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

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

by Laura Miller


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Enchanted by Narnia's 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 lifelong adventure in books, art, and the imagination.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316017657
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 12/02/2009
Pages: 312
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Laura Miller is a journalist and critic. She is a cofounder of, where she is currently a staff writer, and is the editor of The 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.

What People are Saying About This

Jonathan Lethem

Conversational, embracing, and casually erudite... a subtle reader's memoir, and manifesto.

Customer Reviews

Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
one_reader More than 1 year ago
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.
distractedmusician on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Having read the Chronicles of Narnia as a child and loved them, I was thrilled to find out Laura Miller's new literary criticism was available for review from HBG. In The Magician's Book, Laura Miller discusses her experiences with the renowned series, as well as the views of many well known authors such as Philip Pullman and Neil Gaiman.I have to say, this book is marvelous! Not being an avid fan of literary criticism (I tend to lean towards fiction when I read), I wasn't sure quite what to expect, but I enjoyed it from start to finish. The life of C. S. Lewis is quite interesting, and the amount of speculation that surrounds the books is astonishing. From what appears a simple children's series, critics have drawn many conclusions about C. S. Lewis and his beliefs & intentions. Laura Miller is an excellent narrator, and the story flows smoothly throughout, and her conversational tone makes it very easy to relate to. She has great research to back up all of her points, and the interviews with fellow authors were very interesting, also providing contrasting views in many instances.Christians may be offended by some of the content in this book. Laura Miller discusses her issues with Christianity fairly frequently throughout the novel. While I was very interested, not being religious myself, I don't believe her ideas will be warmly welcomed by all, especially when the Narnia books parallel the bible quite frequently.Without a doubt, I'd give The Magician's Book 5 stars!
Tricoteuse on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I picked this up on a whim, not expecting much since I hadn't been a big fan of the Narnia books as a kid, but this has convinced me that I need to go back and re-read them. Laura Miller does an amazing job of weaving the biography of C.S. Lewis, his writings, the culture he lived in, and the writings of his friends (especially Tolkien) into a compelling narrative about the Chronicles of Narnia. She simultaneously chronicles her own evolving relationship with the books, and incorporates interviews with other modern authors who were childhood fans of Narnia.Overall, this book is a wonderful read and I'd highly recommend it to anyone, regardless of how you feel about the Narnia books.
lisalouhoo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When Laura Miller was in second grade, her teacher lent her a personal copy of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Laura was immediately pulled into the world of Narnia, and belonged to that world until she was thirteen - when she discovered the christian themes in the books. Feeling very betrayed, for by this time she had turned away from her catholic faith, she abandoned the books. Years later, in college, she returned to the books for an essay on the most influential books of childhood, and this book, The Magician's Book, is a continuation and expansion of that essay.In the first section of the book (Songs of Innocence), Laura explores the draw of the books, apart from the christian themes: what it is that has captivated so many children, and herself; why there is not just an enjoyment of the books, but a longing to inhabit the world of Narnia.The second section of the book (Trouble in Paradise) describes her disenchantment with the Chronicles, first as a child when she discovered the christian themes in the book, and second, as an adult when she recognized other (to her) less than ideal themes including: sexism, racism, elitism, and etc. At the end of this section, she becomes reconciled to overlooking these flaws by finding in the words of Philip Pullman "another way in", by looking at the Chronicles in a different way.In the final section of the book (Songs of Experience), Laura explores Lewis as a person, and the many influences on his writing of the Chronicles. She includes his friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien, and how they helped and influenced each other, the affect of the scenery around him, both in his boyhood in Ireland, and his later years in Oxford, as well as many other factors.Throughout the book, Miller tries to take the books and the man away from their Christan roots, and see what is left. The book was well written, well researched, and definitely explores the depths