Reading Through old Friends

posted 6 Jun 2005, 7PM | 8 Comments

In anticipation of the forthcoming movies, I've been re-reading The Chronicles of Narnia, the beautiful series C.S. Lewis wrote following World War II. I first read all seven books in 4th grade, and I'm now reading them again in that same order - the order in which they were originally written, not the chronological re-order that modern publishers insist upon.

Re-reading childhood stories has a two-fold power for me. There's the nostalgic layer: I rediscover the excitement I felt when I first read the books; I'm reminded of moments when I empathized strongly with certain characters, tough spots in the narrative that I didn't understand. And I've discovered that the mental images and maps I made of the people and lands that Lewis describes have remained unchanged for the 18 years.

At the same time, there's the meta layer: my adult self gets to analyze the flow of the story, consider the author's writing style and technique (I had no English degree in 4th grade - each book paints a truly rich narrative in a short space), hunt for the Christian symbolism, and consider the challenges of writing for children.

Most impressively, it's a privilege to look back and understand why 9-year-old me loved the books, why I was drawn to certain parts of the stories more than others, and what made reading a treat for me as a boy. I still laugh at the samelines of dialogue, still like certain passages the best.

There are 8 Comments


7 Jun 05 at 10:19AM Awol said:

I never read any of them. What's the difference between the publishing and story line chronology?


7 Jun 05 at 11:22AM sixfoot6 said:

The Chronicles of Narnia Wikipedia entry has a good explanation of the ordering controversy.

The biggest issue is that The Magician's Nephew tells of the origins of Narnia, and the origins of the wardrobe itself, among other things. The excitement is discovering that you're witnessing the beginning of a world you're already familiar with, not in reading in some chronological sequence (which in this case somewhat emphasizes the Christian allegory).

Imagine if Rowling wrote a final book explaining the origins of the Muggle/Wizard duality, and that those origins were intimately connected to both the construction of Hogwarts and to Harry's great-great-great grandfather. Or whatever. You wouldn't want to read that BEFORE all of the other books, since you don't even know who Harry is yet or why you should care about him.

The Naria series is great, though. It's like Harry Potter meets a sweeter Middle Earth, complete with British schoolchildren quipping at each other. I'll loan them to you.


7 Jun 05 at 02:10PM Dan D. said:

I read in Psychology Today that the stories you recall as a child will give you clues to who you are as an adult. James and The Giant Peach and Where the Wild Things Are both had themes of young men leaving their home for something new. Which is exactly what I did.

It's really fascinating to sleuth for clues.


8 Jun 05 at 01:14AM Mary said:

I had a similar experience recently reading Alice in Wonderland: so smart, so witty, still delightful. There was a live actor film version I loved as a child, but watching it again as a teenager--the magic was all gone, and it just seemed hokey. Score one for the books!


9 Jun 05 at 08:45AM Manda said:

I read all seven again in January of 2004. The part where the girls are reunited with Aslan makes me cry every time... Oh, to be lovingly tossed in the air by a huge lion.


10 Jun 05 at 08:33AM Shaun said:

They reorder them? That's awful. Horse and His Boy, for instance, wouldn't work nearly so well outside the written-order context. And pushing the best book back to, what, number 5 or so instead of 3? That's a mistake, even from a making-people-read-them perspective: Voyage of the Dawn Treader lightens the tone a bit and speeds the tempo from Prince Caspian, and provides momentum to shoot you through to The Last Battle.

Err, yeah, I've read them a few times.


10 Jun 05 at 09:32AM sixfoot6 said:

Glad to hear that there are some other fans out there. Dawn Treader is my absolute favorite as well, though now that I've finished Silver Chair I'm realizing how little I remember of the lat four books. Most likely I read Treader three or four times when I was a kid. It's filled with all sorts of interesting ideas, with the best character development and dialogue in the series and a beautiful climax.


18 Jun 05 at 12:42PM Karen said:

oh, I just re-read those about a month ago! I loved them as a child and found them just as enchanting now.

(and congrats on being engaged!)

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