Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Book Review - The Magician's Book by Laura Miller

"A little girl opens the hinged door of some commonplace piece of household furniture and steps through it into another world. I opened the hinged cover of a book and did the same." - Laura Miller, The Magician's Book
What is the one book you most vividly remember reading as child, a book that transported you to another time and place, a book that made you feel a part of another world? For Laura Miller, that book is undoubtedly The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Drawn to Narnia at a very young age, Miller voraciously read the rest of the Chronicles, fell in love with the characters and talking animals and escaped into the realm of fantasy and adventure. Entering her teenage years, she learned of the "thinly concealed theological messages" and felt mostly disgust and betrayal. As an adult, she tries reconcile her feelings toward the best book she ever read. The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia serves as a thoughtful commentary on her tumultuous love/hate voyage with the Chronicles and its author, C.S. Lewis.

Technically, I rarely review adult books, and even less so those of the literary criticism type. However, I am glad that I took the time to peruse this scholarly work, though it was a huge change of pace from my normal pleasure reads. Unlike Miller, I was not a fantasy fan growing up and, in fact, I've never read the Chronicles. I was one of the "prairie girls" readers, mostly because no one ever brought Narnia to my attention. I actually feel slightly jealous of Miller's childhood experiences with Narnia, and I am positive that had my second grade teacher given me one of the Chronicles to read, I most certainly would have savored it as well. Miller is obviously a talented writer, and I connected most with her in the beginning chapters of the book when she wrote of her childhood memories.

Miller intersperses throughout the chapters a sort of biography of C.S. Lewis. Thoroughly researched, the book contains many facts and quotes dealing with his life and that of his family and friends, including Tolkien. She points out Lewis's strengths and weaknesses, particularly his prejudices. As to be expected of someone who labels themselves as a skeptic, she also treats the Christian aspect of his novels with negativity. Interviews with readers and colleagues are included. The latter part of the book, my least favorite, focuses in stifling detail on the history behind and influences of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles.

Where Miller excels most is in describing "the fleeting enchantment of childhood reading." Her description of the love of reading and the transition that occurs in readers between childhood and adulthood makes the book a worthwhile read. Because of her description, I most definitely plan on introducing my own children to Narnia as soon as they get a little older! I hope you will encourage the children in your life to read them as well.

The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia by Laura Miller. Little, Brown and Company (December 2008), 320 pages, ISBN 9780316017633

Related Links:
The Magician's Book Website: Includes an excellent fantasy read-a-likes Books for Kids list

Blog Talk Radio Interview: December 4th, 2008: Laura Miller discusses The Magician's Book on Blog Talk Radio at 1PM ET. Call into the show at (646) 378-0040. Sign up for a reminder.

Narnia Photo Contest on Flickr: Upload a photograph that reminds you of Narnia into the group pool to enter the contest. Five (5) contributors will win a signed copy of The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia by Laura Miller.

Related Giveaways:
A Circle of Books - The Magician's Book Giveaway Ends 12/9/2008

book:thirty - The Magician's Book Giveaway Ends 12/7/2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian DVD releases today. Win a copy at one of these blogs!
Amanda - The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian DVD Giveaway - Ends 12/12/2008
Classy Mommy - The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian DVD Giveaway - Ends 12/11/2008