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Book 100: The Magician's Book: a Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia by Laura Miller

Book 100: The Magician's Book: a Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia.
Author: Laura Miller, 2008.
Genre: Memoir. Literary Studies. Biography.
Other Details: Hardback. 312 pages.

This book focus is one reader's long, tumultuous relationship with C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia. As a child Laura Miller had been totally enchanted by C.S. Lewis' created world. Then as a teenager she came across references to its Christian symbolism and felt she had been tricked and thereafter this sense of betrayal alienated her from the books. Years later, convinced that "the first book we fall in love with shapes us every bit as much as the first person we fall in love with," Miller returned to Lewis' classic fantasies to examine her responses as an adult and to seek to uncover the source of these small books' power through an examination of the life and influences of their creator, C.S. Lewis.

This is something of a hybrid work, being partly a memoir of the author's relationship with books and reading and her issues with this series as well as a biography of C.S. Lewis and some literary analysis of The Chronicles of Narnia. It also gives details of Miller's trip to the UK and Ireland to trace those places that had inspired Lewis' creation. I was quite intrigued by the premise of this book when I first spotted it and then the moderator of bookaddiction suggested a group of us read it and discuss in the community.

I found I could deeply relate to Miller's writing about her childhood experiences of The Chronicles and reading in general. Her words awoke memories of my own experiences and deep desire that, like Lucy Pevensie, I'd discover a door in the back of the large Victorian wardrobe in my bedroom. However, unlike Miller my relationship with The Chronicles was not really damaged by my realisation of their inherent Christian symbolism. Still I could relate to her perspective. I did get the impression that throughout she was wrestling with an expectation that if you love these books, then automatically they will lead you to Christianity (or back to it in her case). Actually I don't think this is at all so. She did include other perspectives and I found I could relate more to the responses of her friends, Pam and Tiffany in the chapter where she examines her teenage discovery (Chapter 9 The Awful Truth).

The cover art is beautiful and I enjoyed Miller's rambling anecdotal style. However, there were a few statements that seemed to be pure speculation on her part and I felt my academic self grumbling below the surface about her lack of sources to back these up. Also, there was no bibliography or notes. So while it seemed to want to be taken seriously in terms of a biography and literary studies these omissions meant the book remained much more of a personal work. Perhaps that was her intention given its autobiographical aspect that would be considered out of place in a more academic work.

Overall a very enjoyable and rich book that gave me a great deal of food for thought about my own relationship with books throughout my life and how they'd helped to shape me and also gave me many new insights into C.S. Lewis and The Chronicles of Narnia.

The Magician's Book - official site with excerpt and gallery of images from her travels as well as partial bibliography missing from the print version.
Book Addiction Community Discussion Threads.
Tags: autobiography, biography, literature, non-fiction
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