- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (December 2, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0316017655
- ISBN-13: 978-0316017657
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 40 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #356,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia Paperback – December 2, 2009
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"Empathetic, rigorous, erudite, funny, generous, and surprising....THE MAGICIAN'S BOOK abounds with a rare quality that most literary criticism lacks, the quality of hopeful longing that helped lead C. S. Lewis to imagine Narnia, the quality that he prized above almost all others: joy."―Los Angeles Times
"Weaving together her own life as a reader and C. S. Lewis's life as, among other things, a reader, a writer, a Christian, a veteran of World War I, and a friend to J.R.R. Tolkien, Miller illuminates not only the Chronicles of Narnia, but the nature of reading itself."―Time
"There are two great pleasures to be found in THE MAGICIAN'S BOOK. One is being reminded of exactly how blissful it felt to be a child in the thrall of a book. The other is watching Miller find her way back to Narnia as an adult-where she discovers that a wiser reader is not necessarily a sadder one."―Christian Science Monitor
"Conversational, embracing, and casually erudite... a subtle reader's memoir, and manifesto."―Jonathan Lethem
"Amagical weave of rich soulful criticism, at once a distinctive and insightful biography of C.S. Lewis, and a memoir of the author....I couldn't put it down."―Anne Lamott, author of Grace (Eventually)
"This book is both a wonderful antechamber to Lewis's wardrobe portal and a convincing attempt to rescue Aslan from the Christian imagination and embed him where he has always belonged--the human imagination."―Tom Bissell, author of The Father of All Things
"A thorough and thoroughly engrossing look at one reader's lifetime love affair with Narnia... Smart, meticulous, and altogether delightful."―Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austin Book Club
"An agreeable and insightful book...her sometimes affectionate, sometimes analytical book will delight both skeptics and true believers."―Michael Cart, Booklist
"...Anyone who believes in the power of literature will want to savor The Magician's Book. In the end you feel as if you have had a stimulating literary conversation with a group of very smart and savvy friends."―Anita Silvey, author of 100 Best Books for Children
"A rewarding study by a first-rate arts writer."―Kirkus
About the Author
Laura Miller is a co-founder of Salon.com, where she is currently a staff writer, and a regular contributor to the New York Times Book Review. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, Time magazine and other publications. She is the editor of The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors (Penguin, 2000). She lives in
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Miller reveals the influences that led to Narnia, from country Irish landscapes to the British Empire's encounter with the Middle and Far East, from boarding schools to medieval cosmology, from Norse gods to Greek heroes. One of the most fascinating chapters deals with the contrast between Tolkien's purist approach to language and culture, and Lewis' more inclusive patchwork: Anglo vs. Irish, Catholic vs. Protestant, one vs. many.
She preserves the sense of wonder and mystery of her subject even while she examines its structure and origins, something which is difficult to do at all, let alone do well. I recommend this book highly to anyone who loves Narnia, and would encourage fellow Christians to read it as well. Much of what has been written about Narnia assumes that its magic is only window dressing for the Gospel message; Miller reveals its other richness.
Laura Miller fell in love, at the age of eight - with a book. "First loves are famously tenacious," she writes, one reason that she finds herself returning, decades later to the magical universe that was Narnia. Readers of this book are the beneficiaries of her quest to understand the compelling power of the written word and the imaginary worlds authors create for both childrean and adults.
Her goal is to answer one of the most difficult questions in the world of art as a whole: "how to acknowledge an author's darker side without losing the ability to enjoy and value the book." That's a conundrum that all of us have confronted at some point. Virginia Woolf was a snob, as Miller points out, while T.S. Eliot was anti-semitic. Wagner's music - and the myths the underlay his operas - were part of the foundation for Hitler's racist philosophies. Musicians and artists collaborated with loathsome regimes.
Miller's specific problem is how to reconcile her growing disaffection with organized religion ("Christianity as I knew it offered such a drab, grinding, joyless view of life") with the wondrous universe of Narnia as portrayed by Lewis - and specifically her realization, at the age of 13, that Lewis had written the books as a sort of Christian text/fairy tale. "I felt betrayed," she admits. Moreover, despite her obsession with the world of Narnia, Lewis's efforts to win this particular reader as a convert bore no fruit, although she admits that "if any books could have persuaded me, it would have been these," she admits. But what is intriguing is Miller's recognition today that while she may not have been impelled to become religious, she had definitely internalized the morality of Narnia - an underlying morality that lies at the heart of any organized religion. The character of Edmund, she writes, may not have immediately struck her as an example of original sin. But he offered a moral lesson, nonetheless, as a boy whose Judas-like betrayals "had been made up of many littler, unchecked moments of spite and ire that I could easily have indulged in myself." Meanwhile, reading about Lucy's goodness, she could see how that made the fictional character happier "and drew her closer to other people." Even while still unconscious of the overt religious message, the moral lesson was clear. "These books communicated really deep, why-are-we-here, life-and-death concepts to me," she writes.
But the religious element is simply the jumping off-point (and a recurring theme) for Miller in this graceful and eloquent book. Ultimately, it reads as half a literary memoir of Miller as a reader - her evolution from a passionate bookish child into a more critical adult able to draw new kinds of conclusions about the merit of a book. It is in that light that she returns to the Narnia chronicles and explores Lewis's other writings - his autobiographical volumes and letters as well as his apologetics. In the process, she does an admirable job of exploring and explaining just what it is about fictional worlds that enrapture us throughout our lives. On one level, this is a thoughtful rumination on numerous aspects of the Narnia chronicles - the impact of Lewis's fascination with Norse myths and medieval romances on the books, for instance, as well as the literary friendship between Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein (of Lord of the Rings fame). But just as the Narnia books operate on multiple levels, so does Miller's book. Ultimately, the latter tackles the most fundamental question of all, the nature of the relationship between a reader and the novels they consume (or, in the case of Miller, myself and countless other biblioholics, devour.)
Tackling the Narnia books is a perilous undertaking, on many levels. To those with strong Christian views, they are beyond criticism in some sense, because of their content and their author. They also are canonical children's books, and as such, prized by many who, like Miller, adored them but who, unlike her, are uncomfortable critically reassessing them as adults. (Indeed, she notes, the genre of children's literature, however crucial it is in shaping our imaginations, tastes and personalities "belong to a class of literature, that, in the opinion of many, doesn't merit serious critical consideration." The magnitude of the challenge notwithstanding, Miller forges ahead to tackle - often with visible discomfort - the flaws that she as an adult can now detect in this once-idolized author. Lewis was misogynistic and elitist - and she even points to elements of racism in the Narnia novels.
Some reviewers choose to focus on the fact that Miller is returning to these books as an agnostic. But I detected no hostility toward religion - more of a lack of comprehension that she wants to resolve. Why, since these books now so clearly appear to be religious and even polemical, did they play such a formative role in her life? (She does reach a conclusion, albeit one that feels somewhat forced; she has found her own need for a kind of apologetics.)
Ultimately, this is a deeply personal book, however much Miller's strong reportage - including interviews with fellow childhood fans of Narnia and other literary figures - and literary analysis may seem sometime to dominate the narrative. Any review, in my opinion, is therefore more likely to be highly subjective. To me, this was a wonderful, erudite and provocative look at not only a series of specific books, but at the nature of what it means to be a reader. As such, and because of the beauty of Miller's own writing, I have to award it 4.5 stars.
(For the record, I wasn't one of the children like Miller who became enraptured by Narnia. Instead, I wanted to join the troupe of children that Arthur Ransome wrote about in a series of novels that I still possess, decades later, beginning with Swallows and Amazons.)