side of the story develops her character, allowing us to see her more sympathetically than before, and it leads to her being privy to Rabadash’s plotting. It’s so perfectly planned! (End of HHB spoilers)

    The Magician’s Nephew is just packed with cool ideas. The wood between the worlds, Charn, the creation of Narnia…need I go on? I love the two villains who seem like opposites but have basically the same mindset about themselves and other people. (Spoiler warning) This is also one of the most interesting Narnia books because the protagonist is tempted to do something to help his mother. In most of the books, temptations are to do things that are obviously evil, however appealing they seem to the victims of temptation. This makes the climax a lot more unique and challenging and the ending even more moving. (End of MN spoilers) Prequels tend to get a bad rap nowadays because of the Star Wars movies and the Hobbit movies. But I think The Magician’s Nephew shows how a prequel can be better than the original.

    I liked what Gymfan said about how everyone has been annoyed by someone like Eustace or been annoying like Eustace. I think my life story is a little more like Eustace’s than most. When I was a kid, I resented going to family reunions because I just wanted to be left alone to read in peace. I disliked a lot of my cousins on my dad’s side of the family because I felt they were like what adults expected kids (and especially boys) to be like, noisy and sociable, and how I decidedly wasn’t. Then when I grew older, I realized that I liked those cousins. They had always been nice to me and they seemed like genuinely fun people with which to hang out. But because I had made it clear that I preferred to be left alone for so long, I didn’t know how to befriend them, and they didn’t know how to befriend me. I was “a monster cut off from the whole human race.” Fortunately, like Eustace, my story has a happy ending. Nowadays I’m friends with those cousins. (Or at least friend-ish.)

  13. Rick says:

    Çaspian worst vdt best. Like the part in mn where the white witch says the word and blows up her world like obviously nuclear weapons

  14. Pam says:

    Silver Chair the best and VDT my least favourite, if I have to pick! I think because VDT happened in a time of relative peace, so the urgency was not there. I lovely powerful symbolism in The Silver Chair and all the others, and the atmospheres created, and Puddleglum's character is brilliantly crafted.

  15. Micah says:

    The Last Battle is my favorite book. I would put the Silver Chair second. I only have the Last Battle ahead of the Silver Chair because basically what happens once Eustuce and Jill get to Narnia to the end of the book IMO cannot be topped. Epicness all around.

  16. Cap speaking says:

    Favourite: The Silver Chair
    Least favourite: Prince Caspian

  17. Tarilan says:

    Depends on the time of year for me. When the sun’s up it’s a narrow win for Horse and his Boy with Dawn Treader a close second. When the days get shorter it’s Silver Chair. There’s something about the journey north that just captures the right mood for enduring the darker months and Puddleglum’s defiance of the Queen of Underworld is my favourite scene of the series.
    In the run up to Christmas it’s the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. I have a tradition that I listen to it every year when wrapping presents.
    The book I go to least is Magician’s Nephew. It feels the least Narnian of the stories, perhaps because we don’t get to Narnia until mid way through and isn’t easily recognisable as the Narnia we’ve come to know.
    I’ve been reading these for nearly 40 years and have read them to my children (now 7 & 10). Their clear favourite is Horse and his Boy.

    • Cleander says:

      I tend to read the books on a seasonal basis as well, even though I tell people to read them in chronological order…

  18. Col Klink says:

    I've just realized that the podcasters' favorite and least favorite Narnia books are closely connected. And my two favorites are closely connected to one of my least favorites.


  19. Andy Harrelson says:

    I would have to list my favorites to least favorites in this order:

    1. The Last Battle
    2. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
    3. A Horse and his Boy
    4. The Silver Chair
    5. The Magician's Nephew
    6. Voyage of the Dawn Treader
    7. Prince Caspian

    With that said, one piece of advice I would give to those making the Netflix Narnia adaptations, I would encourage them to really look at the books and really see what makes them so enjoyable and unique, and try to bring those qualities out, while fixing some of their faults as well.

  20. BLMartin says:

    My favorites are the horse and his boy and the silver chair, I discovered the Narnia books when I was 7or 8 years old but I remember being really little and loving (loving to the point of distoring) the book the lion the witch and the wardrobe I remember being really little and sitting in my room and looking at it and turning the pages and wishing I could read. My advice to the Netflix team and the silver chair team as a matter of fact my advice is “don’t mess this up” seriously don’t mess this up don’t rewrite the story to much don’t change their ages caspian? Really Disney? And don’t mess up the ending to silver chair