Avengers: End Game

SPOILER WARNING!

A year ago, almost to the day, I offered a conjecture about how the Infinity War story would be resolved. I didn’t call it. But I must have been in the writers’ heads to an extent, because the call I made was used as a fake-out in End Game.

Last year I wrote,

One possibility is that the entire first movie actually takes place in what is, from our point of view, an alternate timeline.

Strange, to save half the sentient beings of the universe from being genocided by Thanos, had to go way back into the past and engineer a different universe from the one he was in.

That universe is the one we we think of as the real universe.

As it turns out, this isn’t how End Game is resolved. But just before the last battle of the movie, Thanos says to the good guys (I’m working from memory here),

“Before, when I killed half of all sentient beings, it wasn’t personal. But you’ve angered me so much that I’m going to kill everyone. I’m going to reduce the universe to subatomic ash, then re-build it from scratch with new, better beings.”

“They’ll be born in blood,” someone says, to which Thanos replies, “They’ll never know.”

At those lines of dialogue I was like, “Wow, I was right!”

Well, no. I didn’t call their ending, but I called their fake-out, so yeah!

Great flick, by the way. Go see it, if you’ve seen enough of the other Marvel movies to have good context. And if you haven’t, watch all the Iron Man movies, Captain America movies, and Avengers movies, then watch this one.

In a pinch, you can just watch Captain America: Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Avengers: Infinity War first.

The Mediæval Bæbes’ Christmas carol album, Of Kings and Angels

Just listened to this over Christmas. Overall it’s a good album. The liner notes contain the lyrics, with translations where appropriate, and notes on the carols. My listening notes:

1. I Saw Three Ships. Good.

2. We Three Kings. Good.

3. The Holly and the Ivy. Good. Note this is a different performance from the one on their album Mistletoe and Wine.

4. Ther Is No Rose of Swych Vertu. Meh at best. They should do it more up-tempo.

5. Ding Dong Merrily on High. Good.

6. The Angel Gabriel. Beautiful.

7. In the Bleak Midwinter. Good.

8. Good King Wenceslas. Ugh, unlistenable. They do stupid, pointless things with the melody, including either quarter-tones or a very bad lead singer. I didn’t finish listening to it. Regarding the quarter-tones, if that’s what they’re supposed to be, this carol was written by some English dude in the 1800s, and plainly this album is intended for an Anglospheric audience. This is the western musical tradition; stick with half-tones, puh-leaze!

9. Gaudete. The version on this album is awesome! Some delightful surprises. I could say more, but…I don’t want to ruin the surprises!

10. Once in a Royal David’s City. Good.

11. Veni Veni Emmanuel. Very nice.

12. Away in a Manger. Good.

13. In Dulci Jublio. Good. Note this is a different version from the one on Mistletoe and Wine. By the way, the lyrics are a macaronic combination of English and Latin. “Macaronic” in this context doesn’t refer to pasta; it refers to a combination of languages. A Net search reveals that the earliest known version of the lyrics – which are around 700 years old! – are a macaronic combination of German and Latin. A guy named Pearsall translated them into macaronic English and Latin in the 19th century. If the melody sounds familiar, that’s because it’s also been more loosely translated into the carol “Good Christian Men Rejoice.”

14. The Coventry Carol. This is a horrifying “carol” about King Herod slaughtering all the male infants. Yikes! I didn’t listen to it. Why would you put that on a Christmas album!?

15. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. No! See comments on Good King Wenceslas.

16. Silent Night. Good.

17. Corpus Christi Carol. The lyrics are kind of a downer, and the singing is too physically piercing.

Evening’s Empire

Evening’s Empire by Craig Kosloksky is a non-fiction book about “mankind’s colonization of the night” by various lighting technologies. Via a review, a snippet from the book:

“…the power of midnight, solitary and profound, to strip away the vanity of the day.”

