Garic Gymro’s first law of fiction

Many authors and directors release books and films that follow on from earlier books and films that they’ve released. Harry Potter is an obvious example. Now, both the Harry Potter series of books and the Harry Potter series of films were released in chronological order. The second book recounted events that occurred after the events of the first book, and so on. This doesn’t always happen. C. S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew was published much later than The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but is about events that happened earlier. Similarly, of the six Star Wars feature films, the last three to have been releases are about events prior to the events of the first three.

The question faced by people who come late to these series if, “Which should I read/watch first?” The answer is simple:

It is almost always better to enjoy the series in order of release, not in chronological order.

First, authors, publishers, directors and producers need their books and films to do well. They don’t want people to read or watch the first one to be released and feel they haven’t got enough backstory to understand the plot. In other words, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever find you need to read later-released books to understand earlier-released ones.

Second, while reading books in release order is unlikely to spoil your enjoyment, reading them out of release order (even if this means reading them chronologically) may well do so. Isn’t it better to watch Return of the Jedi before you know what the relationship between Darth Vader and Luke is? Isn’t it better to be presented with the mystery of the lamp-post in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe before having it explained in The Magician’s Nephew?

Sure, it doesn’t make all that much difference (my wife routinely reads book series in random orders), but it seems obvious to me that if you care about such things at all, release order is better than chronological order. Interestingly, authors and directors don’t always agree. George Lucas seems to think you should start with The Phantom Menace. C. S. Lewis apparently recommended reading The Magician’s Nephew first, but added that authors don’t always provide the best guidance.

I agree with that last point.


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