As a little girl, I fell in love with the magical world that lies through the back of a wardrobe. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian were forever being reread or listened to and their hold on me is still as powerful now as it was then.
Today marks the 65th anniversary of the publication of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, one of the most magical and beautiful children’s books ever written. So to celebrate this literary landmark I have delved into the seven Narnia chronicles to share with you a snapshot of each tale within this auspicious canon.
Now, there are two ways to follow the journey into Narnia – publication order or the chronological order of story. Fans and scholars have their own opinion on how best to follow Lewis’ chronicles (as they were never originally numbered and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was published first) but as I was already au fait with two titles (and as a bit of a chronological girl myself) I chose the linear route to embark on the full adventures…
The Magician’s Nephew
Set around the birth of Narnia, this was actually the sixth book to be published in the series and unsurprisingly, given the beauty of hindsight, it is chocked full of explanations surrounding the iconic lamp-post, the wardrobe and the uprising of the White Witch pre-Pevensies. This story is very satisfying for those readers who like things to tie together and explain previously unanswered questions.
Look out for: Jadis (the White Witch) commandeering a London coach and horses – Narnia meets 1900 London!
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
This book made me fall desperately in love with Narnia and still, after reading all of them, it is my absolute favourite. In a land where it is always winter but never Christmas enter the Pevensie children and they begin to learn about and fight for their adopted homeland. A high-fantasy adventure that takes Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve from a country house during WWII to the high majesty of Cair Paravel, this tale is just pure, amazing, unadulterated perfection. Read it – you won’t be disappointed!
Look out for: Mr Tumnus, the darlingest faun you could ever meet!
The Horse and His Boy
The only Narnian adventure to feature naught but true Narnians as the protagonists – Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve jog on to the next book! Set in the time of the reign of the Pevensies we follow Shasta and his Narnian horse Bree as they seek to escape their life of servitude in Calormen and discover where they really belong. This is the only chronicle not to be set in Narnia, which is initially unsettling but really interesting to explore further into the world beyond the lands of Aslan.
Look out for: The awesome Aravis and her spectacular escape from an unwanted marriage.
All four Pevensies are mysteriously transported back to the magical world they once ruled over, but it’s not a Narnia they recognise – this one is troubled and on the brink of a civil war between the Telmarine settlers and the true Narnians who have been forced to live in secret. The fight to put the true king on the throne in place of his usurping uncle carries elements of Shakespeare’s Hamlet yet the end result comes with a tad less gore! As my second favourite Narnian tale, Prince Caspian marks the start of new Narnia, a freer Narnia and a more interesting world to explore.
Look out for: The Pevensie children trying to convince cynical dwarf Trumpkin of their royal credentials.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
This is the transitional book between the Pevensie children and Eustace, the irritating cousin, who becomes the Son of Adam protagonist going forward. They find themselves in Narnia, three years on from their last adventure, on a sea quest with Prince Caspian to find the seven Lost Lords of Narnia. There are many familiar Narnian characters on the voyage, which makes this story very comforting but be warned, you may need tissues at the end!
Look out for: The adorable Duffers, a tribe of monopodal dwarves.
The Silver Chair
This penultimate Narnian chronicle features a quest worthy of Lewis’ Oxford contemporary Tolkien. Cousin Eustace returns to Narnia, bringing his friend (and narrator of the story) Jill Pole, to follow the signs of Aslan and rescue the crown Prince Rilian. With giants, underground cities and the mysterious Lady of the Green Kirtle, Eustace and Jill have a long way to travel in order to find not only the prince but also themselves. This story, as well as Voyage, was a delightful discovery in the Narnia canon and it is a close run race between them to claim my third-favourite of the Narnian tales.
Look out for: Puddleglum (the Marshwiggle) and his unique outlook on life.
The Last Battle
It is common knowledge that the Narnian chronicles are ultimately Christian allegories but where the previous stories are subtler with their religiosity, The Last Battle attempts to beat you over the head with it! A story of the renewal of Narnia in response to the creation of false idols and religious pluralism was by far my least favourite, in fact it wasn’t a Narnia I recognised or particularly enjoyed exploring. I know that some people love this book and I can appreciate that it is a veritable feast of issues and ideas to explore but it just didn’t do anything for me except make me want to run back to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for some proper Narnian magic!
Look out for: The return of the High Kings and Queen (sans Susan).
I have adored the world of Narnia my whole life and reading and rereading the chronicles has been utterly magical! I really hope you enjoy exploring them as much as I did and make sure to let me know which one is your fave!