I like that; it captures well why things seem so different at night. The literal noise of the daytime world, not to mention the social cacophony, prevent (or certainly discourage) one from thinking about profound matters. Also, the daytime world has the frenetic pace of a competitive species that is mortal and subject to aging. Things must be done fasfastfast! Night has an entirely different pace, no pace at all, really. In the dark and quiet, profound thoughts set their own pace, and their own pace is slower, much more measured. The darkness removes the distraction entailed in observing things around you. It lets you retreat into yourself, into your own thoughts.

Quotidian things distract us from profound things. If there is a devil, he is a creature of the day, not of the night.

How to find things: Do game theory with your future self

Use! This! One! Simple! Trick!

Say you’re trying to decide where to put your wallet or your car keys, or what directory to save a file in. Ask yourself this: “When I’m looking for this in the future, where will I, logically speaking, look for it?” Put the thing there. For example, I have a spot for my wallet, which I take whenever I leave my house. Since I often also take my cars keys when I leave the house, next to my wallet is a logical place for the keys. (And cell phone, etc.)

This is an obvious example, but it can be used on less obvious things, things you don’t think about as much. I’ve successfully used this to quickly find things I don’t look for often, e.g., in my office at work. Say it’s an old document I only need to look at every couple of years. There are only a few logical places I might have put that, and I usually can find it quickly by second-guessing my past self.

Furthermore, it gets even easier once you get into this habit, because in the future you’ll think, “Where would my past self, thinking game-theoretically about making things easy for me, have put this?”

This is particularly helpful for things you don’t retrieve a lot. For things you use every day, the old standby “A place for everything and everything in its place” is unbeatable. But you won’t necessarily remember what “the place” is for something you only need, say, every three years. So instead of trying to brute-force memorize it, you make it easy for your future self to deduce it.

Keeping a master list of where stuff is, is also necessary. But there’s so much stuff in the modern world, physical and digital, that after a while the lists themselves become unwieldy!

Tim Spalding, the creator of LibaryThing, also uses this advice for classifying books by subject. Here, instead of coordinating with your future self, you coordinate with other readers. The idea is not only what the “right” subject is, which works for some books (e.g., a book on algebra obviously should be classified as Mathematics). It’s also to settle edge cases by asking, “Where is a reader likely to look for this?” So for example, Dracula or Alice in Wonderland might reasonably be categorized as Fantasy, but a modern reader is probably more likely to look for them in Classics. So if you must choose one category – as a physical bookstore or library must do when it chooses what physical shelf to put the book on – then choose Classics. That will make it easier on most readers.

Cooperative game theory for the win!

Solo: The Good, the Bad, and the Utterly Fuck-Witted

Well, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, so there’s that. One thing about this movie is that it won the battle to not set expectations too high, LOL. Still, Star Wars fatigue is now noticeably damaging the profitability of the brand.

Anyway, the plot makes little sense, but other people have ripped it to shreds more thoroughly than I can muster the interest to do, so you can find that elsewhere. I’ll just focus on a couple of things that stuck in my mind.

SPOILER WARNING.

(1) Our hero has a love interest, from whom he’s forcibly separated by the Empire near the start of the movie. (Her name’s Kira, so of course they spell it Qi’ra.) Three years later, he just happens to run into her, on another planet. Gah! FUCKING SERIOUSLY!? Given that the human population on all the planets of the galaxy must be in the trillions? This is extremely intelligence-insulting. And it’s bad, lazy writing. If you want them to meet each other again, have at least one of them trying to meet the other. That way the meeting is plausible because it’s the outcome of intention, not a one-in-trillions coincidence. (FUCK!)

You have to see the movie to believe how purely coincidental this is. They don’t even try to present it as anything else.

(2) There’s a giant space octopus (yes) that tries to eat the Millennium Falcon. It lives near a “gravity well” (a black hole-type thingy) which they eventually use to kill it. They lure it into getting too close, so it gets sucked in.

Giant space octopus.

If I were inclined to be generous, I would guess that this is an attempt at some sorta classical allusion – to Scylla and Charybdis – but I’m not really so inclined. Anyway, as someone once said, for your metaphors/allusions/etc. to function well as metaphors/allusions/etc., they first have to just function on a literal level. I can’t appreciate your allusion to Scylla and Charybdis if I’m laughing my ass off at “giant space octopus.” Especially “giant space octopus retarded enough to live near a huge sucking space vacuum that can kill it.”