of Lewis and his writing, and everything else imaginable.One area I feel that she did not achieve her desired goal, though, was in impartiality. She calls attention to the Christian critics and biographers for this failing, for idealising Lewis and his works. And undoubtedly this is true, yet she has her own agenda, which swings, at times, in the other direction, instead of balancing this out. To me, at points, she seems to be saying that she can understand and solve the riddle of Lewis' motivators in life much better than he or any of his other biographers. She seems to be playing the all knowing psychiatrist, and even if her points make sense, and could very possibly be true, I fell condescended to.Also, at one point in the book, she seems to leave Lewis entirely, and goes on and on about Tolkien, not just their relationship, or how their writings were affected by each other. It was very interesting, and well written, but felt a bit out of place.That having been said, this was a very interesting book. So many themes are covered that it would take a review the size of the book itself to even begin discussing them. I would recommend this book to Narnia and C.S. Lewis fans. It is always good to look at things from a different point of view. Even for those unfamiliar with the Chronicles, this could be an interesting read, as there is so much of other books, and life and reading in general. While understanding and insight will be added from having read the books, Laura Miller does a great job a describing the passages that she discusses, so that it isn't neccasary to have read the Narnia books to understand.Read more...
lookingforpenguins on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Magician's Book is a non-fiction look at author Laura Miller's childhood love-affair with The Chronicles of Narnia. Her later disillusionment with The Chronicles and C.S. Lewis comes after the discovery of the Christian themes (barely) underlying the story. Miller goes on to explore her estrangement and later reconciliation with The Chronicles, the life of C.S. Lewis, and the magic of books for childrenThere is irony to be found in providing literary criticism of a book of literary criticism. Or perhaps it's just redundant. Either way, I have a few observations about The Magician's Book.Miller provides some beautiful insights into the magic of books (both for children and adults). She explores the allure books hold for children and in doing so also provides a lovely insight into the mind of a child. As an adult, we tend to remember that there were certain books we loved when we were young, but forget exactly why we loved them so much. Miller elucidates those reasons in a softly reminiscent style that is a pleasure to read.Still, there is such a thing as too much introspection and the original essay perhaps was the best vehicle for what Miller has to say. After providing some brilliant thoughts on a particular subject, for example Lewis' thoughts on people who gravitate towards books, the subject would then be picked apart to such a degree that the original idea was sometimes lost in the process. Which is a shame, really, because there were some wonderful nuggets of wisdom that became mired.Miller's criticism of the themes present in The Chronicles of Narnia are precisely presented in a logical format and documents a personal wrestling match with Christianity. While some critiques of her work take issue with this, I found it enlightening and smartly written. Miller includes relevant thoughts on Narnia as well as observations from some noted authors, including Neil Gaiman, which fleshes out her own observations quite well.Miller also delves into the art of literary criticism, mostly in an attempt to explain her own criticisms of The Chronicles of Narnia, but they are especially insightful and interesting to those of us who regularly engage in reading and reviewing literature.It's been said before that sometimes a story is just that: a story. To analyze the author's intent and meaning by picking apart the work sentence by sentence can ultimately destroy the story itself. Ultimately, perhaps The Chronicles of Narnia are best left for the next generation of children to fall into and enjoy the magic.If you enjoy reading in-depth literary criticism (or are just addicted to stunningly beautiful cover art), this would be a lovely addition to your library, especially for book bloggers. Be careful, though, if you think the dismantling and reconstruction of The Chronicles of Narnia might ruin a precious childhood memory of these tales.
apartmentcarpet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Part biography, part memoir, part literary criticism, The Magician's Book dissects the Chronicles of Narnia series from all angles. The book is interesting both for the history and insight it provides, as well as the author's commentary on how she integrated a blatantly Christian book with her own agnosticism. The best part was how the author evoked that sense of wonder and complete immersion in a story that is the beginning of every reader's childhood love of book.
