The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe ♦ Prince Caspian ♦ The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" ♦ The Silver Chair ♦ The Horse and His Boy ♦ The Magician's Nephew ♦ The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis (Macmillan, 1950-1956)
I have elsewhere averred that Lewis's Narnia septet is worth reading annually. Not even the rapid growth of our grandchildren has made me more cognizant of the rapid passage of time than realizing that the last time I read these books was in 2010. That was the year I began keeping a comprehensive record of my reading; without it, I would have been certain it had been no more than a few years since my last reading. Wow.
Their turn came up recently in my C. S. Lewis retrospective, in which I'm reading his books in a rough chronological order. They have always been my favorite of his books, and my discovery of Michael Ward's Planet Narnia enhanced my admiration by an order of magnitude.
One thing I noticed this time around—thanks to my awareness of the chronology of his writing—was the salutory effect the entrance of Joy Davidman into his life appears to have had on his view of women. Lewis's attitude towards women sometimes makes me cringe, but as I've become aware of his biography, I'm amazed he wasn't a total misogynist. His beloved mother died when he was very young, and his subsequent experiences with women were not conducive to developing healthy ideas about normal family life and competent, caring females. Even his relationship with Davidman could hardly be called normal. But she was strong and intelligent, and it's hard not to conclude that the presence in his life of such a woman influenced him to give his female characters more respect as the Narnia series progressed.
That is, if you read them in publication order. I'm 100%, whole-heartedly of the belief that one should read the Narnia books in the order listed above. It is fashionable now to read them in chronological order, supposedly the order Lewis recommended. But if that truly was his recommendation, then I'm bold enough to say he was wrong, even if he is the author. The Horse and His Boy and The Magician's Nephew work very well as flashbacks in the story, much more interesting because of their non-chronological positions in the Chronicles. Scenes in The Magician's Nephew, such as the "planting" of the lamppost, would lose much of their wonder and magic for me if I had not read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe first. Similarly, I think meetin Aslan for the first time works better in Lion.
This series deserves the highest praise. It's some of the cleverest and most uplifting material I've ever read. I'm sure I would respect it even more if I had better knowledge of Dante, but reading Planet Narnia was eye-opening enough. The only thing that makes me cringe just a bit is that in two of the books the culture of the heroes is clearly modelled on England, while that of the villains is like something out of the Arabian Nights. I think this makes perfect sense for a British author writing for a largely British audience, and since the books were written in the 1950's, this obviously has nothing to do with the current political situation. But it is worth being aware of.