You may have heard people gush about C.S. Lewis' seven-book fantasy series. I, for one, feel that my life has been positively changed because of the Narnia books. However, just because I enjoy every one of the seven books doesn't mean that I enjoy all of them equally. While I certainly recommend that you read the books in publication order (read this excellent article for an explanation of why), here's how I currently rank the seven Narnia books from most to least favorite.
#1: The Horse and His Boy
Need I say more? This is the only Narnia book that takes place entirely within the fantastical world that C.S. Lewis created, and is thus far more immersive and intriguing than the other six. It gives readers a glimpse of the Pevensies during the golden age of Narnia, and combines many exhilarating genres, including buddy comedy, political intrigue, coming-of-age, romance, and escape. It is also one of just three Narnia books never adapted for film or TV, making it one of the most highly-anticipated books under streaming giant Netflix's current attempt to reboot the film franchise.
#2: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Of all the Narnia books, this one opens with the best one-liner. Unlike the other six books, this one makes use of a diary as a clever and humorous narrative device. It also demonstrates the wisdom and cunning of King Caspian by showing how he gets out of unfortunate circumstances by outthinking his opponents. Unlike the other books, this one takes place primarily at sea, which creates an episodic pattern that makes each chapter enjoyably self-contained. In addition, this one has the best chance of becoming an excellent Netflix series, especially considering how poorly the feature film adaptation of this book turned out.
#3: The Last Battle
Continuing the theme of travel and political intrigue introduced in The Horse and His Boy and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, this book widens the horizons of readers yet again by making them think about the history and future of Narnia. While this is certainly the most heart-breaking and difficult book to read, it is also the most thoughtful and rewarding book in the series. Every chapter is laden with allegory and imagery that are expertly designed to teach us life lessons about our own world. Despite its title, this book has far less fighting than the other books and instead refers to an internal spiritual and moral battle that the main characters (and the reader) must face.
#4: Prince Caspian
Even though Caspian is not one of my favorite characters in this series, I enjoy the fact that C.S. Lewis decided to make his feature prominently in three of the books in this series. This creates a feeling of continuity and familiarity which are critical when readers are constantly exposed to new characters and settings. C.S. Lewis also uses this book to takes advantage of the written medium and craft some unusual storytelling that keeps readers in the dark about what is happening, along with the main characters. While the movie adaptation decided to tell the story chronologically, the book's method of revealing events through a flashback helps the first part of the book remain more mysterious and magical. This book also contains the second most brilliant use of reverse psychology in the entire series.
#5: The Silver Chair
Even though this book again features Caspian, that is not the primary reason I enjoy it so much. Instead, it is the clever beginning and ending to this story that intrigue me. By reintroducing Eustace (a main character from the Voyage of the Dawn Treader who also appears in The Last Battle) and introducing Jill (who also continues on as a main character in The Last Battle), this book serves as the perfect transition away from the Pevensie portion of the series to the new main characters that will lead us through to the conclusion of the saga. The deadpan humor of Puddleglum also serves as an excellent way to lighten the mood of this fairly depressing book.
#6: The Magician's Nephew
Even though this book introduces us to several key characters that are crucial to the story of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and The Last Battle, I found this one perhaps a bit too fantastic for my tastes. So little of this book is grounded in reality that it seems a bit of a fever dream than a good read. For this very reason, however, I believe that it would likely make an excellent movie, as much of the description in the book would fare better in a "show, don't tell" medium such as film. Since this book is a prequel to the series and large portions of this book feel a bit like the end of The Last Battle, I feel justified in saying that this book seems the least essential.
#7: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
This is the original classic, which most people have read, watched, or heard in some form or another, even if they have never paid any attention to the other six books in the series. Therefore, its overwhelming popularity and place in the public conscious is just one of the reasons why I rank it as my least favorite book in the series. Another reason why this book lands at the end of this list is that it was the first book in the series that C.S. Lewis penned, and thus the writing style and humor are not as polished as the later books. At the same time, the nostalgia I feel for this book makes it difficult to place it at the bottom of the list.
It is likely that once you finish reading all seven Narnia books, you will have a completely different ranking than the one I have just listed. That is okay. In fact, expect your preferences to change over time as you re-read the books and discover new things that you enjoy about them. Ultimately, it doesn't matter which order you read the books or which ones are your favorites; all that matters is that you give them a chance to change your life.
A Note About the Cover Art
You may have noticed that the cover-art style of illustration I chose to represent each of the seven Narnia books in this blog post have a different style than the boxed-set artwork I used at the very beginning of the blog post. This is because The Chronicles of Narnia have been in print continuously since their initial release, resulting in dozens of different editions with hundreds of different cover-art illustrations by many different illustrators. While most fans of Narnia have come to enjoy the interior line-art illustrations by Pauline Baynes, everyone has a personal preference when it comes to which cover-art style they most enjoy. Check out this YouTube playlist of videos in which the experts at Narniaweb discuss the pros and cons of the different book covers.
Personally, I feel that Chris van Allsburg's lush illustrations are the best version of cover-art used for the Chronicles of Narnia. His warm, painterly style captures the essence of each book with giving away key plot points, and invites readers to nestle into a chair and delve deeply into these books. If you would like to see the full set of The Chronicles of Narnia cover illustrations by Chris van Allsburg (as well as many, many other Narnia book covers), check out this site.