four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
39-Mar-Apr-2009
By: 
Laura Miller
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
0

A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia

A-The Magicians BookIn The Magician’s Book, Laura Miller, cofounder of Salon.com and regular contributor to the New York Times Book Review and the New Yorker, reevaluates her first love, the wonder-inducing fiction of British writer C. S. Lewis.

The Topic: C. S. Lewis and his popular Narnia series have become known for their pervasive Christian imagery, but it is the way they delighted young readers that first made the books classics. Laura Miller recalls her first brush with Lewis’s books as a nine-year-old girl in California and traces the parallel evolution of her own intellectual development and her relationship with the make-believe world that shaped her imagination. What she discovers—Lewis’s troubled childhood, his strained friendship with J. R. R. Tolkien, and an un-Narnia-like personal life—forces her to reevaluate her first love. Still, "it was this book that made a reader out of me," Miller writes about Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. "It showed me how I could tumble through a hole in the world I knew and into another, better one."
Little, Brown. 311 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 0316017639

Christian Science Monitor 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[The Magician’s Book is] Miller’s lovely, bookish examination of her first great literary love and the book(s) that inspired it. … Her attempts to articulate what Narnia meant to her (with its tomboyish heroine, its talking animals, and its pretty, British ‘wildness’) and her desire to immerse herself in that realm will ring true to lovers of all sorts of imaginary universes." Marjorie Kehe

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Miller’s book is itself a welcome bit of magic: part reader’s log, part biography, part literary criticism. … Miller has learned much from Lewis, not least a bracingly colloquial, honest, intimate tone." Gregory Maguire

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Miller draws sound and dazzling connections among the details of [Lewis’s] life and literary inspirations, which ranged from medieval epics to the Victorian forerunners of modern fantasy. … The Magician’s Book, despite its passionate, human flaw, abounds with a rare quality that most literary criticism lacks, the quality of hopeful longing that helped lead Lewis to imagine Narnia, the quality that he prized above almost all others: joy." Michael Joseph Gross

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"[The Magician’s Book] is more than a personal story: It is also an exploration of Lewis’s life, his intellectual inclinations and his literary friendships, as well as an extended meditation on the ‘soul-shaping potential’ of reading itself. … Ms. Miller doesn’t give Lewis a complete pass for expressing such retrograde chauvinism, but it’s a continually refreshing characteristic of The Magician’s Book that she comes down, again and again, on the side of imaginative liberality." Meghan Cox Gurdon

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[At] times, The Magician’s Book plods frustratingly slowly through the necessary Narnia plot summaries and doubles back on itself, repeating observations on Miller’s experience as a young girl consumed with the books. But when Miller hits a fertile bit of ground—her chapters on Lewis’ relationship with his family and his long friendship with Ring-master J. R. R. Tolkien are especially interesting—her lucid prose and varied reference materials do a fantastic job sketching out the complicated terrain of Lewis’ celebrated creation." Reyhan Harmanci

Seattle Times 3 of 5 Stars
"My one criticism of Miller’s analysis is that she fails to see how the Narnia stories reflect the Christian virtues of individual courage, truth telling and self-sacrifice in the service of a larger cause. … It will come as no surprise that the rift between Miller, a bright young girl grown older and wiser, and Lewis, a magician of stories and their power, ends in reconciliation." Mary Ann Gwinn

Critical Summary

In The Magician’s Book, an attractive stew of biography, critical analysis, reader’s notes, and fan mail, critic and writer Laura Miller details her lifelong love affair with the seven novels that make up C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. She also tackles Lewis’s Christian themes and his perceived racism, sexism, and elitism head-on, writing that the author’s religious views "worked like a black hole, sucking all the beauty and wonder out of Narnia." Traveling to England to absorb the landscapes that influenced Lewis and interviewing fellow writers and imagination-movers Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Lethem allowed Miller to gain fresh perspective on Lewis and his work. Despite some repetitious parts, her gift is her ability to reconcile a child’s desire to inhabit the worlds of fiction with the responsibilities of the adult world. Above all, Miller reminds readers what it means to fall in love with literature.