Title: The Chronicles of Narnia (All seven volumes). The Magician’s Nephew; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; The Horse and His Boy; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Silver Chair; The Last Battle.
Author: C.S. Lewis
Page Count: 767
Synopsis: A fictional series based in the mythical land of Narnia where animals talk, witches loom, magic flourishes and lions reign. It is a place where men coexist with centaurs, minotaurs, dwarves and fauns. C.S. Lewis pens seven volumes primarily following the adventures of the four Pevensie children: Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmund as they discover a portal to a wondrous new world at the back of a wardrobe. Many people call Lewis’ work a Christian allegory but that’s not quite accurate. Not every figure and event represents an element of the Christian life. I’ve read that Lewis approached his books by asking the question, “What would Jesus Christ be like in a world like Narnia?” The answer, of course, comes in the form of Aslan, the noble lion who directs all things according to the counsel of his own will. Chronicles is not allegory but is full of biblical allusions. The Chronicles of Narnia was written for children, but can (and should) be enjoyed by people of all ages.
Kudos/Knocks: Lewis is a true joy to read and even children should not have much trouble tackling these volumes for themselves. Narnia is an enchanted place that every reader will long to visit. I enjoyed every volume, but some more than others. Below I will list all seven books in order from most loved to least loved, with a few words about each.
#1: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – I loved every page of this journey. I believe it is an homage to Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Prince Caspian’s trek to the very end of the word encapsulates the life and trials of every Christian. Lucy, Edmund and newbie to Narnia, cousin Clarence, join Caspian as he seeks to discover the fate of seven men who were banished by his evil uncle. This book captured my imagination with its vivid metaphors of the tribulations we face in our ordinary, everyday lives. I was enchanted especially by the last part as our heroes pass the final trial and arrive at the very end of the world within view of Aslan’s country on the horizon. One of my favorite quotes from the whole series comes from this book. It’s from the very first line. I chuckle every time I read it. “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”
#2: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – The flagship volume of the entire series, Lion is the one Narnia story I recall from my youth. I believe one of my elementary school teachers read it to us (imagine that happening these days! She would have been strung up by the ankles with piano wire). We are first introduced to the Pevensie children: Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmond here. While staying with their uncle, Lucy stumbles upon the magic world-warping wardrobe and finds herself in the frigid woods of a permanent Narnian winter. She eventually brings her brothers and sister back with her and the true adventure begins. Edmond is seduced by the wiles of the White Witch and becomes her unwitting servant. The children are guided to fulfill their destiny in overcoming the White Witch by the fiercesome yet gentle lion, Aslan. The obvious parallel between Aslan’s sacrifice and resurrection on Edmund’s behalf to the cross of Christ is unmistakable – and beautifully imagined. The story has stuck with me all these years, even when I was ignorant of its Christian message. It is a spellbinding tale on every level.
#3: The Magician’s Nephew – The tale of Narnia’s creation and how the sons of Adam came to rule and reign over it. It also reveals the origin of the White Witch and how she came to Narnia. The volume I read has this book listed first in the series, according to a natural, chronological order ( and C.S. Lewis’ preferred order). However, I believe this book is much more fulfilling if read after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Once you read Lion you will naturally be left with a few lingering questions (if you’re the inquisitive type). The Magician’s Nephew answers those questions in a very satisfying manner, wrapped in a imaginative story you won’t soon forget.
#4: The Last Battle – The grand finale of the series alludes to biblical eschatology by chronicling apostasy, deception and political power plays in the last days of Narnia. Eustace, his schoolmate Jill, the Pevensie children and the king of Narnia work together to restore order to a land in chaos. Aslan, the true king of Narnia lowers the curtain over history by bringing about the consummation of all things. I somewhat morbidly enjoyed the creeping pall of doom cast over this entire story. It is brilliantly counterbalanced by the glorious and thought-provoking stroll Lewis takes us on through Aslan’s country at the close of his chronicles. It is a journey that brings to mind what the prophet Isaiah wrote about the new heavens and new earth shining so gloriously that the old world wouldn’t even come to mind.
Note: I must draw an imaginary line at this point in my rankings. These first four volumes all possess a certain degree of magic that could not be reproduced from the next three. The difference in my love for #1 and #4 is minimal – but there is a significant drop-off on the ole Magic Meter for #5-7.
#5: The Silver Chair – Just edges out Prince Caspian. This is due to the fact that I enjoy the epic quest plot device more so than a tale of political intrigue and revolutionary war. Eustace and Jill are whisked away to Narnia where Aslan sends them on a very specific task to rescue King Caspian’s long lost son, Prince Rilian from the clutches of an evil witch. While this may sound like standard ‘Mario must save the kidnapped princess’ fare reserved only for video games, I actually enjoyed this book quite a bit. Overall, it is not nearly as memorable as the other epic quest book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, however it does manage to stand on its own merits. The scene involving the aforementioned silver chair is quite powerful and a vivid portrayal of the power sin holds over all of us.
#6: Prince Caspian – Maybe because I read it so long ago, I just didn’t get involved much with this tale at all. I recently watched the theatrical version and enjoyed it quite a bit, but I still can’t rank this book any higher. The title character is a prince of Narnia who suddenly becomes expendable when his cruel power-hungry uncle, who reigns as king, has a son born to him. Caspian’s teacher raised him on tales of a bygone time in Narnia when animals talked, trees walked and dwarves, dryads, fauns and centaurs inhabited the land. These were all considered myth in the enlightened age Caspian lived in. Eventually, Caspian discovers Narnia’s hidden populace and they believe he has been raised up to free Narnia from the tyrannical rule of his uncle. The four Pevensie children are summoned back to assist Caspian in Narnia’s revolution. Prince Caspian is a fine book on all accounts but for me it’s missing the magic of discovery I felt when reading Lion and Dawn Treader. Frankly, I found this volume a bit tiresome. Maybe, I will gain a new appreciation of it on a second read through.
#7: The Horse and His Boy – Full Disclosure: I have almost zero recollection of what this book’s about. I had to scan through the pages to refresh myself on the basic plot. Maybe I should read it again before reviewing – just to be fair. The setting occurs during the reign of Peter and Edmund following the fall of the White Witch in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. The main characters are Shasta, a poor lad from the land of Calormen and Bree, a talking Narnian horse. Both lived as slaves but when they found each other they agreed to run away – to the happy and free land of Narnia. As you can imagine ( and I am!) they have many adventures along the way. The Calormen culture has a distinct Arabian flavor. They are a people who value pride and power above all. Shasta is not at all like his fellow country men and along with his faithful companion, he begins a pilgrimage to a better country. I should comment no more until I take the journey with the horse and his boy once again. Sorry for the pathetic review.
Your turn! For all my readers who have read the Chronicles of Narnia, give your top/down list of favorites and what you appreciated most about them.