Order of publication: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950); Prince Caspian (1951); The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952); The Silver Chair (1953); The Horse and His Boy (1954); The Magician’s Nephew (1955); The Last Battle (1956).
The Chronicles of Narnia tell the story of the magical land of Narnia, where animals talk, trees walk, and the magical creatures of bygone eras live. The story begins with The Magician’s Nephew , in which the Great Lion Aslan, the Son of the Emperor Over the Sea, sings Narnia into existence. No sooner is the land created, than it is tainted by the arrival of evil, brought there by the boy Digory Kirke, who must then work to undo the evil. This evil is driven out, but returns to the land in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in which the four Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy get into the magical kingdom through a wardrobe and find themselves battling Jadis, the White Witch, alongside Aslan, who must make the ultimate sacrifice to save one of the four children. Triumphing over evil through the resurrected Aslan, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are crowned kings and queens of Narnia, during which time The Horse and His Boy is set. Shasta, the son of a Calormen fisherman escapes with the Narnian horse Bree, who has been in servitude in Calormene since he was a young foal. Together they join up with the Tarkheena Aravis and her talking horse Hwin and work to avert an invasion of Archenland and Narnia by the evil prince Rabadash.
The next book in the series is Prince Caspian, which picks up the narrative of the land nearly a thousand Narnian years after the Pevensies have returned to their own world. Called back into Narnia by Susan’s magic horn, the four children must now aid the young Prince Caspian, king of the True Narnians, to take back the land from his evil uncle Miraz, the king of the Telmarines, who have conquered Narnia and driven the fairytale creatures into hiding. Then in The Voyage of the Dawntreader, Edmund and Lucy join Caspian, along with their cousin Eustace, on a quest to find seven lost lords of the Telmarines who were exiled by Miraz. The Silver Chair tells of Eustace and his friend Jill’s trip to Narnia to find Caspian's son Rillian who has been kidnapped by an evil witch who has stolen him away to an underground kingdom from where he will break forth to conquer Narnia. And the last book of the series, The Last Battle, tells of the fall of Narnia into darkness and how Aslan solves the issues of evil in that world once and for all.
In some sense I was trying to avoid reviewing these books, as I figured they were pretty well known, but after talking to some friends after the release of the movie version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (which, by the way, is an excellent adaptation of that book), I realized that I should add them to my reading list. So here goes.
Lewis’s series has been beloved by young and old ever since it was first published in the 1950s. The series is a great story for children, as it offers adventure, wonder, and magic, but it is also excellent for adults, as Lewis tackles some important spiritual truths and has very many witty asides and observations about human nature that most adults will find very humorous. Many people have tried to dismiss the spiritual side of the Chronicles, but that has been built into them on purpose. Lewis wrote the first one as a “suppositional” tale – suppose the Son of God came to a world populated by talking animals, what form would He take? Would He still sacrifice Himself for Adam’s sinful race? And the reappearance of Aslan throughout the series makes it more and more clear that he is truly meant to reflect what Jesus is like. And it’s clear that C.S. Lewis knew Jesus very well.
My personal favorites in the series are The Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle. The former I like a lot because I’m a romantic at heart, and it’s the only one in the series that has a nice romantic story (though Lewis’s confirmed bachelorhood shines through in his explanation of why two of the protagonists marry at the end). I’ve also always loved The Last Battle because of the last few chapters after Eustace, Jill, and Tirian pass through the stable door and find themselves in Lewis’s description of what heaven might be like. Just those last three chapters are worth all of the heartbreak that has gone before.
This is, to my mind, a series that every child should have read once and that every father should sit down and read with his kids—as my father did with my brother and me. And the fact that it has passed the test of time puts it in the category of the best books of all times.