Pros: Fun fantasy novel for all ages
Cons: Order of books could cause confusion
The Bottom Line:
No matter the order read
You will enjoy it
A Prequel or a Beginning
The order of the Narnia books is something that will be discussed for the rest of time. See, The Magician's Nephew is either the sixth or first book in the series. It was the sixth book that author C.S. Lewis wrote in the series. But it takes place before any of the other books in the series. Frankly, the book stands well enough on its own that this issue doesn't matter.
Digory and Polly are next door neighbors. As all children will, they immediately become fast friends. Looking for something different to do one summer morning, they find themselves exploring a passageway between their houses. When they tumble out, they are surprised to find themselves in Digory's uncle's study, a room strictly forbidden. See, Uncle Andrew dapples in magic, and tricks Polly into taking one of his magic rings. To Digory's horror but Uncle Andrew's delight, Polly immediately vanishes. Digory goes after her, and they find themselves in a magic wood, a passageway to different worlds. Their curiosity aroused, they explore further. But will they find something good or something evil?
This is a different story in the Narnia tales. First, we don't arrive at Narnia until after half way through the book. Second, this is the only book where actions in the fantasy worlds have direct impact on events in our world. For these reasons, it's a fun change in the series. The story in Narnia is simpler then the others, but it makes watching a new world take shape no less thrilling. And there are some important lessons on doing the right thing at the right time and getting out of life exactly what you expect.
Even as a kid, I knew where this book was going from page one. But that doesn't make it boring at all. Part of that is because Digory and Polly are great characters. They really do seem like real children. I easily identified with them the first time through and loved spending time with them.
Now the fact that it takes so long to get to Narnia isn't a bad thing. There is still plenty happening. As I said, I knew the overall storyline, but there were lots of details that surprised and delighted me, making me want to keep reading.
Which brings me back to the issue of book order. When I read these books back in third grade, I read them in publication order, and that has biased me in the debate ever since. There are a couple details in here that explain things in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. They are minor details and don't ruin the enjoyment of either book, but I enjoyed the surprises. As a result, I think they work best in original publication order. Modern publishing disagrees, placing it first. I'd be curious to see what I think if I had read them in chronological order first, but I can't. So I just shrug it off and praise the series to anyone who will listen.
No matter what order you choose to read the books in, make sure you do. These are classic children's fantasy for a reason; The Magician's Nephew and the rest are fun stories that can be enjoyed by kids of all ages.