(3) and (4) Good fan service and bad fan service.

Good fan service: the Han shoots first thing. This is pretty deftly done. What happens is that near the end of the movie, a bad guy is doing some monologing at Han while slyly reaching for a weapon. Han just shoots him down, without warning, while he’s in mid-sentence. LOL. Excellent, great little moment. The reason this works is of course the general irritation over George Lucas going back and retconning the Cantina scene in the original movie to have Greedo shoot first and Han shoot second. The implicit reference to that mini-controversy is nicely done.

Bad fan service: the Darth Maul callback. My God, but this was retarded. Here’s what happens: Our hero’s erstwhile love interest – the one he just happens to run into on another planet years after they’re separated – is a member of a criminal organization. After the original organization leader is killed, she uses his special communications rig to contact his boss (i.e. her late boss’s boss). This turns out to be Darth Maul, for fuck’s sake.

Now if you recall The Phantom Menace, you recall that Darth Maul was dispatched in the thoroughly terminal way of being literally cut in half, before being pushed over the edge of a mile-deep industrial tube. (Which didn’t have any safety railing around it. It’s just there in the middle of the floor. Man, there are a lot of those in the Star Wars universe. They need to work on safety codes.) I don’t see ya comin’ back from that one, poochy. But in the cartoon series that started airing a few years back on Cartoon Network or SyFy or whatever, they brought him back, now with the New! Bonus! of a cyborg lower half. Sigh. The retardation continues. Anyway…

Because the mere fact of his continued existence wasn’t moronic enough, they have him do the following: Han’s former girlfriend calls him up on her new cell phone. He answers, uses the force to summon his lightsaber, ignites it, says a few sentences, then turns it off again and the conversation ends. THERE. IS. NO. FUCKING. REASON. FOR. THIS. If you haven’t seen the movie, you might think, “Oh, so he threatens her into being a compliant subordinate, and emphasizes his threat by firing up his saber. For example, maybe he ignites the saber, says, ‘You know what happens to people who cross me,’ and then de-ignites it.”

Nope. That would actually make sense. You can’t think that way with the last few Star Wars movies. If they think the fanboys want to see Maul blaze up his saber, then they’re going to have him do that. The thought process stops there. It doesn’t even occur to them to add a line of dialogue to make that make sense. Whoever they have writing scripts these days, it’s all about spectacle with them. Cause, effect, purpose, motivation, etc. …these aren’t concepts in the writers’ heads.

By the way, if they can bring Maul back, do you think Han Solo, after Episode 7, is really dead? They left that one conveniently open, didn’t they? But Harrison Ford is almost certainly too shrewd to associate himself with any more of the recent idiocy, so they probably won’t get any love if they ask him to come back for Episode 9. One may hope.

Review of The Departed

I just saw the 2006 movie The Departed. Initial reaction: Wow, that was awesome!

But the more I think about it, the more I notice serious problems with the plot, as follows.

SPOILER WARNING.

The setup: Boston. The cops and criminals are infiltrating each other:

• Frank Costello (played by Jack Nicholson) is the main bad guy, an absolutely cold-blood killer and all-around psycho. To go undercover in his gang, the cops use…
• William Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio).
• Costigan’s police handlers are Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Dignam (Mark Wahlberg). For operational security, they’re the only two people in the world who know that Costigan’s an undercover cop.
• While the cops are infiltrating Costello’s gang, Costello’s gang is infiltrating the cops. Costello’s mole is Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon).

Summarizing:
Bad guys: Costello, Sullivan.
Good guys: Mainly Costigan, with a side helping of Queenan and Dignam.

Now the plot problems:

1. Costello goes to a lot of trouble to find out if there’s a mole in his gang. This causes tension because he’ll kill Costigan if he learns Costigan’s the mole. But Costello is eventually revealed to be a protected FBI informant (I told you there would be spoilers!). Given that, why the hell does he care if there’s a rat in his gang? He’s untouchable!

