Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia by Laura Miller

The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia by Laura Miller

Completion Date: May 12, 2011
Reason for Reading: Non-fiction read for Once Upon a Time.
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.
I can't decide if I like this book. I finished it. I read it relatively quickly. But, did I like it... It's hard for me to decide. I have never been good at picking sides. People have always told me you either have to like Star Trek or Star Wars, but I always claimed to like both. (Now that I am a bit older, I think I prefer Star Trek, but I will always enjoy Star Wars). This book feels like another example of this choosing sides thing. It comes down to Narnia or Middle Earth? C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien? When I was a child, it was hands down C.S. Lewis. When I was a young adult, it became both. Nowadays, I feel like it is Tolkien.

I am sure people are wondering why I prefer Tolkien, but am reading a book about Lewis. Frankly, it's the religious aspects of Lewis' books. When I was a kid, I didn't notice them at all. Nowadays, I can't read the books or watch the movies without thinking about all the religious aspects. I try to get beyond this. When the movies were just in the 'talking about' stage, I tried to reread the series, but I never did make it very far. I grew-up and Lewis can't capture me like he used to do. There are still many aspects of the books that I will always love, but it just makes me sad that I can't read the books the same way anymore. Another author I am having the same problem with is Madeleine L'Engle. I know too much now and can't read her books without over-thinking things either. I still confess that Lewis and L'Engle will always be two of my favourite authors of all time. I just don't read them anymore. I am worried that too many rereads will destroy the books for me entirely.

This book explored a lot of the thoughts that I have running around in my head about the series as a whole. There were some things that I had forgotten about entirely. It made me think about my experiences with the series and trying to remember when I lost interest because of the problems I mentioned above. I still am watching the movies when they come out, so it hasn't been all bad. I just wish that Lewis could have written essentially the same magical world, but left the religion out. I probably would still love it if that was the case. I am glad that I read this book even if I haven't entirely made my mind up on things. It still was interesting and was a new way to experience a beloved series from my childhood.

Since I am not even sure what to say, your turn. Narnia or Middle Earth? If you have lost interest in Lewis, why was that? When did you figure out the religious aspects of the books, and when you did, did it change your experiences with the series?

This book counts for Quest the fourth for the Once Upon a Time challenge.


  1. I remember reading about this a while back. I don't think it would be one for me.

  2. Narnia for me, but I didn't read Lord of the Rings until I was in high school or so. I haven't had a lot of difficulty with the religious aspects, except in The Last Battle -- I don't know, I never experienced that feeling of betrayal that some people seem to have had with the Narnia books, when they discovered the Christian elements. I just felt like, CS Lewis was a Christian guy, and Christian stuff got into his books. If I wrote a book it would be full of the stuff that's important to me, too.

  3. simply put: I don't like religion shoved in my face, nor politics, nor anyones sex life... i think some things are meant to be "private".. not saying they can't be mentioned ..just not "constant" where one can't get away from it.

  4. Oohh thank you for reminding me that I have this book to read :) I'm like you. Loved it but now the religious parts bother me which makes me prefer Tolkien. But still love both!

  5. At least you've felt the magic of Narnia when you were young. I've only started to read them now and also cannot ignore the (not so) veiled religious allusions.

    I think you've been hit by what calls the Suck Fairy, in particular it's variation, the Message Fairy:

  6. I wonder if Lewis ever intended Narnia to be dissected and broken down so that the all of the religious aspects are apparent. Or if someone noticed similarities and made a bigger deal of the Religious aspects than they should be. Are these aspects intentional or someone's interpretation?

  7. My experience was similar to Alexandra's... I first came too Narnia as an adult and in many ways it felt too late. This is something that makes me sad. But reading Laura Miller's book did make me appreciate Lewis' work more, even if it will never become a favourite of mine.

  8. I think folks who espouse that you *have* to choose between Star Trek and Star Wars, or Lewis or Tolkien, are nuts, personally. I mean I think it is more than okay if you only like one or the other, but I think it is ludicrous to believe that a person *must* like one or the other. I enjoy both Star Wars and Star Trek. I have a slightly greater connection to Star Wars because it was what got me into science fiction and you never forget your first love. But Star Trek is wonderful too.

    As for Tolkien and Lewis, I came to both as an adult and while I far prefer Tolkien, I still love the Chronicles of Narnia and think they are very special. Of course I come to Chronicles from a different aspect. I grew up and remain a Christian and even though I didn't read these as a child I always say Lewis' books in Christian bookstores and so always had an idea that they had a Christian aspect even though I hadn't read them.

    I got into this discussion with someone once who felt 'betrayed' when they learned that Lewis wrote an allegory and while I can understand that on one level, I also though Lewis at the very least deserved some credit in that I don't believe he was ever silent about this being an allegory. If you read about the tumultuous friendship between Tolkien and Lewis one of the things Tolkien bickered about with Lewis is that Tolkien hated allegory and didn't like that Lewis' work was so allegorical. Setting aside whether allegory is a valid form of literature or not, I often wonder if it is the publisher's fault more than Lewis for Chronicles continuing to be published in a fashion that doesn't let people know what the author's intention was. I certainly don't feel Lewis should be in any way vilified for what he did. I don't believe he was trying to "fool" anyone (although I haven't read many biographies so I could be wrong). I believe he purposefully set out to write a series of stories that introduced Christian mythology into the other mythology of England in a way to explain Christ and his sacrifice to young people.

    Again, I understand a person feeling betrayed by this, but I squarely lay that blame on the way the book is marketed and published an not on the author who was by all accounts very open with what he was doing, so much to the point that it was part of a rift between him and Tolkien.

    I also think you don't *have* to read the religious stuff into Lewis, but it is (as an adult) much harder to do because it is, and was meant to be, somewhat obvious in an allegorical sense.

    The book sounds like one that I need to pick up and read sometime as I think I agree with the author's overall premise, and that is rescuing Narnia for everyone. It is such a magical world that I would hate to see people stay away from it because it has its origins in religious ideas.


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