Review: The Magician’s Book by Laura Miller
Title: The Magician’s Book: A Sceptic’s Adventures in Narnia
Author: Miller, Laura
Length: 312 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literature
Publisher / Year: Back Bay Books / 2008
Why I Read It: I absolutely loved the Narnia books as a child.
Date Read: 17/04/12
What could be better than a book exploring issues you’ve had yourself regarding some of your favourite childhood books? In this book Miller examines the Narnia books and her experiences with them, explaining what they meant to her as a child, her disillusion with them upon learning their religious symbolism, and then her eventual return to them. In addition to discussing the history of the books, C.S. Lewis and his life, and her experiences reading the books, she includes as well comments from other readers and their experiences.
The relationship between book and reader is intimate, at best a kind of love affair, and first loves are famously tenacious. [...] First love is a momentous step in our emotional education, and in many ways, it shapes us forever. (page 11)
Why should we expect our first loves in literature, Miller argues, to have any less of an effect on us. And just because we see more in books as we age, that doesn’t take the magic away from them. In fact, good literature, she says later on “invites a plurality of interpretation” (page 113), and our first loves, in literature, can often do that for us as well. As we age we may see different things – with Narnia, for example, we may see the religious messages Lewis wanted to pass along to readers – but that doesn’t necessarily negate the magic that first caught us as young readers.
Miller through the book talks about Lewis and Tolkein’s friendship and how they had such an effect on each other’s works. She talks about the ways in which they both looked at fantasy and at important works. She discusses religion, prejudice, racism, and more, and talks about the ways in which Lewis especially showed these in the Chronicles. In spite of all of this, however, the books still contain much that is good and interesting, and Miller spends just as much time on this and on discussing why, despite the many issues, she still feels such a pull towards the books.
In the end, I was left with a much larger respect for C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia that I began with – and I’ve always been a fan of the Narnia books. Although not perfect, they have so much in them to make them worthy of reading and re-reading. Anyone who liked those books, or who likes books about books or about the experience of reading, or who would like to know more about C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkein would enjoy this one.