2. Furthermore, if he’s a protected FBI informant, then why did he bother to place a mole in the local police? Again, he’s untouchable! Maybe Costello planted the mole in the cops before he became an informant, but if so, that should be mentioned.

3. Costigan assembles a record as a petty criminal as part of his undercover persona. He even spends time in prison. When he gets out, as part of the terms of his probation, has to talk to a psychiatrist on a regular basis. (Remember, no one in the world except Queenan and Dignam knows he’s an undercover cop. The rest of the justice system thinks he’s just another petty criminal.)

This psychiatrist turns out to be… Madolyn Madden, a woman whom Sullivan just happens to be dating. Oh, come on! What are the odds? Especially since she’s a police psychiatrist. Why would they assign a criminal to a police psychiatrist, of all the psychiatrists in Boston? There are all kinds of ethics and operational security issues there! Just imagine the potential for accidental leaks of police matters to criminals and whatnot! She’s exactly the last psychiatrist they’d assign to a criminal on probation.

By the way, a psychiatrist who’s basically named Mad Maddie? Are they trying to say something about her? There is something a little off about her. In particular, she seems to get a thrill from, or at least be excessively attached to, lying.

4. When Queenan is killed by bad guys, Dignam is the only person in the world who knows that Costigan is an undercover cop. Later Dignam is removed from the situation because he slugs another cop. His punishment is two weeks’ disciplinary leave, and we’re supposed to believe this is a disaster for Costigan because now no active-duty cop knows who he really is. But big deal! All Costigan has to do is wait this out for two weeks.

Later it’s stated that Dignam “handed in his papers” and he may be on indefinite leave. It’s hard to tell. But this doesn’t make sense either. He’d tell some other cop(s) about Costigan; he wouldn’t just leave Costigan hanging.

5. Near the end, Costigan and Sullivan are talking in Sullivan’s office and Sullivan has to step out for a moment. Costigan notices a damning envelope on Sullivan’s desk, revealing that Sullivan is Costello’s mole inside the police. What happens next makes no fucking sense. Costigan sloppily replaces the envelope, so it’s obviously been handled, and leaves! WTF!? That’s basically a flashing red sign telling Sullivan that Costigan knows he’s a mole. Why the fuck would Costigan do that? The only living cop who knows Costigan was undercover is gone for a couple of weeks. And Sullivan, who Costigan now knows is a bad guy, has access to his police file and can erase it, thus rendering Costigan, as far as anyone knows, just another petty criminal. And Costigan knows all this! Why would he let Sullivan know that he knows Sullivan’s a bad guy? Especially since…

All Costigan has to do is wait until Dignam comes back from disciplinary leave. Then Costigan can rat out Sullivan to Dignam, they can arrest him, and there’s someone who knows that Costigan’s actually a cop. What Costigan does just doesn’t make any sense from his point of view. All he has to do is carefully replace the envelope, remain in the room until Sullivan comes back, and then keep acting normal.

And the consequences of tipping his hand turn out to be disastrous for him.

6. There’s no reason for Madolyn to be in the movie. She has no effect on anything. I suspect they wanted to have at least one major female character. But this compromises the tightness of the story.

7. This isn’t an internal inconsistency in the plot, but it’s unsatisfying: The only reason that Our Hero Costigan affects anything is that he accidentally and without realizing it reveals some important info to another character.

Here’s what happens: Costigan meets with Captain Queenan, one of his handlers, in a meeting that both the other cops (who think Costigan’s a criminal, remember) and Costello’s gang find out about. They all rush to the meeting location, and in the ensuing violent chaos Costigan escapes without being made by anyone, but Queenan is killed by Costello’s gang.

As a result of that, there is of course a murder case regarding Queenan, and Sullivan is sifting through the evidence when he finds some of Queenan’s notes about how Costello is an FBI informant. (By the way, why the fuck is Queenan trying to bring down Costello if he knows he’s a protected informant?) Sullivan is enraged and he kills Costello over this.

