Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Magician's Book - Laura Miller

The Magician’s Book
A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia
Laura Miller
Little, Brown and Company


Anyone who read C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia as a child will remember the feelings those books evoked. The moment that Lucy pushes through the coats hanging in the wardrobe and hears the snow crunching under her feet is still one of my cherished childhood memories. Miller felt the same way. Later, when she was older and discovered the Christian themes that are supposed to be apparent to any adult, she felt betrayed in some fundamental way. So did I. Ms. Miller makes the point that kids don’t like to be lied to or tricked, and that’s how this felt. Strangely, a friend of mine, well into the autumn of his life, exhibited the same kind of outrage after seeing the first movie. He was angry that a story he’d enjoyed as a fantasy ‘snuck in’ any kind of message.

This book is not an attack on Christians or the messages and symbols that Lewis embedded into his books. It’s a reasoned examination of a reader’s reaction to those messages and symbols. Ms. Miller isn’t a Christian, but she takes great care to provide quotes and anecdotes from a wide range of readers of all beliefs. In this way, the book becomes an examination of the Chronicles, and a bit of biography. What it is not is an in-depth look at the Christian symbols. It is, rather, a look at the way the discovery of those symbols affected the reader and her relationship with the books.

Ms. Miller points out early on that children read for far different reasons than adults read. Children read for pleasure, for joy, for magic, for adventure. Too often, adults read to sound intellectual, to hold up their end of a party conversation, to be part of a group, to fulfill some real or perceived obligation. This disconnect to the reading experience of childhood resonates deeply with me; it’s not often that I’m able to forget that I’m reading a book in order to review it. In that respect, I am reading out of obligation and have sadly lost the joy that led me to books as a child. But perhaps recognizing that, I’ll find a way back to it.

So much of what Ms. Miller experienced exactly parallels my own experience with these books, it’s almost uncanny. I imagine this will be the case with many readers. It’s like discussing your childhood with a long-lost friend who truly understands, without having to be told. In the words of Lucy when she briefly and wordlessly glimpses a girl of the Sea People in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, “There does not seem to be much chance of [our] meeting again in that world or any other. But if [we] ever do [we] will rush together with [our] hands held out.”

Rating: 9
December 2008
ISBN# 978-0-316-01736-3 (hardcover)


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