Authorial Intent and How To Read a Series…

While checking out the published dates for the Chronicles of Narnia, I discovered a bit of surprise. Narnia fans tend to appeal to the published dates as the “proper” way to read the books. Apparently, C.S. Lewis disagreed. He, in fact, preferred the Chronological approach to the books, as he had not written them with a large master plan (such as Harry Potter). His seven books just kind of happened. According to Lewis:

“I think I agree with your order [i.e. chronological] for reading the books more than with your mother’s. The series was not planned beforehand as she thinks. When I wrote The Lion I did not know I was going to write any more. Then I wrote P. Caspian as a sequel and still didn’t think there would be any more, and when I had done The Voyage I felt quite sure it would be the last, but I found I was wrong. So perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone read them. I’m not even sure that all the others were written in the same order in which they were published.”-Dorsett & Mead, 1996

It’s worth noting that this is Harper Collin’s argument for re-ordering the books. Are we going against authorial intent to read the books “out of order” as it were? Granted, I am not a believer in the idea of authorial intent as the end all and be all. Sometimes they miss the greater truths and ideas put forth in their own work. That’s a touchy issue though, as some feel it is far to post-modern to suggest that part of art is what the viewer brings to it-not just the author behind it. I’ve made it pretty clear, I think, in the past I do not agree with that assessment. I do in fact feel that what truths that are illuminated by a work can reach far beyond (and in some cases in spite of) the author’s initial intent. Songwriter Terry Taylor has said that sometimes, the true meaning of a song was revealed to him by a fan, who opened his eyes to a different view of his own work (I am greatly paraphrasing from hearing him say something to that effect after a concert back in the 90’s). But that new way of seeing one’s on work hardly invalidates the original intent, it’s just that art is multi-faceted. It should be able to stimulate thoughts and ideas.

And so it appears a fan did the same for Lewis, and it makes me ask…if we are to honor the artistic intent…shouldn’t we favor C.S. Lewis’ preferred way to read his books? For the record, I am still planning to read them in the published order this time around.

Posted in: Art, Books

1 thought on “Authorial Intent and How To Read a Series… Leave a comment

  1. Nice research. It does say something for Lewis’s awesomeness that each book stands alone so well.

    And they’re really good enough to re-read in any sort of order. I hadn’t touched them for about five years and decided to re-read Prince Caspian before seeing the movie. I finished that one and the next two and am now working my way through The Last Battle.

    Happy reading! (I felt like an after-school special just then.)

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