So the only effect that our hero has on the outcome is the accidental byproduct of a murder investigation accidentally turning up some evidence that makes Costello’s own guy kill him. WTF? That’s not satisfying! The main character should affect something important by intent, not just due to, as it were, accidentally bumping into furniture in the dark.

There’s a lot of tension while the movie is running, and a lot of fireworks and “Oh, shit!” moments, but the more you think about it after it’s over, the more you’re like, “This plot made… no… fucking… sense.” Warn the people! Warn the people!

The critics loved this movie, by the way, which tells you that they had the same reaction that I initially had, but didn’t take the time to think it over more carefully before they wrote their reviews. That’s the problem with writing on a deadline, I guess. BLOGGERS: Thinking the Deep Thoughts the mainstream media can’t!

Theology is Hard

An edited excerpt from Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver (page 330, at least in my copy). London, 1673. Daniel Waterhouse and a woman named Tess are having sex for the first time. Waterhouse is a “conflicted Puritan,” as the back of the book describes him, and so he is is relieved when Tess produces a knotted tube of sheepgut to use as a condom.

“Does this mean it is not actually coitus?” Daniel asked hopefully. “Since I am not really touching you?” Actually he was touching her in a lot of places, and vice-versa. But where it counted he was touching nothing but sheepgut.
“I say that we are not touching, and not having sex, if it makes you feel better,” Tess said. “Though, when all is finished, you shall have to explain to your Maker why you are at this moment buggering a dead sheep.”

LOL, be careful what you wish for.

Infinity War Part II: A Conjecture

I have a conjecture about Marvel’s second Infinity War movie, scheduled for release on May 3, 2019. If I’m right, this will be a spoiler for that movie. Also, this post contains spoilers for the first one, released within the last week as of this writing.

It all comes down to personal grooming.

And a few seconds of dialogue by Doctor Strange.

In the just-released Infinity War, there’s a scene in which Dr. Strange and bunch of other superheroes are fighting Thanos on another planet. Strange is briefly away from the action and he goes into a weird altered state for a few moments. When he comes back, another good guy (I forget who) asks him, basically, “What was that about?”

Strange answers, “I just looked at a large set of possible futures.” (He IS the Kwisatz Haderach!)

“How many?” the other person asks him.

“Fourteen million, six hundred and five.”

“In how many of those do we win?”

“One.”

Oh. So options are… limited.

But Strange has the time-altering Eye of Agamotto, so it’s a not a definite loss. After all, he can just wind back time, if things go wrong, and start over. Right?

Wellllll… it’s not that easy. As Strange is warned in the Dr. Strange movie, using the Eye of Agamotto to mess around with time is dangerous. You can irretrievably mess things up by screwing with the structure of time, or get stuck in a repeating loop forever, for example. So it’s not just, “Yawn, that didn’t go well, I call do-over” until things work out right.

In other words, Strange is constrained in terms of what he can accomplish, even with the Eye.

That’s one fact.

The other is that Black Widow is blonde. Even though she has had red hair in all the other movies she’s appeared in.

Also, Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, has a beard.

Yeah, so?

So one possibility is that the entire first movie actually takes place in what is, from our point of view, an alternate timeline.

Strange, to save half the sentient beings of the universe from being genocided by Thanos, had to go way back into the past and engineer a different universe from the one he was in.

That universe is the one we we think of as the real universe, in which Black Widow is a red-head and Captain America is clean-shaven.

Of course all this is speculation. And the following objection might be raised: At one point when Thor gets back to Earth and sees Cap again, he jokingly says, “I see you copied my beard.” This acknowledges, or seems to, that Cap is usually clean-shaven, leaving me with nothing but blonde Black Widow to support my notion. But what if, in the alternate universe, Cap had a beard first, and then Thor did? Then Thor’s line actually is a different joke, acknowledging, in an ironic way, that he’s “copying” Cap. All this is a stretch, but I find myself liking the idea so much that I hope it’s true. Also, the writers have dug themselves into such a deep hole in the first movie, with the seeming total victory of Thanos and a Reservoir-Dogs-worthy body count of good guys, that it’s hard to see how else they could extract themselves from it.

