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The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narniaby Laura Miller
THE MAGICIAN'S BOOKis 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
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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. (Dec. 3)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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."
Miller illuminates not only the Chronicles of Narnia, but the nature of reading itself."
Miller find her way back to Narnia as an adult-where she discovers that a wiser reader is not necessarily a sadder one."
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
"Jam-packed with critical insights and historical context, this discussion of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia...is intellectually inspiring."Publishers Weekly
"...Reading [Miller's] thrilling new book about C. S. Lewis and his Narnia series is like sitting down with the smartest and least tendentious person you know and dishing your favorite books. I came away from this book feeling thoroughly informed, entertained, and inspired."James Hynes, author of The Lecturer's Tale and Kings of Infinite Space
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Meet 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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Laura Miller's account of her childhood love, later teen angst and even later adult acceptance of and renewed pleasure in C.S. Lewis's Chronicle of Narnia series is like having a conversation with a smart, interesting, thoughtful friend who makes you feel smart, interesting and thoughtful as well. Miller's establishes herself by listing some of her favorite childhood books (Harriet the Spy, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Edward Eager's Half Magic series) and describing her reactions to them - all favorable but none as complex as her reactions to the Chronicles. She plumbs into her reasons for the variations in her reactions and supports her emotional reactions with some good research - Lewis's autobiography, some children's lit. theory, and comes up with clear and engaging musings on her reactions. But, the best part is the way that she does some excellent close readings of Lewis's own work and demonstrates the ways that his Christianity is a complex and flexible ideology, one closer to nature and celebratory joy in the material world than one would initially assume (especially after seeing "Shadowlands" with Anthony Hopkins admirably playing a staid and restrained Lewis). Miller weaves together memoir, biography, theory, and a deft writing style that makes you feel like you just had the most interesting conversation in your life without feeling stuffy or pretentious, just plain smart.
The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventure in Narnia, by Laura Miller Despite the subtitle, this book is not just for readers of C.S. Lewis. It’s a smart, analytical, broadly focused examination of the intellectual and psychological value, especially for children, of reading fantasy literature. Lewis’s work is the primary focus of this examination, but Miller also discusses works of children’s fantasy by Andersen through Yeats and all the alphabet in between. (The only “Z” I could think of—Zheng Yuanjie, prolific writer of Chinese fairy tales— didn’t make the cut.) This inclusive approach renders Miller’s analysis important to far more readers than only those adults who were childhood fans of The Chronicles of Narnia. But those who were—among them Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Franzen, and Philip Pullman—will find themselves thoroughly vindicated for whatever amount of time they whiled away in Narnia. There apparently exists a fairly common perception that the Christian subtext of Lewis’s work means that the work is somehow “owned” by Christian readers. My only complaint about The Magician’s Book is that Miller expends far too much print politely disagreeing with this notion instead of simply dismissing it as balderdash. The English language and its literature evolved primarily within a Christian cultural context. The understanding of literary allusions, symbols, and motifs that derive from Christian culture (such as Aslan’s sacrifice and resurrection recalling Christ’s) is available to any discerning reader of English regardless of personal religious convictions (if any). One does not have to subscribe to an ideology in order to understand it. My child does not have to be a Hindu in order to enjoy Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth by Emily Haynes and Sanjay Patel, and she does not have to be a Christian in order to enjoy Lewis’s The Silver Chair or The Last Battle. Plenty of excellent literary critics understand John Milton’s über-Christian Paradise Lost despite being Muslim, Jewish, Wiccan, or atheist. Miller’s patience with such parochial tribalism far exceeds mine. That one tetchy caveat aside, The Magician’s Book is the best book on reading I’ve seen in years. Miller beautifully articulates the inestimable value of children’s fantasy in cultivating intelligent, sympathetic, and creative minds. Commenting on “the intense bond between parent and child or between a god and his worshipper,” she observes that such a bond, based in a “desire to be carried away by something greater than oneself,” can also exist between book and reader. As Meryl Koh points out in her Huffington Post blog examining the value of fantasy in children’s literature, "a work of fantasy compels a reader into a metaphorical state of mind, allowing more room for imagination and by association, more insights and perspectives.” Since most of what drives the human intellect is not data but abstraction—truth, justice, education, liberty, selflessness, and so on—a child who has traversed Narnia, Hogwarts, Middle-earth, Neverland, Oz, Lilliput, or Whoville perhaps stands a better chance of developing into a more curious, tolerant, and fearless adult than one whose reading world has been limited to Sunnybrook Farm.
I now love the land of Narnia well i have my reasons and you have yours now i will not tell myn but what i will tell is NARNIA ROCKS