Before there was Harry Potter and Hogwarts, there were the Pevencie children and The Chronicles of Narnia. Since the 1950s generations of readers become captivated by the magical world of Narnia, its prophecies, its villains and, of course, Aslan the Lion. Nearly 70 years later we still enjoy traveling through the wardrobe with Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy.
The Chronicles of Narnia took normal, everyday kids and put them in the middle of a magical land where good battled evil. In Narnia, animals can talk. Weapons are enchanted. Normal kids, with no special abilities, can become kings and queens. For a kid, what more could you want?
The Chronicles of Narnia Series
The series, written by C. S. Lewis, consists of seven books published form 1950-1956. The first book published, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950) was and often still is readers’ introduction to Narnia. After the four Pevencie children moved to stay with a professor in the country during World War II, they come across an enchanted wardrobe that leads them into the land of Narnia. Once all four are there, they realize they are at the center of a prophecy decreeing they will defeat the evil White Witch and rule Narnia as kings and Queens.
In the books that followed, readers get both the continuing journeys of the Pevencie children and introductions to new characters. After the first four books were published, Lewis continued writing about Narnia, filling in the gaps between his stories and even providing an origin story of how Narnia was created. Still, it’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950) that fans are most familiar with.
Origins of Narnia
Lewis began writing The Chronicles of Narnia back in 1939 but took breaks on and off as inspiration hit. He was captivated by an image he came up with of a fawn carrying packages and never quite let it go. It wasn’t until the events of World War II that four children were sent to stay with that he was inspired to revisit his story and create the Pevencies. With the writing completed in 1949, his first Narnia novel was published a year later.
From there the writing came much quicker and each succeeding novel was published one year after the next.
Reading Order Debate
As The Chronicles of Narnia were being published, they didn’t necessarily follow a chronological order of events. Following the publication of Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (1951), The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952), and The Silver Chair (1953), Lewis decided to take a step back in the story. The next book, The Horse and His Boy (1954) actually takes place between Lion and Prince Caspian. Likewise, The Magician’s Nephew (1955) precedes all other Narnia books with The Last Battle (1956) coming at the end, finishing the series.
Initially, the novels were read in the order they were published with collections sold as such. However, it was eventually suggested that readers discover Narnia through its chronological narrative. This would mean starting with The Magician’s Nephew before reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. It is said that Lewis approved the change, however, there are still fans of the series that prefer to read the seven-novel set by publication order. Those interested in purchasing the complete series will notice that the books are now numbered by chronological order of events. While there is still some debate over publication order versus narrative order, either way still makes sense for new or returning readers.
With the increasing popularity of The Chronicles of Narnia books came numerous adaptions of the series. The first adaption was for TV in 1967 as a half-hour 10-episode series. Next came its first animated adaption in 1979. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe became the first full-length animated feature film for TV. In the late 1980s, the BBC also picked up the story for a live-action series running from 1988-90. Unlike its predecessors, this series covered the first four published books instead of simply the first book.
Other adaptions included radio, state, music, and even games. The most recent adaption has been the film series by Walden Media. Through Disney, they brought the first three published books to the big screen. With heavy reliance on computer-generated characters, such as Aslan, the films didn’t so as well as the studio hoped. Disney pulled out of the project before the fourth film, The Silver Chair, could be made.
Does The Chronicles of Narnia Still Hold Up?
Whether you dreamt of being royalty or fighting in an epic battle, The Chronicles of Narnia had something for everyone. While the writing style is still suited for younger audiences the characters and adventures are still engaging. Whether through an adaption or a book, new fans are discovering Narnia and joining the fandom. Aslan the Lion is still one of the most iconic literary characters, whether you see him as a leader, king, or a Christ-like figure.
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That being said, it’s not perfect. Lewis’s depiction of girls in the series, especially Susan, comes off as shallow by today’s standards. When the rest of the family returns to Narnia for its final battle, Susan stays behind, not believing in Narnia anymore. It’s thought that Lewis intended to write one more Narnia book about what happened to Susan, but he died before he could write it.
Influences of The Chronicles of Narnia can still be seen in fiction today. More than one comparison has been made between the four rulers of Narnia and the four houses of Hogwarts. Likewise, The Magicians series requires four rulers for its magical kingdom of Fillory. We all want a place to step into and belong. For someone of us, that place is Narnia.