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The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia Hardcover – December 3, 2008

3.9 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Jam-packed with critical insights and historical context, this discussion of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia from Miller's double perspectives--as the wide-eyed child who first read the books and an agnostic adult who revisits them--is intellectually inspiring but not always cohesive. Finding her distrust of Christianity undermined by her love of Lewis's indisputably Christian-themed world, Salon.com cofounder and staff writer Miller seeks to "recapture [Narnia's] old enchantment." She replaces lost innocence with understanding, visiting Lewis's home in England, reading his letters and books (which she quotes extensively) and interviewing readers and writers. Lengthy musings on Freudian analysis of sadomasochism, J.R.R. Tolkien's Anglo-Saxon nationalism and taxonomies of genre share space with incisive and unapologetic criticism of Lewis's treatment of race, gender and class. The heart of the book is in the first-person passages where Miller recalls longing to both be and befriend Lucy Pevensie and extols Narnia's "shining wonders." Her reluctant reconciliation with Lewis's and Narnia's imperfections never quite manages to be convincing, but anyone who has endured exile from Narnia will recognize and appreciate many aspects of her journey. (Dec. 3)
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From The New Yorker

In this powerful meditation on �the schism between childhood and adult reading,� Miller recounts her tumultuous relationship with the favorite books of her youth, C. S. Lewis�s �Chronicles of Narnia.� Filled from an early age with a distrust of the Catholic faith in which she was raised, Miller didn�t notice the Christian subtext, and when she learned of it, as a teen-ager, she felt �tricked, cheated.� Combining memoir, criticism, and biography, Miller takes Lewis to task for his �betrayals,� including the racial stereotyping and �litism that, she argues, inform the books. Yet her respect for Lewis�s talent remains; scrupulously placing him in his historical context, she crafts a nuanced portrait of the author as a sensitive curmudgeon and comes to the realization that �a perfect story is no more interesting or possible than a perfect human being.�
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (December 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316017639
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316017633
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,537,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Laura Miller is a journalist and critic living in New York. She is a co-founder of Salon.com, where she is currently a staff writer, and a contributor to the New York Times Book Review, where she wrote the Last Word column for two years. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian and other publications. She is the author of "The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia" (Little, Brown, 2008) and editor of the "The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors" (Penguin, 2000).

NOTE: I am *not* the author of guidebooks to Disneyland -- that's another Laura Miller. Amazon doesn't allow authors to delete titles wrongly attributed to them!

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Similar to the tension with which Laura Miller loves the Narnia books but vilifies certain positions the author (C.S. Lewis) takes, I intend to do the same with this review of "The Magician's Book". :-) I liked her book immensely, but at times her unchecked political correctness mistakes good for ill (much like an overactive immune system, damaging as it seeks to serve). The reader will appreciate Miller's nod to objectivity and transparency when laying down her cards in the first chapter: "I began The Magician's Book hoping to explain not only why but how it is still possible for me to love these books, despite the biases and small-mindedness they sometimes display, despite often feeling that I wouldn't have much liked the man who wrote them". And throughout her text, she expresses the wonder with which Lewis could create the literary constructs that produced such longing and desire for otherworldly intimacy within her. While Lewis would claim that such things are written on the heart, and that God uses myths to call us to himself, Miller attempts to develop a purely humanistic rational for these desires.

Miller is at her best when distilling the various types of literary forms (allegory, metaphor, etc.), and in her exploration of Lewis's literary influences (Arthurian legends, Norse mythology, Celtic folktales, the "wildness" of faery lore, etc.). She explores many story archetypes, helps the reader identify them in other (non-Narnian) contexts, and does so in way that doesn't sacrifice any meaning or enjoyment in their reading.

She deconstructs the world views of Lewis's time and of the previous eras that shaped his ideas, but never in a way that cuts Lewis any slack.
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Format: Hardcover
Laura Miller's The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia is part literary history and critique, part biography, and part memoir. She combines all of these genres wonderfully in the pursuit of one goal: to convince readers that there is more to C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia than their reduction to Christian allegory.

Miller's intentions are not entirely benign; she takes the Christian themes of Narnia very personally, and is frankly put off by them. As a self-described "skeptic," she drifted away from the religion of her youth and settled on an idea of Christianity that leaves little to be desired. And yet, The Chronicles of Narnia remain the most important books of her lifetime. How can she settle the apparent discrepancy between her unbelief and her love of books so seemingly full of belief?

Miller constructs this book in three parts, which seem to mirror the progression of her own relationship with Narnia. In the first part, she articulates all the reasons to love Narnia. It's a magical place, full of talking animals, with the appeal of a secret, private garden. Children especially identify with the world of Narnia because there, children are tested and challenged, and what they do matters. There is a satisfying weight to their thoughts and actions, and in a real world typically condescending to kids, young people find Narnia liberating.

The second section of Miller's book details her discovery of the blatant Christian themes in Narnia. This was a betrayal to her, the idea of an agenda being injected into an otherwise pure reading experience. Now that C.S. Lewis the author is revealed in Narnia, she begins to realize there are other reasons not to blindly trust in the epic.
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Format: Hardcover
I picked up Laura Miller's The Magician's Book with high expectations. Fans of Narnia know that Lucy reads a story in Coriakin's book on the Island of the Voices, and this story becomes the standard by which she judges all books. Miller makes the case that each of us book-lovers has a Magician's Book, the one book we read in childhood that impressed itself firmly on our young minds and shaped who we are today. I've blogged about a similar theory, calling it a haunting. Certain books we read as children never leave us.

Savoring this splendid conceit for the title, I settled down to enjoy Miller's collection of essays on Narnia and its creator, C. S. Lewis. Within a few pages I was starting to feel uneasy. There were some decent discussions on what it means to be a "bookish child" and why Lewis' Talking Animals are so popular with young readers (it is because children are "immigrants" from the realm of non-language). But after that, the essays steadily declined in quality. Miller's arrogant tone was hard to enjoy; at one point she claims that the Chronicles taught her nothing as a child; she merely recognized "her better self" in them (page 172*). In the section where Miller is discussing herself as a "bookish child," the air of self-congratulation is very off-putting.

The book's subtitle -- "A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia" -- is rather misleading. The bulk of the essays in this book start with one idea from the Chronicles as a launching point for a discussion of Lewis rather than of Narnia itself. Miller's offhand assumption that A. N. Wilson is Lewis' "most distinguished biographer" is highly suspect; that claim isn't established in the least (page 39*).
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