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The Magician’s Book (thoughts)

November 30, 2010

Considering that I’ve already quoted from it twice this month, you might not be surprised to learn that The Magician’s Book by Laura Miller had quite an impact on me. In fact, when I finished it, I popped on to Twitter; I was so bubbling over with enthusiasm and love for the book that I had to share. I called it one of my very top reads of the year, said that I resented having to return it to the library, and would have bought myself a personal copy then and there if Christmas wasn’t right around the corner, with the need of buying presents looming over my meagre bank account. ;) The scene from The Christmas Story in which Ralphie imagines his teacher grading his theme and writing A+++++ on the board kept running through my head…that’s what I wanted to give The Magician’s Book! I then had to contain my impatience for another two weeks, so that I could post this during Clare’s Narnia Week. But now it has arrived, and you shall witness Eva at her gushiest.

Before that begins, though, I’d like to thank Clare for getting me to pick up the book. I remember when it was published, and my gut reaction to its subtitle (A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia). As someone who received the boxed set for Christmas at the age of eight, read them all back-to-back in one day, and then proceeded to reread them for years to come (except for The Last Battle), I am not a Narnia skeptic. I can objectively see all of the problems, I can see why people who comes to the series as adults might not fall in love, but when I open one of books, all of that gets swept aside in the pure magic of it. Honestly, I was a little afraid that reading The Magician’s Book might ruin that. But that fear was deeply misplaced. Miller too fell in love with Narnia as a child, and while she isn’t afraid to discuss the flaws in the series, her love is what really radiates. Here’s a passage from the beginning:

It was this book that made a reader out of me. It showed me how I could tumble through a hole in the world I knew and into another, better one, a world fresher, more brightly colored, more exhilarating, more fully felt than my own. This revelation really did make a new person out me. 

This is a book written by a reader…an erudite reader to be sure, but one whose passion makes each chapter a delight to read. I picked this one up fully prepared to abandon it after a couple of chapters, but Miller completely won me over. So in case you were avoiding the book due to your own attachment to Narnia or due to concerns that it might be a bit dry, you can go ahead and read it now!

One of the highest marks of praise I can give is that The Magician’s Book made me want to go on a whole reading theme. You see, I had no idea that C.S. Lewis wrote any literary criticism! I’m actually picking up An Experiment in Criticism from the library on Saturday, so that should be fun. But the theme I really want to explore is medieval writing. I already have The Sagas of the Icelanders out right now, and after that I think I’ll read The Romances of Chretien de Troyes. Why this sudden interest in medieval texts? Since it was Lewis’ favourite period, Miller describes it quite a bit, and the parallels she finds within the Narnia books, particularly The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (one of my very favourites!) were simply fascinating. I have long been attracted to the Middle Ages and have resented the Enlightenment writers who slandered the period so convincingly. Anyway, Miller’s writing reminded me of that interest, and she described Lewis’ fascination so well that now I’m curious too! Here’s a taste:

Here we come to one aspect of the Romantic creed that Lewis found myopic: the cult of individual genius and its corollary preoccupation with originality. Lewis knew that the high valuation placed on artistic novelty was itself fairly recent. The writers he studied regarded new material and ideas as precarious; far better to found your text on established authorities, as the great writers of the past were called. But contrary to what a modern reader might conclude, Lewis believed that this attitude didn’t necessarily reduce the work of medieval writers to the mere parroting or imitation of other authors. …As he saw it, the miracle of medieval literature was that its great writers, without attempting to do anything unprecedented, and in the act of what appeared to be no more than touching up some venerable source, nevertheless transfigured their material: “they handled no predecessor without pouring life into him.” 

I also love that Miller doesn’t feel the need to whitewash the racism, sexism, and classism in the Chronicles. I think, especially with classics, it’s all too easy to move from a love of a novel to an attachment to the author to a defensive close-mindedness about the person being anything but perfect. Or readers worry that if they love a book that has racism/sexism/etc. in it, that they will seem racist/sexist/etc. themselves, so their solution is to simply deny that it exists. Here’s a quote from the last page of The Magician’s Book that completely articulates how I feel about those issues:

If you read enough, and C.S. Lewis certainly did that, you come to see that every great story contains elements-talking beasts and brave orphans, lonely girls and dying gods, trackless forests and perilous cities-that can be used and reused over and over again, without becoming exhausted. If anything, they grow denser, richer, more potent with each new telling. Every great storyteller contributes a little to this patina, but storytellers are human, and inevitably those contributions have flaws. Myths and stories are repositories of human desires and fears, which means that they contain our sexual anxieties, our preoccupations with status, and our xenophobia as well as our heroism, our generosity, and our curiosity. A perfect story is no more interesting or possible than a perfect human being. 

