Review: The Magician's Book

The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia, by Laura Miller

The Down and Dirty
The Magician's Book is a non-fiction look at author Laura Miller's childhood love-affair with The Chronicles of Narnia. Her later disillusionment with The Chronicles and C.S. Lewis comes after the discovery of the Christian themes (barely) underlying the story. Miller goes on to explore her estrangement and later reconciliation with The Chronicles, the life of C.S. Lewis, and the magic of books for children.

The Literary Criticism
There is irony to be found in providing literary criticism of a book of literary criticism. Or perhaps it's just redundant. Either way, I have a few observations about The Magician's Book.
"[Narnia] represents a mezzanine between the dependency of childhood and the autonomy of adulthood."
The Magician's Book, by Laura Miller
Miller provides some beautiful insights into the magic of books (both for children and adults). She explores the allure books hold for children and in doing so also provides a lovely insight into the mind of a child. As an adult, we tend to remember that there were certain books we loved when we were young, but forget exactly why we loved them so much. Miller elucidates those reasons in a softly reminiscent style that is a pleasure to read.

Still, there is such a thing as too much introspection and the original essay perhaps was the best vehicle for what Miller has to say. After providing some brilliant thoughts on a particular subject, for example Lewis' thoughts on people who gravitate towards books, the subject would then be picked apart to such a degree that the original idea was sometimes lost in the process. Which is a shame, really, because there were some wonderful nuggets of wisdom that became mired.
It did not escape his [C.S. Lewis] notice that people who read a lot of good books aren't necessarily the more virtuous for it.
The Magician's Book, by Laura Miller

Miller's criticism of the themes present in The Chronicles of Narnia are precisely presented in a logical format and documents a personal wrestling match with Christianity. While some critiques of her work take issue with this, I found it enlightening and smartly written. Miller includes relevant thoughts on Narnia as well as observations from some noted authors, including Neil Gaiman, which fleshes out her own observations quite well.
The moral dilemmas faced by children in Narnia were Lewis' own.
The Magician's Book, by Laura Miller
Miller also delves into the art of literary criticism, mostly in an attempt to explain her own criticisms of The Chronicles of Narnia, but they are especially insightful and interesting to those of us who regularly engage in reading and reviewing literature.
But there's a difference between wanting all stories you read to be about you in the most literal sense, and reading with the hope that you can find a bit of yourself in all stories...
The Magician's Book, by Laura Miller
It's been said before that sometimes a story is just that: a story. To analyze the author's intent and meaning by picking apart the work sentence by sentence can ultimately destroy the story itself. Ultimately, perhaps The Chronicles of Narnia are best left for the next generation of children to fall into and enjoy the magic.

A case you need to find your way around Narnia.

A Reader's Respite's Recommendation
If you enjoy reading in-depth literary criticism (or are just addicted to stunningly beautiful cover art), this would be a lovely addition to your library, especially for book bloggers. Be careful, though, if you think the dismantling and reconstruction of The Chronicles of Narnia might ruin a precious childhood memory of these tales.

Read a Salon interview, A Spy in the House of Narnia, with the author.

Title: The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia
Author: Laura Miller
ISBN-13: 978-0316017633
320 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Date: December 3, 2008

Other Reviews in Blogland:
The Indextrious Reader
Kristina's Favorites
The Book Nest
Bermudaonion's Weblog


  1. Awesome review :)

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I needed to hear your last line. I am intellectually curious about Miller's analysis and often like literary criticism, but I really just want the magic of Narnia to be, well, magic. I haven't been able to get a trusted opinion on this matter. You've given it to me. I will leave the book alone.

  3. Great review. I'm still debating whether or not to add it to me TBR list, though.

  4. Beth - I agree. Some books are just better left alone to work their magic.

    Carol - it's a tough call. I can see where some might be offended by her problems with Christianity (I wasn't, but others might). But it did tire me out on Narnia, that's for certain.

  5. Even though I don't think this book is my cup 'o tea, I really enjoyed your review. Thanks!

    Diary of an Eccentric

  6. Good review of this book! I enjoyed reading it. I'm also giving away 3 copies; you can enter until the end of Jan. 6.

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