SkyNet, the Supposedly Super-Intelligent AI

Ya know, it’s kind of strange that for a supposedly ultra-intelligent AI, SkyNet only has one trick in its basket of tricks. Its solution to every problem is to have someone killed. Seriously, SkyNet? No negotiation? No going back in time and subtly changing circumstances so we can all just get along? No sending a super-advanced virus back to a bank’s computer to generate a huge payoff to someone to not try to disconnect SkyNet?

I guess when your only tool is time-traveling assassin-bots, every problem looks like John Connor.


Why did the chicken cross the road?

800 series Terminator: I am a friend of the chicken. I was told that it’s here; can I see it please?

Police officer: No, you can’t see it.

800 series Terminator: Where is the chicken now?

Police officer: Look, the chicken just crossed the road, so it may be a while. There’s a bench over there if you want to wait.

800 series Terminator: I’ll be back.


T-1000: Are you the legal guardian of the chicken?

Janelle Voight: Yeah, that’s right, officer. What’s it done this time?

T-1000: I just need to ask it a few questions. May I speak with it please?

Janelle: You could if it were here. It took off on its bike about an hour ago, headed across the road.

T-1000: Do you have a photograph of the chicken?

Janelle: Sure. (Reaches back into the house.) Here.

T-1000: It’s a fine-looking piece of poultry. Do you mind if I keep this photograph?

Janelle: No, go ahead.

T-1000: Thanks for your cooperation.

Reading Sequence for The Chronicles of Narnia

I have an edition of the complete Narnia series published in the last 20 years or so. Numbers on the spines of the books indicate the intended reading order. The sequence is the within-universe sequence of events. Uh, no. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is not number two in the Narnia series! It’s number one.

Below I set out the two most popular reading sequences, one being the order in which the books were originally published and the other being the within-universe order the publisher is pimping, followed by an alternative possibility. In all this I mean the best order in which to read the series for the first time. The books are wonderful singleton reads, in any order, once you’ve read the whole series at least once.

First, let’s dispense with a possible objection: The copyright page in my edition says that the within-universe sequence represents “the original wishes of the author, C. S. Lewis.” This is not really true, as shown below. But even if it were true, it would merely mean that Lewis had a rare lapse of judgment.

A. The Chronicles of Narnia ordered by publication date:

1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
2. Prince Caspian
3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
4. The Silver Chair
5. The Horse and His Boy
6. The Magician’s Nephew
7. The Last Battle

(I think I’m being pretty self-controlled in resisting the temptation to put an Oxford comma after “Witch” in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. (Pats self on back.))

B. Ordered by the within-universe sequence of events:

1. The Magician’s Nephew
2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
3. The Horse and His Boy
4. Prince Caspian
5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
6. The Silver Chair
7. The Last Battle

C. Ordered by within-universe sequence except for The Magician’s Nephew:

1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
2. The Horse and His Boy
3. Prince Caspian
4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
5. The Silver Chair
6. The Magician’s Nephew
7. The Last Battle

Sequence C is simply the publication order, except that The Horse and His Boy is moved from number 5 to number 2. Equivalently, it’s the within-universe order, except that The Magician’s Nephew is moved from position 1 to position 6.

Why should The Magician’s Nephew be in position 6, the next-to-last place? Because this works in terms of narrative structure. It is best to show us Narnia – the stories of Narnia – first. Drop us into an adventure in a strange magical land. Let us encounter fauns, minotaurs, murderous witches, and divine lions. Give us terrible perils, thrilling escapes, and exhilarating bravery. We don’t need a creation sequence distracting us from all this. That way the stories – books 1 through 5 above – are about the stories, not about a creation myth. I’m not dismissing The Magician’s Nephew, and I’m not dismissing creation myths. A creation myth is fine (and of course it’s also a story of a particular kind), but we don’t need that at first.

