Way back in April, I mentioned that I had begun reading The Chronicles of Narnia during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was a great choice for several reasons. The familiar stories provided comfort in a time of anxiety, the imaginative world of Narnia provided helpful distraction from reality, and the series’s central focus on Aslan helped to re-orient me from fear to trust.
As I read through the books, I enjoyed them so much that I decided to write about them. I had actually wanted to do so for years, and I thought it would be a lot of fun to rank the different books and write a post or two to summarize my thoughts.
It turned into a much larger project than I first intended.
The first post was about 1,500 words, but each subsequent post grew longer and longer, like the books in the Harry Potter series. The post reviewing The Last Battle was over 4,000 words long, and the entire series is some 22,000 words. The posts got longer because I began to focus more on details of the books, and especially on the theology presented in each one. That also meant that to took me much longer to write the different posts: while there was a gap of about a week between Part 1 and Part 2, Part 7 came about six weeks after Part 6 (which was ridiculous).
Summarizing all of those posts, my rankings basically break the Narnia books down into three tiers:
For my money, LWW, VDT, and HHB represent the top three Narnia books, in that order. But, they are so close that I have a hard time being dogmatic about that. The next time I read through the series, they could easily shuffle places.
LWW is so good, and has no real weaknesses; it had the highest or tied-for-highest sub-score in three of the four rubric categories (Story, Characters, Theology). VDT didn’t peak as highly, but similarly had no weaknesses. HHB was the best book in the series for the first three categories (Story, Characters, Worldcraft), but was a notch below in Theology, which moved it from first to third.
LB is really good as well. It doesn’t have any real weak points, but its highs are not quite as high as the top tier, and the lows are a little lower. I would disagree with anyone who argued that it is the best book of the series, but still, it represents a fitting and satisfying end to the Narnia chronicles.
Good But Flawed
According to my rubric, PC and SC scored very similarly, with only a half-point separating the two. Both books have good elements, but are also flawed. The stories are somewhat slow, the theology is not as good as several of the other books, and neither book is truly excellent in any category.
But again, these books suffer from being compared unfavorably to some truly brilliant books; they are still worth reading.
The Unnecessary Prequel
There’s no way around it: I am not a big fan of MN. The story really drags, the characters aren’t very compelling, and even though the creation account prompts some good theological reflection, overall, this book is a big step below all others in the series.
It’s not a terrible book, but as I said in the review for MN:
“It is a classic prequel in the negative sense: you care about the story because you are already invested in the world in which it exists; if you actually read the prequel first, you wouldn’t understand what was so great about the series and may not even be inclined to continue.”
Thankfully, Lewis didn’t write this one first.
This concludes our Ranking Narnia series; I hope you have enjoyed it! Although I had not originally planned to review the books at this level, this series turned out to be a lot of fun to write, and the theological reflection it prompted for me was meaningful and encouraging.
These reviews have helped me develop an even deeper fondness for the Narnia series; I expect that I will be reading them again!
Check out the full series of posts:
- Ranking Narnia, Part 1: The Magician’s Nephew
- Ranking Narnia, Part 2: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
- Ranking Narnia, Part 3: The Horse and His Boy
- Ranking Narnia, Part 4: Prince Caspian
- Ranking Narnia, Part 5: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
- Ranking Narnia, Part 6: The Silver Chair
- Ranking Narnia, Part 7: The Last Battle
- Ranking Narnia, Part 8: Concluding Thoughts