The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia

( 6 )

Overview

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 ...
See more details below
Paperback
$12.74
BN.com price
(Save 15%)$14.99 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (32) from $1.99   
  • New (12) from $1.99   
  • Used (20) from $1.99   
The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK Study
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$9.99
BN.com price

Overview

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.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
"Empathetic, rigorous,
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."
Time
"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."
Christian Science Monitor
"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."
Michael Cart
An agreeable and insightful book...her sometimes affectionate, sometimes analytical book will delight both skeptics and true believers.
Booklist
author of The Father of All Things Tom Bissell
"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."
author of The Jane Austin Book Club Karen Joy Fowler
"A thorough and thoroughly engrossing look at one reader's lifetime love affair with Narnia... Smart, meticulous, and altogether delightful."
Jonathan Lethem
"Conversational, embracing, and casually erudite... a subtle reader's memoir, and manifesto."
author of Grace (Eventually) Anne Lamott
"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."
author of The Lecturer's Tale and Kings of Infini James Hynes
"...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."
Michael Cart - Booklist
"An agreeable and insightful book...her sometimes affectionate, sometimes analytical book will delight both skeptics and true believers."
author of 100 Best Books for Children Anita Silvey
"...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."
From the Publisher
"Empathetic, rigorous,
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

Elizabeth Ward
…[a] 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.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

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.
The Barnes & Noble Review
Childhood fans of C. S. Lewis's seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia -- and they are legion -- will find much to enjoy in this unusual book of literary commentary. It's the first book by the co-founder of Salon.com, Laura Miller, who continues to write extensively about books for Salon and other magazines. Rest assured, though, this is not a typical work of analytic criticism but an inspired account of her life as a reader, a personal history that begins more or less with Lewis's masterpiece of fantasy, which she first read as a self-contained nine-year-old and continues to read as a touchstone for her life among books. Her views of how and why we read find focus in her rereadings of this life-changing work. But there's a group of Narnians (as Lewis's fans are affectionately called) who will take umbrage at her admittedly skeptical view of Lewis's achievement -- the Christian believers who recognize within the seemingly lighthearted tale a profound introduction to the ideas and symbols concerning, among other things, the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Miller organizes her somewhat contentious account into three sections, each dealing with a significant stage in her encounters with Lewis's septet and together forming a storylike structure of their own, beginning with her enchantment as a child, her disillusion as a student, and her reconsideration as a mature reader. Miller brings a bit of drama to her initial reading of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first volume of the series, published in 1950 and handed to a bookish young girl in the late '60s by a sympathetic second-grade teacher. In fact, the grown-up Miller interviews (and dedicates this book to) that very teacher, whose own love of literature was hard won during the Depression years. What Miller's teacher recognized was a girl who who was ripe for this bold exercise of the imagination, a made-up world of talking animals and brave children who set off on dangerous adventures.

And so began Miller's romance with the book she would one day describe for a Salon assignment as "the single book that had most influenced me, that has changed my life." Following up on that claim in this chatty discussion, Miller here departs from conventional criticism in a number of ways. For one thing, she's concerned with how Lewis's narrative made her "feel," a type of response many critics -- though certainly not most readers -- dismiss as hopelessly subjective and unworthy of serious comment. But that's how Miller gets to the core of Narnia's lasting appeal, not just for her but for the countless children who continue to rank the books among their favorites (especially now with the success of the two live-action films based on the first two volumes). Moreover, Miller considers her early emotional responses in light of her later comprehensive knowledge of children's literature, from the moralistic Victorian novel Elsie Dinsmore to the fantastical Harry Potter books. Miller also relies on a commonsense view of child psychology, which she supports with two young test kids, her friends' children Corinne and Desmond, who reappear throughout this idiosyncratic book.

What the older Miller remembers of her young self is a girl intrigued by magical worlds, a girl who shared a typical love of animals, especially when they inhabit a place apart from parents. And in that world of Narnia, she identified, not surprisingly, with Lucy Pevensie, the youngest of Lewis's adventuring children, herself a kind and innocent "daughter of Eve" and a faithful believer in the power of Aslan, the lion and God figure, who behaves toward her like a cuddly house cat. Miller also admired the Pevensie children's readiness for their amazing adventures; they had read, in Lewis's view, "the right books" -- tales of knights errant and fire-breathing dragons, of swordplay and ships wrecked on deserted islands. As satisfying as their adventures were on a dramatic level, Miller also recognized back then the moral challenge of the novel: the struggle between good and evil embodied in Lucy's brother Edmund, a selfish and vain boy who is forced to confront his all-too-human weaknesses.

