Ranking The Chronicles of Narnia
*NOTE: This post is part of Jenelle Schmidt’s series, “February is Fantasy month”. If you love fantasy, be sure to check out more awesome posts on her site.
When it comes to the fantasy genre, few authors can compare to C.S. Lewis. His seven Chronicles of Narnia have delighted readers both young and old since their original publication between 1950 and 1956. The stories have sold millions of copies, been translated into multiple languages, adapted for film and television, and even inspired an Irish rock band.
While all the books have magical moments, memorable characters, and beautiful imagery, not all are equally popular. I love the entire series and would highly recommend them all, but I do have my favorites. And so I thought I’d take a stab at ranking these wonderful books, from 1-7.
7. The Last Battle
The last book in the series also comes last in my ranking. To my mind, The Last Battle has a few flaws when compared to the rest of the chronicles. With no truly great characters (though Jewel the unicorn comes close) and a rather grim plot, it lacks some of the enchantment of the other stories. And in a series that illustrates so much wonderful Christian truth, this one, though drawing clear parallels with the book of Revelation, is the most theologically disappointing. I don’t have space to go into detail here, but Lewis’ decision to write in the story of the good Calorman soldier betrays a belief in the very unbiblical (though quite popular) idea of natural theology. The concept that God allows people into heaven no matter what they believe is simply not true, and it mars what otherwise is one of the greatest passages about heaven in all of fiction.
6. The Magician’s Nephew
The Magician’s Nephew gives readers all the juicy bits about how Narnia came to be in the first place. We learn about the origin of the lamp post, the wardrobe, and even Jardis, the White Witch herself. With interesting characters like Digory and Polly, and a touching side story about Digory’s mother, this one has a lot to offer. But it’s further down the list for me because there’s really not much of a story here really. It feels more like one big long chase. The heroes are always running, first from Digory’s uncle and then from Jardis. It’s exciting, but they’re not given much of an actual goal. The creation sequence, which comes near the end, is my favorite part, and this is a must read for fans of the series. It just doesn’t quite live up, for me, to some of the other Narnian books.
5. Prince Caspian
This book introduces our “dear little friend”, the dwarf Trumpkin, one of my favorite characters from the series. Caspian’s upbringing under Dr. Cornelius is also intriguing to read about. I love the parallel Lewis draws to the Telmarine disbelief in fairy tale creatures and the naturalistic philosophy of the modern era. The way the Pevinsie children are drawn into Narnia via the magical horn is also quite clever and creates an interesting bifurcation of the story into two streams.
My favorite scene in this one is definitely the meeting between Lucy and Aslan in the woods. It is such a beautiful picture of the believer’s relationship to Christ. Despite all of these wonderful touches, the ending falls a little flat with this one. The duel between Peter and Miraz is really the climax and the ensuing battle between the Old Narnians and the Telmarines is more like an afterthought. Otherwise, it might have been higher on the list.
4. The Horse and His Boy
Ah, the adventures of Shasta and Bree. Such an original story. I love Shasta’s forthrightness and courage. I love Bree’s nobility and that he struggles with pride and vanity, but learns humility in the end. The combative relationship between Shasta and Aravis is also quite lively. Like The Magician’s Nephew, this one is a little more along the lines of backstory, or world-building, letting us see other lands beyond Narnia, but it’s such a delightful story that it is a welcome diversion. The culture of the Calormen is extremely convincing and makes for a fascinating backdrop to the tale. This one also has more of a proper climax. My favorite scenes in The Horse and His Boy are Aslan’s chastisement of Aravis and Shasta. Those passages are such beautiful pictures of a God who loves us so much, he is willing to discipline us for our own good.
3. The Silver Chair
Puddleglum! That one name sums up much of my affection for The Silver Chair. I’m sure there might be other characters in fiction like him, but I can’t think of any. His pessimistic optimism is hilarious and yet at the same time proves to be wiser than the more emotional decisions of Jill and Eustace. I love the signs Aslan give them and how the characters keep missing them to their own detriment.
The story has a wonderful arc. The run in with the giants feels like it’s right out of a fairy tale. And then the journey into Underland and the rescue of Prince Rillian have a more epic feel. The final confrontation with the The Lady of the Green Kirtle is tense and original, with good old Puddleglum’s stoic common sense proving the key to breaking her magic spell. This is just such a complete tale, it could easily have stood on its own. As it is, it just makes the series that much better.
2. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
Did you think this would be number one? For many people, I’m sure that will be the case. This book is amazing, the one that started it all. Here we first meet the lovely Pevinsie children and the wardrobe and above all the unforgettable Aslan. What Lewis achieves here is simply phenomenal. He’s written a story about the gospel of Jesus and yet he hasn’t. He’s written a children’s fairy tale and yet he hasn’t. It’s a slippery sort of story. It doesn’t fit neatly into one category. It is both modern and ancient, serious and whimsical, enchanting and down to earth. This really is a story for all people in all places and all times.
My favorite scenes in this one are too many to name. We’ve got Mr. Tumnus and the lamp post, turkish delight, Mr. Beaver, Father Christmas, and the Stone Table. Oh, the Stone Table. If there is one scene that captures the power of this series it’s that. Aslan working the “deep magic” in Edmund’s place is the story of stories, the one we all need to be true and which joyously, amazingly is! Ah, this is a classic for the ages.
1. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
As good as The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is my favorite of the chronicles of Narnia. If I had to sum up what I love about it in one word it would be “breathtaking”. This story for me is just pure adventure. It doesn’t have some of the things you’d think it would need to make a great story. There is no over-arching villain. The plot is rather episodic. There is not much of a climax. And yet, every moment is so imaginative and full of wonder that this story stands above all the others for me. It demonstrates that beyond witty dialogue, beyond exciting battles, beyond even profound meaning, there is joy in story itself.
What I mean is this: there is something innate within us that longs to discover the world around us. All children have it. It is obvious in them from their earliest moments. Eyes seek mother and father, hands reach out to grasp hold of whatever they can touch. And when they get ambulatory—watch out! There’s no holding them back then. But as we grow up, we lose that sense of wonder and curiosity. Things become familiar, mundane. We forget that there may be something unexpected around the next bend. And so our dreams swirl down the drain of the practical, the daily routine, the responsibilities. But this story show us, gives us a glimpse of, that joy we first knew when we entered this world.
Set sail for imagination
Yes, Eustace is hilariously obnoxious, and his transformation poignant, meaningful, and memorable. Yes, Reepicheep is a hoot and a bundle of fun wrapped in fur. Yes, Caspian proves himself more noble and kingly in this tale and, yes, it’s wonderful to have the delightful Lucy and a more somber Edmund along for the ride. But make no mistake, the main character here is the voyage itself, and even more than that, the exotic locations and predicaments the Dawn Treader and her crew found themselves in.
Whether it’s the living dreams of Nightmare Island, the magic book of Coriakin, the pool on Deathwater Island, dinner with a fallen star, or the liquid light at world’s end, this story is a tour de force of imaginative power. Only Lewis’ Perelandra comes close for sheer beauty, enchantment, and jaw-dropping “oh wow!” imagery. There is no story I would rather have been a part of in Narnia than this one. Just thinking of it now sends my mind’s eye spinning. And that is why this is my favorite story from The Chronicles of Narnia.
Where would you rank them?
So there you have my ranking of The Chronicles of Narnia. No doubt other readers would stack them differently, but for those of you who’ve read all seven, what say you? What’s your favorite of the series? How would you rank them one to seven?
However you shake them out, may your journeys in Narnia always lift your spirits, delight your imagination, and deepen your knowledge of the good, the true, and the beautiful.
Further up and further in.