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The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narniaby Laura Miller
"[Miller] re-read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for an assignment a few years back and found that it had not entirely lost its radiance, its uncanny power to stir. "What I dislike about Narnia," she discovered, "no longer eclipses what I love about it." She set out to determine why — and perhaps to help reclaim it for those misguidedly convinced that it is only a work of Christian apologetics." Elizabeth Ward, The Washington Post Book World (read the entire Washington Post Book World review)
"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. Enchanted by its fantastic world as a child, prominent critic Laura Miller returns to the series as an adult to uncover the source of these small books' mysterious power by looking at their creator, Clive Staples Lewis. What she discovers is not the familiar, idealized image of the author, but a more interesting and ambiguous truth: Lewis's tragic and troubled childhood, his unconventional love life, and his intense but ultimately doomed friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien.
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.
"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.)
As a small girl growing up in California, Laura Miller did not just long to visit Narnia. So bewitched was she by that shining imagined realm — laid out in seven novels back in the 1950s by an eccentric English don — she was pretty sure that not being able to visit it in person would kill her. Along with its various sequels and prequels, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" brought her the purest... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) sort of bliss. It was the book, she writes in this meandering but beguiling appreciation, "that made a reader out of me." A few years later, when Miller was in her early teens, she discovered "what is instantly obvious to any adult reader: that the Chronicles of Narnia are filled with Christian symbolism" and that the books that had been the cornerstone of her imaginative life were "really just the doctrines of the Church in disguise." Miller had been raised a Catholic (close enough, for literary purposes, to C.S. Lewis' born-again Anglicanism), but she was left as cold as a Narnia winter by what she describes as the church's "guilt-mongering and tedious rituals." The sense of betrayal by Lewis was so great, she recalls, that for a long time she wanted nothing to do with his now "appallingly transfigured" fairy tale. A lot of readers have felt that way about Narnia — and not just since Disney's unsubtle blockbuster movie in 2005 left the whole series more or less hijacked by Christian fundamentalists. Lewis' longtime friend J.R.R. Tolkien, the creator of Middle-earth and a self-described "devout Roman Catholic," objected to what he considered the books' heavy-handed Christian parallels, too. But Miller wasn't one to let disenchantment lie. Now a journalist and critic, she re-read "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" for an assignment a few years back and found, to her surprise, that it had not entirely lost its radiance, its uncanny power to stir. "What I dislike about Narnia," she discovered, "no longer eclipses what I love about it." She set out to determine why — and perhaps to help reclaim it for those misguidedly convinced that it is only a work of Christian apologetics. The result is this hard-to-categorize, absorbing book. Think of it as an extended literary appreciation shot through with illuminating shafts of memoir, scholarship, biography and conversational interviews. Reading it is like sitting down for the afternoon with a fellow Narnia nut who is much more erudite than you are but genial and amusing enough never to intimidate or bore. Well, almost never. But don't worry. Whenever a foray into medieval romance or a disquisition on mythopoeia starts to flag, you can just skip ahead — and there will be Miller dissing Middle-earth as "the biggest model-railroad setup of all time," or tramping about Northern Ireland and Oxford looking for the real landscapes that inspired Narnia, or sharing Narnia-related confidences from the likes of Philip Pullman, Jonathan Franzen and Neil Gaiman. It's that kind of comfortable book. You may find yourself thinking that Miller goes off on too many tangents. In fact, it takes a nimble mind to follow her train of thought through these 27 dense, often obliquely titled chapters ("Garlic and Onions," anyone? "Boxcar Children"?) But it finally becomes clear that her branching meditation only mirrors what she sees as the essence of the Narnia books, as well as the quality Tolkien most disliked about them: their joyous, magpie-like borrowing and blending. "The Chronicles are unified," she writes, "not by anything resembling the exhaustive cultural stuff that Tolkien invented for Middle-earth ... not even, really, by a cogent religious vision, but by readerly desire. Lewis poured into his imaginary world everything that he had adored in the books he read as a child and in the handful of children's books he'd enjoyed as an adult. And there is more, too: treasures collected from Dante, from Spenser, from Malory, from Austen, from old romances and ballads and fairy tales and pagan epics." "The Chronicles," Miller concludes, "are a portal to other worlds, literary worlds." Stick with her. As she methodically explores these rich "worlds," Miller largely succeeds in rescuing the Narnia series from the narrow Christian box into which it has been crammed and reminding us of its elemental power as a story, more resonant than any sermon, intended or otherwise. Elizabeth Ward is an editor on The Washington Post's foreign desk and a longtime reviewer of children's books. Reviewed by Elizabeth Ward, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[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
"[I]t is refreshing to come across an author who shows us how to talk about the books we love....[Miller] also moves us beyond childhood, revealing that the books we loved as children can continue to quicken and expand our imaginations, especially when we have a guide like this one..." BookForum
"[A] thoughtful and humane journey back to an appreciation of what Lewis created. But it is more than a personal story: It is also an exploration of Lewis's life, his intellectual inclinations and his literary friendships..." The Wall Street Journal
"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
"This is a magical weave of rich soulful criticism....Miller creates an amazing literary work....I couldn't put it down, even as I felt tremendous anticipation of picking up The Chronicles of Narnia again, forty-five years after I first fell in love with it, too." Anne Lamott, author of Grace (Eventually)
Book News Annotation:
A co-founder and staff writer at Salon.com, Miller explains why and how it is still possible for her to love C.S. Lewis' fantasy novels despite the biases and small-mindedness they sometimes display, despite suspecting that she would not like the author very much, and despite the proselytizing that most adults assume is their only real content. Annotation ©2009 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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.
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,
THE MAGICIAN'S BOOK is an intellectual adventure story, in which Miller travels to Lewis's childhood home in
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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