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The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narniaby Laura Miller
"Literary critic Laura Miller first passed through the Narnia portal in the second grade. She was raised Catholic but had fallen away from what she calls the church's 'guilt-mongering and tedious rituals'. She writes, 'I was horrified to discover that the Chronicles of Narnia, the joy of my childhood and the cornerstone of my imaginative life, were really just the doctrine of the Church in disguise.' But Miller could never escape Narnia's spell, and in The Magician's Book, she returns to the landscape of Narnia to search for its deeper meaning. It's a journey of great pleasure — Miller is a wise, down-to-earth and often funny narrator. The result is one of the best books about stories and their power that I have ever read. Mary Ann Gwinn, The Seattle Times (read the entire Seattle Times review)
Synopses & Reviews
The Magician's Book is the story of one reader's long, tumultuous relationship with C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia.
As a child, Laura Miller read and re-read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and its sequels countless times, and wanted nothing more that to find her own way to Narnia. In her skeptical teens, a casual reference to the Chronicles's Christian themes left her feeling betrayed and alienated from the stories she had come to know and trust. Years later, convinced that the first book we fall in love with shapes us every bit as much as the first person we fall in love with, Miller returns to Lewis's classic fantasies to see what mysteries Narnia still holds for adult eyes — and is captured in an entirely new way.
In her search to uncover the source of these small books' mysterious power, Miller looks to their creator, Clive Staples Lewis. What she discovers is not the familiar, idealized image of the author, but a man who stands in stark contrast to his whimsical creation-scarred by a tragic and troubled childhood, Oxford educated, a staunch Christian, and a social conservative, armed with deep prejudices.
The Magician's Book is an intellectual adventure story, in which Miller travels to Lewis's childhood home in Ireland, the possible inspiration for Narnia's landscape; unfolds his intense friendship with J.R.R.Tolkien, a bond that led the two of them to create the greatest myth-worlds of modern times; and explores Lewis's influence on writers like Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Franzen, and Philip Pullman. Finally reclaiming Narnia for the rest of us, Miller casts the Chronicles as a profoundly literary creation, and the portal to a life-long adventure in books, art, and the imagination. Erudite, wide-ranging, and playful, The Magician's Book is for all who live in thrall to the magic of books.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[Miller's] sometimes affectionate, sometimes analytical book will delight both skeptics and true believers." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Erudite extended essay about C.S. Lewis's classic fantasy series, the meaning of reading in childhood and the author's internal landscape....A rewarding study by a first-rate arts writer." Kirkus Reviews
"An engrossing examination of the importance of children's literature....Part memoir, part passionate reassessment of the lost literary pleasures of childhood, Magician is a beautiful and thoughtful journey back to why we read." Danielle Trussoni, People
"Miller has created a rare and beautiful beast: a book with the head of a critique, the body of a bibliography, and the heart of a memoir. By recapturing Narnia, she redeems our passion and allows readers to re-discover the wonder of first love. That's some trick." Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair
"Conversational, embracing, and casually erudite, Laura Miller's superb long essay is the kind that comes along too rarely, a foray into the garden of one book that opens to the whole world of reading, becoming in the process a subtle reader's memoir, and manifesto." Jonathan Lethem
Enchanted by The Chronicles of Narnia's fantastic world, Miller uncovers the source of these small books' mysterious power by looking at their creator, C. S. Lewis. The author casts the Chronicles as a profoundly literary creation, and the portal to a life-long adventure in books, art, and the imagination.
About the Author
Laura Miller is a journalist and critic. She is a cofounder of Salon.com, where she is currently a staff writer, and is the editor of The Salon.com Readers Guide to Contemporary Authors. A regular contributor to the New York Times Book Review, her work has also appeared in The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, Time, and other publications. She lives in New York.
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