miriamparker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I don't usually read literary criticism but this is totally fascinating. It stems from Miller's personal love of the Chronicles of Narnia and goes on to analyze them, and their place in the cannon, talk about C.S. Lewis' life, his faith, the role of Christianity in the books and in his life, as well as his relationship with Tolkien. She talks about the nature of reading, the difference between reading as a child and as an adult and in my favorite parts, the dichotomy between the little girls who loved LITTLE WOMEN (me) and those who loved The Narnia books (her, and Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Franzen and Susannah Clarke which reminded me how much I loved JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR NORELL).
DevourerOfBooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When Laura Miller was young, she was introduced to ¿The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe¿ by a teacher; Narnia quickly became one of her favorite places, feeling more real to her than any place she had been. Later, as a teenager who had become disillusioned with her church, Miller was quite unhappy to learn of C.S. Lewis¿ status as a Christian apologist and his use of theological influences in Narnia. Later, as an adult and a literary critic, she returned to Narnia to try to capture some of the magic she had found as an adult.¿The Magician¿s Book¿ ends up being part memoir, part literary criticism, and part biography of Lewis. I¿m not entirely sure that is what Miller intended when she started this book, but that is how it came across to me. It was at first a bit disconcerting, I imagined it would focus more on the literary criticism, some on the memoir; it simply wasn¿t fit together quite as I expected it would be. By the time I had gotten further into the book, though, I couldn¿t imagine her putting it together any other way.Although I do not share many of Miller¿s views on religion - or even Narnia itself - this was a book I thoroughly enjoyed. Yes, I occasionally found myself disagreeing with her aloud, but it was a civil disagreement, being able to see her well-rationed side of things and perhaps understanding my own views better through the disagreement.Surprisingly engaging for a work of literary criticism, I would recomment ¿The Magician¿s Book¿ to anyone who has ever loved Narnia.
sonyau on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The structure of this book expertly mimics Laura Miller's own experience with CS Lewis's Narnia Chronicles. In addition to her own textual readings, Miller discusses the framework of ideas behind both Lewis's and JRR Tolkein's major works; in essence, their worldviews and varying emphases on the Middle Ages, literature at large, and even their adherence to their pedigrees and national identities inform their works and their stormy friendship in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I knew essentially nothing about CS Lewis's life before I started, but Miller uses his biography to expand on all aspects of his writing, along with the basic tenets of reader response literary theory (what a reader brings to a text is very important and cannot be discounted). This is a wonderful book.
drewjameson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Miller's book about reading reawakened the joy that reading Narnia as a child brought me. This book is for anyone who loved Narnia as a child and was horrified to revisit them and find not only that there was a moral, but that this moral is so clunkily Muslim- and woman-phobic. Rather than juvenilely throwing them out, she thoughtfully examines the Chronicles' subtextual meaning, Lewis' intellectual and belief system and how he attempted to weave these into his work. Ultimately, the Magician's Book is about learning to read. Learning to read one way as a child, another way as an adult, and how to reconcile the two. This is also what the Chronicles are about, learning how to understand the world in a new way and return to the other world that great books open doors to.
coolpinkone on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a very in depth look into Laura Miller's long standing relationship with the Chronicles of Narnia. She explains her first reactions, her disappointments and then her reconciliation of the books to her own heart and soul.It is a "deep" outstanding literary conversation. I have to say a few times I was like "what?" and I had to reread because for me at times it was a very academic read. I hate to say "over my head" because if I read carefully I was able to digest what is being conveyed. I am a firm believer that if you want to get something, just read slowly and aloud if necessary. I admire someone that can take their first reading experience and follow up with a complex and literary experience that can fill up a whole book.She also ties in her disappointment with the Chronicles with her disappointment in some religious teaching in her life.I thought this book was going to be a fictional story, so I had to readjust my thinking and brace myself for it. After that I realized that it is more of a literary commentary of books that I enjoyed as a child. There is no doubt that the author is committed to the topic and that she really writes from her heart and her experiences in life that connect to Narnia. And readers that have ever been captivated (obsessed) with a book will really be able to relate to Laura Miller's commitment in writing this