The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
(HarperTrophy, 2000, 208 pages)
The Magician’s Nephew, more than any of the other Narnia stories, highlights the question of reading order. Originally published as the sixth book in the series, newer editions place it at the beginning. Each ordering has its proponents, but I prefer the former.
This installment tells the story of the creation of Narnia through the experience of Digory and Polly, two children in Edwardian London. Digory, we quickly learn, is none other than Professor Kirke, the old gentleman whose magic wardrobe will later transport the Pevensies back and forth between our world and Narnia. Digory and Polly find themselves traveling through different worlds by the cruel experiments of Digory’s Uncle Andrew, an amateur magician. They eventually find themselves in an empty world where the great lion Aslan sings Narnia into existence. The origin of the magical wardrobe, along with many other familiar elements of the preceding stories, is revealed as this adventure unfolds.
Chronologically speaking, it makes good sense to begin the series with The Magician’s Nephew. Along with the creation of Narnia, we also see the entrance of evil into that world; the very evil which sets in motion the struggles and exploits that provide the action of the other stories. However, I prefer to read the series in the original publication order, and I find The Magician’s Nephew to be most enjoyable within that ordering. Lewis seems to relish showing you how some of Narnia’s unique features (the lamp post in the woods, talking animals, etc.) came to be, and the humor of the book assumes a certain familiarity of the reader with this world. For the first time reader of the Chronicles, I would certainly recommend starting with The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and moving through Narnia in the order that Lewis imagined it. This way, you can be in on the joke.