Monday, December 15, 2008

Review: The Magician's Book: A skeptics Adventures in Narnia

Author: Laura Miller
Genre: Literary criticism
Rating: 4/5
Grade: C - 14 and up (sexual themes)

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, even if her points make sense, and could very possibly be true, I like to draw my own conclusions.

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.


Bogsider December 15, 2008 at 9:49 AM  

When I first learned about Narnia, I also loved it at once. I have actually dreamed of a wardrobe I could walk into and then emerge in another world for many years. But kinda like the author of this book, which seems interesting, I have also "turned against" the Narnia series a bit. I am not an atheist at all, but a non-practising protestant and as such not really interested in all the religious hints in the Narnia-series, which my adult eyes can see, but which I didn't see when I was younger. Anyway, I think I still like Narnia. Or the thought of Narnia. Thanks for an interesting review.

bookoholic December 15, 2008 at 1:58 PM  

Interesting. I also felt a little "cheated" when I realized the Christian themes of this series, but I never wavered in my love. Thanks for the review. *heads over to amazon* :)

Nely December 15, 2008 at 2:32 PM  

Hey Lisa:

I just wanted to thank you again for the copy that I recently won thru one of your giveaway's of I Like You by Amy Sedaris. I've read and you can find my review of it here:

Thanks again, Nely

Tonya December 16, 2008 at 11:01 AM  

I remember being enthralled with the wardrobe as a child as well and, never having read the other books, trying to re-read it again as an adult. The Christian themes were so overwhelming for me that I could not enjoy the book. This book you've reviewed sounds right up my alley!

Toni December 18, 2008 at 1:53 PM  

This Review is Outstanding!!! I really liked how you broke it up. I felt rather exhausted after reading this book. I agree it was researched and presented well and in an academic way. I do agree that she did not remain impartial with her views and her personal disappointments. THANK YOU for this TERRIFIC REVIEW...

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