I was probably around 9 or 10 years old. It was a normal Sunday morning in church. I was exploring the building in the moments between Sunday school and the worship service. Our church had a small library filled with mostly books I had no interest in. But there was a small section of children’s books. In this section, I discovered a worn copy of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Something drew me to it. Perhaps it was the majestic lion on the cover or the thought of an adventure where kids like me battle a sinister witch. It could have been curiosity about what a wardrobe even was (we had closets in our house, after all). Maybe it was just the desire for something to do other than to listen to the sermon.
Whatever the reason, I took the book with me. I read it during church. I’ve read it numerous times since. More than any other book, this one has stuck with me from childhood. Every time I read it – as a child, a teenager, a twenty-something, a parent – I am struck by something different.
It was a couple years after this discovery, I remember being in sixth grade, when my parents got me the complete series of seven books from Scholastic. I still remember taking those books home. They still reside on my shelf to this day. The reason I list the entire series as my favorite book rather than listing them individually is because at least three would make my top ten.
For the record, I got the series when they were still ordered by publication date. There is some controversy about this. The problem, as I see it, with reading The Magician’s Nephew (the story of the creation of Narnia) first is that when you come to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe you already know who Aslan is. The mystery of that book is gone. I think The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is the best entry into the series; I read that one to my daughter first. I don’t think it matters which order you read them beyond reading the original first!
Once I read the whole series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader became my favorite. Prince Caspian, the first sequel, has always been my least favorite as I recall it being too similar to the first one: the same kids return to save Narnia. With Dawn Treader, the world greatly expanded: new kids entire Narnia, they journey on the seas to the farthest reaches of the world. Dawn Treader hooked me on the series as much as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe did.
As a kid, The Silver Chair was tie for my least favorite with Prince Caspian. On my most recent reread, The Silver Chair may have been my favorite. The climax of The Silver Chair hit on some philosophical points that I may not have grasped as a child. This again is why rereads are so good – I loved the adventure of A Horse and His Boy as a kid, but in my teen years I got the real-life lessons Lewis included in the story. Finally, for my money there is no description of the afterlife, the new creation, as beautiful as the ending of The Last Battle.
Over the years I’ve read nearly every other book Lewis has written. Lewis, along with Tolkien, are my favorite writers. They have taught me that the best way to share truth, the most engaging way to encourage growth, is to write stories that take you away into your imagination but that change you when you return to this world. Great stories do not leave you unchanged. As I think about it, all the authors near the top of my list have done this – Dostoyevsky, John Irving. A good story entertains, a great story changes you.
If you’ve never read Lewis’ Narnia stories, read them. If you’ve read them, go ahead and read them again. And be changed.