by Laura Miller
In The Magician’s Book, Laura Miller recounts a journey familiar to many of us who loved the Chronicles of Narnia books as children. In the first two parts of the book, she tells how she was compellingly drawn into Narnia as a child (“Songs of Innocence”), only to feel betrayed and disillusioned in adolescence (“Trouble in Paradise”) when she discovered the Christian allegory underlying the books. But in the third part (“Songs of Experience”) she relates how she came back to Narnia later in life and explains the lessons that it taught her. Although this book is at its core a personal journey, Miller includes the voices of others in her work, most notably the authors Phillip Pullman and Neil Gaiman. Her opinions are also charmingly informed by her experiences reading to – and relating to – two toddler children.
Religion and the issue of C.S. Lewis’ Christianity are in fact dealt with only briefly here. Rather – as she explains in the Introduction – Miller’s goal is to illuminate Narnia’s “other, unsung dimensions.” These include its roots in the literature of the Middle Ages, the relationship of the British to nature, the manner in which our perceptions and use of language change as we grow from childhood to adulthood, the defining characteristics and uses of allegory, and much more. Much of the book deals with the friendship between Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and the contrast between the Narnia books and Lord of the Rings. Rather than dissecting the books themselves, Miller focuses on the differences between the authors in their worldviews and in their fundamental approaches to literature and writing, and how these differences informed their individual works.
For a work of literary criticism, this is a surprisingly accessible book. Miller’s tone is neither overly didactic nor dryly academic, but rather that of a familiar friend with whom you’re discussing a mutually fascinating topic. Yet she nonetheless manages to cover a far-reaching range of scholarly and interesting topics, all without straying far from the touchstone of Narnia. Laura Miller has written a work of nonfiction just as compelling as any novel, and one which will both touch the heart and engage the mind of anyone who has ever loved Narnia. Reviewed by Book Dads