Since the early 1950s, people have enjoyed reading The Chronicles of Narnia, written by C.S.Lewis; and for some people, this passion for Narnia leads to a disagreement as to whether you should read The Magician’s Nephew or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe first. Although it varies from reader to reader (with age, attention span, and interest being factors), starting with The Magician’s Nephew in The Chronicles of Narnia will give background information on the beginnings of Narnia that will become useful later, when reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – whereas others say that reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe first and beginning in publication order is what makes one fall in love with the series.
There are a number of reasons why reading The Magician’s Nephew first is preferable: it explains some otherwise, perhaps, confusing aspects of the story. Why and how would Professor Kirke know about other worlds? And why would he trust in Lucy not being mad, after hearing her wild story about going to a place called Narnia? Those are two common questions a first-time reader of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe might ask. However, in The Magician’s Nephew, Professor Kirke’s younger self – Digory Kirke – visits Narnia and witnesses its beginnings. It explains why he acknowledged that there are other worlds and it is really possible to go to them. The following is an excerpt from The Magician’s Nephew:
However, that might be, it was proved later that there was still magic in its [a tree grown in Digory’s garden from the seed of the Narnian tree of life] wood. For when Digory was quite middle-aged (and he was a famous learned man, a Professor, and a great traveler by that time) and the Ketterleys’ old house belonged to him, there was a great storm all over the south of England which blew the tree down. He couldn’t bear to have it simply chopped up for firewood, so he had part of the timber made into a wardrobe, which he put in his big house in the country. And though he did not discover the magic properties of that wardrobe, someone else did.
Another possibly confusing question arises when reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe first: Why does Narnian culture resemble English culture to such a great extent? Reading The Magician’s Nephew first is how to find the answer. When Frank, a London cab driver, was accidentally brought into Narnia in the confusion of an otherworldly experience, his cab was wrecked and his horse came with him – later, this Son of Adam became the first King of Narnia. Being English, he would have given Narnians the idea for beer, marmalade rolls and other things of the sort, many of which were mentioned in the series and are unique to England.
And lastly, what about the muddle of Narnian technology? How did a sewing machine end up in Mrs. Beaver’s dam? In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, there is a mention of Mrs. Beaver’s sewing machine: “The first thing Lucy noticed as she went in was a burring sound, and the first thing she saw was a kind-looking old she-beaver sitting in the corner with a thread in her mouth working busily at her sewing machine and it was from it that the sound came.” (Lewis 2)
Because Queen Helen was from our world, she most undoubtedly had a sewing machine at her home. Given time and a few tools, the ingenious dwarfs mentioned in The Magician’s Nephew created excellent crowns for the new king and queen in a short time. Couldn’t dwarfs of that intelligence create a sewing machine, if Queen Helen were to describe her sewing machine to them?
Although The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a loveable story, an easy read, a masterpiece, and a good introduction to Narnia and its people, reading The Magician’s Nephew first makes it possible to fully understand and appreciate The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as well as Narnian culture, history, food, and technology; in the opinion of the author, the best first step into Narnia is through the Wood Between the Worlds.
Lewis, C.S. “A Day With the Beavers.” The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. New York: Collier, 1970. 68. Print.
Lewis, C.S. “The End of This Story.” The Magician’s Nephew. New York: Collier, 1970. 185. Print.