book even if their view is different. I have a feeling that there will be varying views on this book.I believe lovers of Narnia are going to really enjoy quotes and detailed writing from The Magician's Book. There is a lot of food for thought, plenty of issues to debate, and questions to ponder upon. There are a lot of notable quotes and thoughts in the book providing a sound foundation to the writing. But some might say it is over kill. What would I say? I would say it depends on my mood. After I got into it, I read a little each night, I could seriously appreciate the depth... but ask me if I am deep everyday....the answer is NOPE. The book is still by my bed with post it flags markers from my not so "deep" times.I will also note that personally a few times in the book I felt the disappointment in the author's experience and it was sort of a bummer to me because her experience with Narnia as a "skeptic" was not my experience. My experience was always the surface value of the story. But I still enjoyed the book, the presentation and the academic presentation of opinion. Laura Miller presents a founded literary experience in this book.
calexis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Like Miller, I was introduced to the world of Narnia at a young age in school. Unlike her though, I have not yet finished the entire series (reaching only four books) and though I did enjoy the books I have read, it hasn't enraptured my entire world. I do not recall whether I ever wanted to escape to Narnia either. And despite having reread The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when I was a teenager, I still did not take note of the Catholic faith implications in the book until I read somewhere online of its connection. Perhaps with someone of another faith, this would not be as surprising, but I was raised under the Catholic faith.Miller stresses that though she does acknowledge and was shocked by these Catholic faith integrations, there is even more to the books themselves and the author who wrote them, which is where this book of hers, The Magician's Book comes in.Miller's writing from the very beginning is like that of a conversation between friends or acquaintances. It was really comforting in a way in that I felt like it was a discussion and not just her proving her points. This made the book a lot more enjoyable and welcoming, unlike other some critic works that feel like their opinions are being forced down your throat whether you want it or not.I also loved the way she refered to the children in her personal stories as her "three-year-old friend," and other descriptions like that. While giving a personal reference, she does not downgrade these children for their age but views them as equals and their opinions just as important.Miller brings to light Lewis' own life and its reflection in his stories. She goes through the way these stories are read by children and adults, her own personal experiences and back to the stories themselves and to Lewis again. This constant connection is important as Miller shows that the book would not be what it was without C.S. Lewis and his millions of readers who love the world of Narnia.I enjoyed this literary work and would definitely recommend it... though I do suggest that you would have at least read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and no, I don't mean having just seen the theatrical versions of the novel. I myself, would be getting myself to reading the rest of the series to understand better some of the ideas in this book.
karinnekarinne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When you pick up a book titled The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia, you probably assume it will be about one person's experience with The Chronicles of Narnia. Laura Miller fulfills that expectation to some degree, but this book is balanced between being an exploration of personal responses to Narnia and a biography of C. S. Lewis.Miller talks to a good handful of people about Narnia and relates their responses; these bits are sprinkled throughout The Magician's Book. That's readable enough. It's not really what I was looking for in the book, but I still enjoyed it. In the first section of the book, Miller explains how The Chronicles shaped her view of literature, and later, how her recognition of the Christian symbolism involved reshaped her view of The Chronicles, and that's sort of what I expected. I'm glad the book was not entirely about that, though, because it wasn't as fascinating as the title made me think it would be.Where The Magician's Book makes itself worthwhile, for me, is in the half (roughly) of the book that's devoted to C. S. Lewis's life, his motives for writing The Chronicles, and his friendship with J. R. R. Tolkien. It's somewhat dry at times -- not horribly so, just enough to be noticed -- but interesting most of the time, so I sort of half-glazed over the dry parts and still ended up learning a lot. Despite my laziest intentions!Note: I had to return this to the library last month, so my recollection of where things are located in the book's layout may be a little fuzzy.
MsGodot More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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
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