In a letter to Laurence Krieg, dated April 21, 1957, Lewis writes:
I think I agree with your order for reading the books more than with your mother’s. [Hooper’s footnote says: Mrs. Krieg believed the Narnian books should be read in the order in which they were published, while Lewis agreed with Laurence that they be read chronologically according to Narnian time.] 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 reads them. I’m not even sure that all the others were written in the same order in which they were published. I never keep notes of that sort of thing and never remember dates.
I include this in the current series of “Lewis” posts because of the insight it gives on Lewis’s writing of The Narniad as well as other personal insights; such as the fact that he didn’t keep notes on that sort of thing. And of course people do discuss the order in which the books should be read.
My own opinion has some flexibility in that I think either The Magician’s Nephew or The Lion should be read first, with the others in their Narnian sequence – though I suppose one could delay the Magician and read it any time prior to reading The Last Battle. The value in reading The Magician’s Nephew first is not only that it deals with the creation of Narnia, but it contains Aslan bestowing the gift of speech on selected (elected?) animals along with Aslan’s warning of what will happen to them if they go back to the ways of the Dumb Beasts.
Once one has journeyed through Narnia one can move from Genesis to Revelation with perspective and context – keeping in mind the entire time that it is always the appearing of Aslan that is central to the story; too bad Christians miss that element in their Biblical reading; too often it is anything but Jesus Christ that is central to our exposition of Scripture (using the word “exposition” loosely). To hear us (North American Christians) a stranger would think that foreign policy, domestic politics, and economics are at the heart of the Gospel. Have we caricatured Christ and the Gospel to the point that we see Aslan caricatured in The Last Battle?