The turning point in Miller's life as a Narnian came with the realization that not only was Lewis a devout Christian himself but that his books brim with his strongly held beliefs -- ideas he articulated more straightforwardly in his many works of Christian apologetics. The challenge for Miller as an older reader is whether she, nominally raised as a Catholic but currently not religious, can still find the same pleasure in Lewis's magnanimous prose fiction. To do so she must deal with Lewis's apparently orthodox beliefs, as well as his other unfashionable views. After bemoaning the sort of literary criticism that finds racism, sexism, and classism everywhere in the great works -- the kind of criticism prominent in her college years -- she discovers these very failures in the Chronicles. She more or less agrees with the popular anti-Narnian Philip Pullman, author of the bestselling His Dark Materials series, who accuses Lewis of racism, misogyny, and elitism. To her credit, Miller lays out the case with care, even if she makes a few silly remarks about Lewis's genial old-fogeyism. While she finds offense in Lewis's depiction of the progressive school called "Experiment House" in The Silver Chair, others might recognize it as comic huffing and puffing worthy of Evelyn Waugh.

However, Miller's greatest limits as a Narnian derive not from her lack of religion but from a profound misunderstanding of Christianity. At one point, she seems to suggest that all evangelical Christians are fundamentalists and that these same fundamentalists have captured her beloved Narnia books for improper ends as religious propaganda. An admitted nonbeliever herself, she considers Christianity "too monolithic, comprehensive, and established." Furthermore, this religion of "boredom, subjugation, and reproach" functioned like "a black hole, sucking all the beauty and wonder out of Narnia." Not only do we learn much here about Miller's Christian malformation; she also reveals a passing knowledge of Lewis's other writings and begins to drift off into a number of interesting but irrelevant asides -- long descriptions of her visits to landscapes that may have inspired Lewis, biographical excurses on Lewis's guarded personal life, and an extended comparison of Lewis and his friend J.R.R. Tolkien, who was no fan of the Narnia books himself and wasn't very close to Lewis during their composition. Although Miller's discussion of The Lord of the Rings may widen the audience for her rambling book, it ultimately comes up short: the two fantasists agreed on little in their views of literary history -- Tolkien, to cite just one example, loathed Spenser, one of Lewis's favorite poets and also an inspiration for much of the Chronicles' texture.

Tolkien leveled the most serious charge at Lewis's children's books (his own novels, by the way, were not intended for the young): he considered the Chronicles a hodgepodge of images, symbols, and mythological creatures, with no internal consistency whatsoever, a far cry from the carefully worked out alternate world in his own books. The most obvious example of this is in Lewis's first volume, with the appearance of Father Christmas, a character not in traditional Christian iconography. But Miller wisely uses this, and other aspects of the Tolkien comparison, to enhance her present-day appreciation of Lewis's books. A sophisticated reader, she suggests, will recognize in Lewis's work, the brilliant myth-making, the play on the romance genre, and the textual openness to a wide variety of interpretations. The adult reader, too, perhaps familiar with Lewis's scholarly studies in medieval and Renaissance literature (which have not, despite her assertion, "drifted into obscurity") will discover in Narnia a version of the universe much in accord with medieval philosophy and cosmology, both of which Lewis discusses extensively in books such as The Discarded Image and his critical masterpiece, The Allegory of Love.

Miller scratches at the surface here an idea that's been put forth in a book that all adult Narnians will want to read, Planet Narnia by Michael Ward, which came out too late for Miller to assess. Deeply immersed in all of Lewis's varied works, Ward in effect solves the great Narnian puzzle and reveals depths to Lewis's fiction that no one has previously discerned. His stunning piece of literary detection demonstrates with near irrefutable conclusiveness the consistency to Lewis's imaginary world, contrary to Tolkien and the rest. The religious press and magazines such as Books and Culture and First Things have sung Ward's praises, but mainstream critics have been remiss. Perhaps they'll be more content with Miller's skeptical, secular approach. But Ward's heavily researched study achieves what Miller merely attempts in her final chapters -- an adult appreciation of Lewis's serious artistic accomplishment.

Whatever its faults, Miller's charming narrative better reflects the way most ordinary readers approach books -- emotionally, haphazardly, even narcissistically. It's an excellent general introduction to Narnia and its special appeal to children. And her personal tale, heartfelt and meandering, is also a superb argument for why we need to give kids "the right books." --Thomas DePietro

Thomas DePietro, a former contributing editor of Kirkus Reviews, has also published in Commonweal, The Nation, and The New York Times Book Review. He recently edited Conversations with Don DeLillo, and his book on Kingsley Amis is forthcoming.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316017657
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 12/2/2009
  • Pages: 312
  • Sales rank: 1,191,180
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

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 New York.
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 6 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(5)

4 Star

(1)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 7, 2010

    Your new best friend

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 14, 2014

    The Magician¿s Book: A Skeptic¿s Adventure in Narnia, by Laura M

    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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2013

    Great book i loved it

    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

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)