A Return to Narnia


Yes, that is a real photo; and yes, you expect to see a faun carrying an umbrella next to the lamp-post.
After reading Lev Grossman’s Magician series earlier this year, I dove back into Narnia. It’s easy to slip back into Lewis’ world—just start reading, and there I am, following the adventures of Peter, Susan, Lucy, Edmund, and the rest.
I always feel I can jump in anywhere with the Narnia books. It’s not like reading Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. I can’t just jump in; I have to read the books in order—most of the time. But with Lewis, it’s simply a matter of picking my point of entry. This time I started with Prince Caspian, then I read The Horse and His Boy, The Magician’s Nephew, and now I’m reading The Silver Chair.
If you ever wonder about the correct order in which to read the Narnia books, there isn’t one—not really, at least according to Lewis himself. However, people have varying opinions on the matter. Publishers would have you believe The Magicians Nephew is first in the series. It’s not. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the first book in the series. You can read the books in the order you like, but Lion is first. It was first published; it’s the first introduction to the world of Narnia, and the first introduction to the children and Aslan. The Magician’s Nephew is a prequel—not the first book in the series.
Alister McGrath offers a compelling argument for the ordering of the Narnia books in his biography of Lewis, C. S. Lewis, A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet. This is one of the best biographies on Lewis—if you want to find out more about the life of this Oxford don. You can watch a lecture by McGrath here:
While the Pevensie children are the central group of characters in the series, one of my favourites is Ewstace Scrubb. Here’s the opening line of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:
“There was a boy called Ewstace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”
Poor Ewstace. He has much to learn in this book—mostly about not being an ass, but also about being with other people and forming relationships. I sometimes wonder if Lewis took his inspiration for Ewstace from Ebenezer Scrooge.
While much of the criticism written about the Narnia books examines Lewis as a Christian writer, this isn’t the only way to read these books. Take one small example—Lewis is often funny as a writer. He’s at his best with Ewstace Scrubb. Ewstace is mouthy, argumentative, irreverent, and self-serving—at least until he meets Aslan on Dragon Island. After Ewstace is undragoned by Aslan, he’s less funny. And speaking of Aslan—the Great Lion is dangerous, awe inspiring, terrible, full of joy, gentle, and kind. But he isn’t funny.
Make of that what you will. I love the books, and I’ll keep reading them. I still laugh out loud as I read certain passages, and I maintain that Lewis knew how to be funny, in spite of the weighty seriousness that often pervades the series, especially The Last Battle.
I think Lev Grossman must understand this about Lewis, too. While the Magician books are dark, disturbing, and painful, there are passages and scenes that are exquisitely funny. But that’s the thing about humour. It’s often the leavening agent that turns the crushingly tragic into the recognizably human.