The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures In Narnia, by Laura Miller
I liked this book better than I feared I would like it but not as much as I would have preferred to like it. To be sure, I knew from the fact that the author was a self-professed religious skeptic writing about a preparatory work to the preparation for evangelism that there would be a wide degree of divergence between the author and myself, but although the author was tedious and tendentious in her chronological snobbery concerning what she viewed as Lewis’ sins of gender and ethnic bias and although she falsely believed herself autonomous, the book did at least provide some discussion of the sense of wonder that the world of Narnia prompted in her and in myself and in many other readers. And, much to her joy and likely that of many readers, this book demonstrates that understanding a great deal about an author and his (or her) worldview does not mean that the enjoyment of a work is absent, even if the act of reading a work as an adult does add more layers and complexity to the reading process than would exist when reading as a young child without a great deal of experience.
This particular book of about 300 pages or so is divided into three parts that reflect t he author’s initial enjoyment of the work as a child (I), the trouble she found as an adolescent losing her shallow liberal Catholic faith (II), and then coming to appreciate the Chronicles of Narnia again as an adult reader (III). In discussing this book, the author begins by placing the Chronicles of Narnia in the context of her childhood, the childhood writing of Lewis himself (2), as well as other books appreciated by children, like the writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Lewis Carroll (6,7). After that, the author takes a darker turn to a look at the truth of Lewis’ Christian message (9), his hostility to the people of the Middle East (11), his views on women and aristocracy (12, 13), and the author’s desire for another way into the Narnia world that did not involve a belief in Christ (15). The author then closes the book with a discussion of Lewis’ life and love of geography, his friendship with Tolkien and its tensions, and what it is that made Lewis a writer of particular imagination, all of which makes for a touching end to a book that reflects a complex and ambivalent feeling to books whose greatness and importance the author recognizes but whose fullness the author finds troublesome.
I have always been struck, and this book is no exception, with the blindness that often affects some writers when it comes to issues of creation. The very act of writing a book like this and engaging with the enjoyment of literature like that of Lewis (or Tolkien, or even a far lesser writer like Pullman) is itself an act in imitatio Dei. Even in rebellion against one’s Lord and Creator, we cannot help but mimic him. This book is a demonstration of the reality of creation and of the power of creation and joy and imagination and the struggle to assimilate reality and to find its deeper truths almost in spite of itself. And if the author’s praise of Lewis is at times a bit too grudging, the same sort of problems that the author demonstrates in Lewis’ writing and thought are in evidence in the author’s attempt to critique it and in her praise of the far inferior works of writers like Gaiman and Pullman. We cannot escape our perspectives and worldviews and we bring them to bear in whatever we write. And other people who do not share those worldviews can only walk so far with an author until having to part ways, as is the case here.