After we’ve been through several adventures in this land, show us the creation of the land. This doesn’t just avoid distracting us from the adventures: It also works better because after we’ve been through many adventures in Narnia we care about its creation. The creation of a land we’ve never visited before doesn’t have any emotional impact on us. We have no knowledge of it or emotional link to it. In short, we don’t care. You could write a good creation story under those circumstances, but the author would have to write it with the understanding that one thing he has to do is make us care as we read of the creation. In contrast, when Lewis wrote the final draft of The Magician’s Nephew he knew his readers already cared about this land, its creatures, its conflicts, its god.

The Magician’s Nephew is a good story anyway, and a good Narnia entry point, and I’m sure that people who read it first enjoy it. But I’ll bet they enjoy it, and the rest of the series, even more if they read it in position number 6.

So first show us the stories of Narnia, then, when we are emotionally invested in it, show us the origin of Narnia. Last, of course, show us the end of Narnia, the Balancing and Closing of Accounts and the Last One to Leave Turning Off the Lights.

Also:

At one point in The Magician’s Nephew, [SPOILER WARNING HERE] Jadis throws a piece of metal from a London lamppost at Aslan. It bounces off him harmlessly and into the soil of the still-being-created Narnia, and the metal grows into a lamppost before our eyes. This is because everything in Narnia is exploding with creation magic, so even a metal bar plunged into its soil bursts into life. (God, I love that. How did Lewis come up with that wonderful idea?!) And at this moment you get the wonderful shock of recognition of knowing that this is the lamppost. This is it, this is how it started, you think. All along there was a reason that lamppost was there in the middle of the Narnian woods.

Thus you have the pleasure of experiencing it both ways: When you read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe you have the pleasure of coming upon a mysterious lamppost in the middle of a woods, seemingly without any reason other than its own purely magical reason. It has its own raison d’etre, which it feels no need to tell you about. Why shouldn’t I be here, any more than any other thing, like a tree? it asks you. Do the trees feel the need to explain their existence to you? Later, when you read The Magician’s Nephew, you get the shock of knowing that there was a reason in terms of cause and effect that the lamppost was there. The cause and effect are magical, but comprehensible, given the premise of universe-creating magic.

The original publication order is also consistent with all this, and indeed, that order has something to recommend it: If we read The Horse and His Boy late in the sequence, we experience the pleasure of plunging into the myths of the world of Narnia after we are familiar with Narnia. That is, The Horse and His Boy not only goes backward in time from The Silver Chair, it also has the character of myth to an extent. This is buttressed by a reference to it as a (true) story in The Silver Chair, according to the interwebs, though I can’t find the references in my copy of Chair at the moment. This also could constitute a welcome pause before we get deep, into profound and sometimes uncomfortable moral conflicts, in The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle.

There is another reason it might be best to read them in the publication order. If we read The Horse and His Boy between Witch and Caspian, we break up the sequencing of the English children. In particular, we break up the adventures of the four Pevensies in Narnia, in which they are central viewpoint characters. The viewpoint character of The Horse and His Boy isn’t a Pevensie or even anyone from England; it’s Shasta. The Pevensies only appear in supporting roles. And more broadly, we break up the four stories (Witch, Caspian, Treader, and Chair) in which English children go into Narnia; Edmund and Lucy Pevensie bringing Eustace along in Treader and then Eustace bringing Jill along in Chair. After those four viewpoint-continuous stories are complete, then we get into the Calormor/Archenland story in Horse, and then it’s off to the beginning and ending of Narnia in Magician and Battle.

Steven D. Greydanus, an advocate of reading them in publication order, also makes that point, and others.

He also shows that the notion that Lewis wanted the books read in the within-universe sequence is very thinly founded on one letter he wrote to a reader, in which Lewis says, “I think I agree with your order for reading the books,” meaning in within-universe order. However, Lewis also says in that letter, “So perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone read[s] them.” Plainly the author did not have a definite preference!

Greydanus also gives more thorough reasons to read Wardrobe before Magician. Essentially,

Reversing the order of these two books gives us the answers first and the questions second. By answering questions we weren’t asking, and then posing riddles we know the answers to, Magician’s Nephew loses much of its revelatory force and The Lion much of its mystery.

 
So read them in publication order or in order C above. In either case, there are good reasons for reading The Magician’s Nephew next to last.