In What Order Should the Narnia Books Be Read?

Are you interested in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, but unsure where to start? We hope this page will clear things up.

Publication Order vs. Chronological Order

Here is how the books originally appeared:

Publication Order:
1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
2. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (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)

The earliest editions did not have numbers on the spines at all. In 1980, seventeen years after Lewis’s death, British editions of the books began appearing that were numbered according to the stories’ internal sequence:

Chronological Order:
1. The Magician’s Nephew
2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
3. The Horse and His Boy*
4. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia
5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
6. The Silver Chair
7. The Last Battle

The Horse and His Boy actually takes place within the timeframe of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, not after.

Between 1980 and 1994, American editions used publication order while British editions used chronological order.  HarperCollins took over the publishing rights in 1994 and all books have been numbered chronologically ever since.

Which book should I read first?

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first book to be published, is generally considered the best introduction to the world of Narnia. Dr. Paul F. Ford, author of Companion to Narnia, said “Most scholars disagree with [the decision to re-number the books] and find it the least faithful to Lewis’s deepest intentions.”

Why were the books re-numbered?

Initially, HarperCollins included this explanation in the books:

The HarperCollins editions of The Chronicles of Narnia have be re-numbered in compliance with the original wishes of the author, C.S. Lewis.

In reaction, Lewis scholar Peter Schakel asked, “Does ‘original’ mean from the time at which The Magician’s Nephew was completed? If so, why did Lewis not request the Bodley Head to include this renumbering in the new book, or in The Last Battle the following year, or have Geoffrey Bles change the order in later reprints of the other books? If it had been a matter of importance to Lewis, surely his publishers would have complied with his wishes, or included the renumbering in the paperback editions that appeared a few years later.”

 In later editions, the explanation was revised to:

Although The Magician’s Nephew was written several years after C.S. Lewis first began The Chronicles of Narnia, he wanted it to be read as the first book in the series. HarperCollins is happy to present these books in the order in which Professor Lewis preferred.

What did C.S. Lewis say?

One year after the final Narnia book was published, an 11-year-old boy named Lawrence Krieg wrote to Lewis asking which order he should re-read the books in (he had alredy read them once in publication order). His mother felt he should stick with the original order but Lawrence suggested re-reading chronologically. Lewis responded on April 23, 1957:

“I think I agree with your order for reading the books more than with your mother’s. The series was not planned beforehand as she thinks. When I wrote The Lion I did not know I was going to write any more. Then I wrote P. Caspian as a sequel and still didn’t think there would be any more, and when I had done The Voyage I felt quite sure it would be the last. But I found as I was wrong. So perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone read them.”

This letter is cited by readers on both sides of the controversial decision to re-number the books. Proponents see this as clear proof that Lewis wanted the books read in chronological order. Opponents point out that Lewis wrote “perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone read them” in the same letter and he could have re-numbered the books himself if he really wanted to.

Douglas Gresham, step-son of C.S. Lewis, said:

“[HarperCollins] asked, ‘What order do you think we ought to do them in?’  And I said, ‘Well … I actually asked Jack himself what order he preferred and thought they should be read in.  And he said he thought they should be read in the order of Narnian chronology.’  So I said, ‘Why don’t you go with what Jack himself wanted?’  So, it’s my fault basically—the order of Narnian chronology.  And I’m not the least bit ashamed of it.”