THE MAGICIAN'S BOOK:
A SKEPTIC'S ADVENTURES IN NARNIA
BY LAURA MILLER
ABOUT THE BOOK:
THE MAGICIAN'S BOOK is the story of one reader's long, tumultuous relationship with C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. Enchanted by its fantastic world as a child, prominent critic Laura Miller returns to the series as an adult to uncover the source of these small books' mysterious power by looking at their creator, Clive Staples Lewis. What she discovers is not the familiar, idealized image of the author, but a more interesting and ambiguous truth: Lewis's tragic and troubled childhood, his unconventional love life, and his intense but ultimately doomed friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien.
Finally reclaiming Narnia "for the rest of us," Miller casts the Chronicles as a profoundly literary creation, and the portal to a life-long adventure in books, art, and the imagination.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I grew in San Diego, California, but from the age of about seven on, my imagination lived in the world of books, which seemed equally real to me. I was one of those kids who'd rather read than play four-square during recess and I became notorious for my secret reading during class time. I would get so absorbed in the story that I wouldn't even hear the teacher call my name!
Now I live in New York, and I read (and write) for a living. I'm the staff book critic at Salon.com, and I've written reviews, essays and author profiles for the New York Times Book Review (where I had a column for two years), the Los Angeles Times, the New Yorker and other publications. My book, The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventure in Narnia, is the result my effort to connect my adult reading self with the reader I was as a child. C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia were my favorites when I was a girl, but as I grew up and learned more about books and the world, my thoughts and feelings about them changed dramatically.
I think I differ from other literary critics in that I'm even more interested in reading -- why we do it and what it means to us -- than I am in writing. I want to understand all of this better, and that's a prime motivation for my own work. I believe reading is an experience that offers rewards that can't be found in anything else, and hope that my work helps other readers discover the depths and breadth of that experience.
The books that affected me most as a child were fiction: the Narnia books, of course, but also fantasy novels by E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, Lloyd Alexander and Susan Cooper, plus many, many more. I read so much adult fiction in the course of my work that it would be hard to list any definitive favorites, but I always pick up a new Haruki Murakami novel with particular delight.
I also love to read the work of other critics and have learned much from them. Oddly enough, two film critics, Pauline Kael and David Thomson, spring to mind first of all. Kael because her writing is so lively and vernacular -- she proves what many literary critics fail to understand, that you can be smart without being stuffy or pretentious. Thomson showed me how autobiographical material can and sometimes should be included in a critic's work; books and movies change how we think and feel about ourselves, and this is one of the things that makes them powerful. Some literary critics I admire are Edmund Wilson, W.H. Auden and, of course, C.S. Lewis, whose wonderfully generous, erudite and vivid criticism was the most wonderful surprise I encountered while researching The Magician's Book.
READING GROUP GUIDE:
1. Laura Miller was introduced to the Chronicles of Narnia by her teacher and was immediately swept into their magical world. Describe your own discovery and reaction to them.
2. When Miller writes about her most powerful reading experiences while growing up, she cites Island of the Blue Dolphins, Five Children and It, and the Little House on the Prairie series. Name some of the formative books of your childhood and discuss why they were important to you. What about them has stayed with you into adulthood?
3. In the excerpt that opens The Magician’s Book, Lucy encounters the best story she has ever read. Afterward, she is unable to remember what happened in the story or to reread it. Have you ever lost yourself in a story as Lucy did? What were you reading? How old were you? Discuss why you think you were able to forget yourself so completely. How do our daily lives affect the way we read? What does this say about the role readers play in the creation of a story’s meaning?
4. Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Franzen note the importance of C. S. Lewis’s books in their own lives and work. Discuss the similarities and differences between their books and the Chronicles of Narnia. Have you noticed Lewis’s influence on other writers? If so, which writers? And why does their work remind you of the Pevensie children’s adventures?
5. Does Miller’s description of C. S. Lewis’s life and personality alter your view of his novels? In what ways? Have your opinions of other books changed after discovering personal details about the author? Why does biographical information affect our interpretation?
6. Laura Miller writes that she will not address the religious symbolism in the Chronicles, focusing instead on the stories and their creator. Do you agree with her decision? Are there other aspects of the books you would have liked Miller to address?
7. When Miller discovered Narnia’s Christian messages, her feeling of betrayal drove her away. Eventually, she returned and reexamined the books as an adult. Why was she upset by her new understanding? Discuss the role that the passage from innocence to understanding played in her reaction. Is one experience more valid than another?
8. Part memoir, part biography, and part literary criticism, The Magician’s Book touches on the many factors that shaped the author’s relationship with the novels. Discuss the extent to which each reader’s knowledge informs and shapes his or her interpretations of stories.
9. At its core, The Magician’s Book is the story of Laura Miller’s attempt to regain her childhood enchantment with the Chronicles. Have you reread the Chronicles of Narnia as an adult? If so, how has your enjoyment or understanding of them changed? Do you think it is possible to regain the childhood experience of reading? Why?
New Feature Box - Main site, blank 65359
It seems rather odd that I should be reviewing this book in that I am not a fan of the Narnia series. Nothing personal, I don't believe, but just never read them which for a reading teaching I am sure is sinful but there ARE just so many hours in any one's day. So to read about a skeptic of C.S. Lewis and the Narnia series, I temper what I write. I will say however, that as a reading teacher, if not a lover of books on its own, I found merit in this book. Miller talks about how she grew up reading and how most of us liked either to read or have stories read to us as a child, or both. As children, we take the book for what it is worth and usually don't question, and probably often long for those innocent times. But then as we grow older, we start to question what is written and we often even form biases. Our own opinions can often overshadow our plain love of the story. As we learn more, we do become a bit more critical but we also find it as a way to understand and learn about things more. Miller talks about her theories in the book.
Miller discusses so many books from children's literature that whether you read them in your youth or are still reading them as some of us do (Harry Potter at middle age for me), you will recognize and recall many of the books that she discusses such as Mary Poppins, or the Little House on the Prairie series when younger, on to Animal Farm and Keats, Agatha Christie and even Jane Austen as we grew up. She also knows a lot about Lewis's life and writing and is able to discuss that in relationship to literature in general. So Miller's writing is not about Lewis's writing overall but rather how she is not moved by his Christian message. She presents her outlook directly and in an organized way but without being bitter or unyielding. I think her thoughts are valid and constructive for her the way she presents them. That is not to say whether I agree with her or not, but to say that I found that the book DID make me think a lot. Did I like it and recommend it? That is hard to say as every one's tastes are so different. For me, I will say, I wasn't thrilled with it as I read more for enjoyment and this didn't entertain me in any way. I learned from it so it was not a waste of time. I learned to see other perspectives about reading and writing, but to sit down in my comfy chair with some hot tea, well, let's just say, it wasn't my cup of tea!
THANKS TO VALERIE AND THE
HACHETTE BOOK GROUP, I HAVE
FIVE COPIES OF THIS INTERESTING
BOOK TO GIVE AWAY.
--NO P. O. BOXES
---INCLUDE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS
IN CASE YOU WIN!
--ALL COMMENTS MUST BE SEPARATE TO
COUNT AS MORE THAN ONE!
+1 MORE ENTRY: COMMENT AND TELL IF YOU EVER READ THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA AND A SHORT COMMENT ABOUT THAT EXPERIENCE