Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 53.
- Review Date: 2008-09-15
- Reviewer: Staff
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)
The magician's secrets
Romances with books can be just as rocky as the human variety. Critic Laura Miller, who writes about literature for publications like Salon and the New York Times, discovered that the hard way. She fell in love with C.S. Lewis' Narnia as a childand then felt betrayed and duped when, as a teen, she realized that the stories she adored could be read as Christian allegories. Still, when asked to write about a book that changed her life, she returned to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobeand, to her surprise, discovered that she could still get lost in Lewis' world.
In The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia, Miller delves into Lewis' biography, the tradition of children's literature, the power of myth and the history of fairy tales. She also talks to fellow Narnia fans, from personal friends to well-known writers like Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke and Jonathan Franzen. The thoughtful, incisive essays explore every aspect of these novels, which, in Miller's words, "are far larger than they seem from the outside."
"I can't read the Chronicles the way I once did, with the same absolute belief," writes Miller, yet in The Magician's Book, she vividly portrays that feeling of enchantment. More than a literary critique or an exercise in nostalgia, these essays are a tribute to the power and depth of story and imagination, and to the pure joy of reading. Though the grown critic realizes how the magician does his tricks, something of the childhood magic remains.