I found her analysis of Lewis’ gender roles to be particularly touching. First, she imagines why Lewis decided to make Lucy the main character of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe instead of a younger Peter (as was in his earlier drafts):

Writing about Narnia released something free, lyrical, and tender in Lewis, and none of those qualities fit within the limitations of what he would have viewed as an acceptable boy character. …Lucy, by comparison, can be vulnerable, can even waver at times, without ever coming across as weak; if anything, her courage, when she exhibits it, is all the more commendable because no one expects it of her. She can plead with Mr. Tumnus not to betray her to the witch and comfort him when he bursts into tears at the thought of his own perfidy-all without appearing “soft,” Lewis is not the only storyteller to find that his own investment in conventional masculinity makes a female protagonist the most appealing choice. 

Often times, when talking about sexism, the rigidity of boy’s gender roles get pushed to the back a bit. I appreciate Miller taking the time to really look at it here, because even though we’re decades removed from Lewis and his time, I don’t think expectations of boys have changed all that much. I found this passage quite sad, actually, thinking about my guy friends and them reading the book as always-heroic Peter rather than as Lucy, who gets to play with Aslan. Of course, I’m also always sad for Susan, particularly in light of The Last Battle, and this passage later on made me nod my head in vigorous agreement:

But unlike Lucy, who apparently dies a virgin, I eventually faced the paradox that confronts most heterosexual women: revel in girly stuff and you’re viewed as shallow; reject it and you’re unattractively mannish. The best you can hope to be is “as good as a boy,” and the worst is a man-eater, a time-waster, a “hindrance” or perhaps, as Janie Moore would discover, the occasion for someone else’s martyrdom. The only way out is to remain a child forever, as Lucy does, but somehow even this is much easier for men-nostalgic bachelors like Warnie Lewis-to pull off. Besides, I wanted to grow up, didn’t I? As a child, I’d always believed that Lewis was on my side in that. As a young woman, I realized he’d disappointed me again. 

Some of my other favourite parts include Millers talking about the importance of nature in Narnia and wandering around the British countryside in the footsteps of Lewis to see his inspiration (“For Lewis, a prodigious and enthusiastic walker, landscape was feeling.”), her defense of the word ‘myth’ from its modern-day connotations and the power that mythic writings convey, and of course her many lovely bits about the wonder of reading. Some of them I’m saving for future Saturdays, but here’s one last treat for you:

On a less abstract level, the Wood is also a library. For someone like Lewis, who lived so much through his reading, each book was potentially a portal to another world. This si one of the chief differences between a child’s experience of a favorite book and an educated adult’s. For the adult, a book may be a work of art, possible a very great one, but for the child reader, certain books are universes. If we are lucky, we retain some of that capacity to be immersed in a story; Lewis seems to have held on to it better than most, and in this sense, those who describe him as a man who remained a “child at heart” are right. Nevertheless, the adult awareness that a book is a made thing-the work of a human being who, however, talented he or she may be, is still only human, and flawed-always takes up some of the imaginative space formerly occupied by total belief. 

I’m already at 1700 words, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of all of the richness of this book! Each chapter delves into a different aspect of Lewis and/or the Chronicles (and Tolkien makes quite a few appearances as well, delighting my nerdy soul), and as each chapter began I found myself settling deeper and deeper into the contentment that only comes from a wonderful book. Miller’s writing style is perfect: smart but accessible, with frequent forays into lyrical inspiration. Her knowledge is on full display, and she mixes that with her personal stories and (acknowledged) biases in way that is informative and accessible all at once. This is the best book-about-books I’ve ever read, and I’ve read my fair share. I only wish that Miller had a back list for me to explore; as it is I’ll be crossing my fingers hoping she has another book in the works. I would recommend this to anyone who loves reading, regardless of her relationship with the Chronicles; it’s not simply a book about Narnia…Narnia and Lewis are the lens through which Miller explores literature and reading and life. And what an exploration it is.

75 Comments leave one →
  1. November 30, 2010 5:49 am

    Lovely, Eva. Your enthusiasm is infectious. I can count Narnia as a major childhood favorite and I will seek for this – sounds great.

    • December 2, 2010 8:02 am

      Thanks Care! I hope you love it as much as I did. :)

  2. November 30, 2010 6:04 am

    I really need to read Narnia, again, before I read this. This is such a beautiful review!

