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Response to Ordering Narnia

11/02/05 | by [mail] | Categories: culture/news

I made a comment on a post on Kyle's site, and it got so long that I might as well put it here, too. Read this first: Ordering Narnia. Then my response:

When we bought the boxed set 4-5 years ago, they were in chronological order. But we did some research and read them in the order they were published. I think it was the best way to go. But keep in mind that The Magician's Nephew, the first book chronologically, also gradually introduces the reader to the world of Narnia through the eyes of a child. There's plenty of mystery and suspense. Lion is still the best intro and Nephew is better as a back story.

I agree with most of what you're saying. Another example. When I was going to read some Tolkien for the first time I was about 15. I asked someone which book comes first and they told me it was The Silmarillion. But don't start there, they said. Start with the Hobbit. But I was 15 and I knew everything, so I started with the first book chronologically. I plowed my way through, but needless to say, I wasn't interested in any more Tolkien for a great while. Someone at Truman introduced me to Tolkien properly and I read The Hobbit and the trilogy with great relish. Later I came back to the prequel and enjoyed it more for what it is, a history and a back story.

Somewhere along the line we became interested in telling and hearing stories in the order that they happened. But the best stories have always been told out of order. I'm reading Odyssey now and it's all out of order. Tolkien was the same way, as is Harry Potter.

Would history books be more effective if they took this same route? You could introduce the reader to the current world and make each history lesson a tangent that gives a bit more of the back story.


1 comment

(I’m not sure if I should respond here or at my original post, so I just did both.)

I read an essay a while back (I can’t remember where) that brought up this issue with all the superhero movies that came out. The person basically said that the movies are weakened by the desire to establish the complete origin story before finally getting into what is actually the main story of the film. I’m sure the author cited Hulk and Spiderman as bad examples.

X-Men is a positive example of what I was talking about: the device of introducing the fictional world through the eyes of a character who is experiencing it for the first time. The first X-Men movie begins with Wolverine and Rogue coming upon the school for mutants already in existence. Tim Burton’s Batman also begins with the character already firmly established in his world (of course, Batman Begins offers an excellent origin story that may be the exception to the rule).

I think you’re right, Danny. There is a strong urge in our culture to start at the beginning. Writers need to be more willing to throw their readers into a pre-existing mythology, then reveal the backstory as is needed.

Your idea about learning history is interesting. I had a conversation with some of my students last year in which they complained about learning history. They asked me, “Why do we need to know what happened in the Cold War?” I explained to them how much today’s world events are consequences of the Cold War. They were very surprised to learn that Osama Bin Laden was trained by the CIA to fight Russia. I think your idea of showing how our present world is a product of historical events is a great one (maybe I should become a history teacher and try it).

[Member]  http://www.brendoman.com/kyle11/02/05 @ 17:02

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