    • December 2, 2010 8:02 am

      Thank you! I’m glad I inspired you. :) Although, she quotes/summarises all the Narnia bits she talks about, so you don’t necessarily need to reread them.

  3. November 30, 2010 6:20 am

    I’m glad I could convince you to read it–your love for this book is infectious, and I can’t wait to read it over break. Every quote here is fantastic. And I’m equally glad that Miller doesn’t feel the need to ignore, gloss over, or rationalize the racism, sexism, and classism in the book–things are imperfect and that’s why we love them. True love is accepting something with all of its flaws–not ignoring them or forgiving them, but accepting them.

    • December 2, 2010 8:03 am

      Very true Clare! I’m curious to see what you’ll think of it, after reading Narnia for the first tim e as an adult.

  4. November 30, 2010 6:47 am

    I was never a huge Narnia fan but even I now want to read this!

  5. November 30, 2010 6:57 am

    You’ve convinced me, but I’m pretty sure I need to read all of Narnia first!

    • December 2, 2010 8:04 am

      It’s up to you: if you don’t mind ‘spoilers,’ you could read this one before reading all of the Narnia books. :)

  6. November 30, 2010 7:52 am

    This sounds so rich. I grew up reading the Narnia books and even now love to re-read them. So I think I’d really enjoy this!

  7. November 30, 2010 7:59 am

    Must read this. I am also a childhood lover of Narnia and truly adored it. I’ve grown to see its flaws, but it still hurts when others completely ignore its magic and focus instead solely on the faults.

    I cannot wait for you to read Chretien de Troyes! Medieval literature was never my favorite part of my studies but I love his romances.

    • December 2, 2010 8:24 am

      I think you should definitely read this then! :) And I can’t wait to get to de Troyes either!

  8. November 30, 2010 8:01 am

    Would you believe I’ve never read the Narnia books? My parents weren’t readers and never got them for me as a kid (probably weren’t familiar with them), and I didn’t hear of the series until adulthood. I should really read them, though, huh?

    • December 2, 2010 8:26 am

      Really? Wow! I don’t know if you should read them now or not…it’s hard for me to guess how adults will react to them at reading for the first time. ;)

  9. November 30, 2010 9:12 am

    I loved Miller’s book, too. I finished reading it and went right back to the beginning and read it again. I hope it finds its way to your Christmas tree! I’m reading _The Voyage of the Dawn Treader_ to the boys right now, in anticipation of the next movie.

    • December 2, 2010 8:26 am

      I hope your boys are enjoying it! I won’t be going to see the film, but I might reread the book. ;)

  10. November 30, 2010 10:16 am

    Oh I am going to have to read this. It sounds marvelous, and I love that she seems to discuss so many of the things I picked up on during my most recent reread. It sounds like such a beautiful celebration of reading.

  11. November 30, 2010 11:08 am

    Both my husband and I are Narnia fans from way back, and we read a lot of his other works as adults, even books about him and the Inklings. This one sounds like it might be a good addition to all that!

    My kids recently split on the issue of whether to reread The Dawn Treader before the movie comes out Dec. 10. My daughter did, and my son is waiting until after the movie, since he says movies are never as good and you might as well rediscover the details they left out afterwards.

    • December 2, 2010 8:33 am

      Do you have a book to recommend about The Inklings? I think it’d be fun to read a group biography. :)

      I completely understand your son’s opinion! I usually watch the movie first too if it looks good to avoid disappointment. However, I’ve recently adopted the opposite policy to BBC miniseries adaptations, since I think the film version of North & South made me enjoy the book less!

  12. November 30, 2010 11:23 am

    I am relieved to see this: “Honestly, I was a little afraid that reading The Magician’s Book might ruin that. But that fear was deeply misplaced. ” And that sentence alone would make me take it off my bookshelves and start reading.

    I have avoided this book like the plague because I don’t want to lose the magic. The last time I read through the books was in 2006 or 2007; the first time was in 1963.

  13. November 30, 2010 11:34 am

    Oh, I’m glad to hear you say that even a non-Narnia fan would enjoy this book – Miller’s approach sounds right up my alley, but Lewis was never a huge favorite for me as a kid (I read all the books but didn’t fall head over heels for them like I did for LM Montgomery) and I was turned off by the overt Christianity. Still, I can always appreciate a good book-about-books, especially one as articulate and multi-faceted as The Magician’s Book sounds. Thanks for the lovely write-up, Eva.

    • December 2, 2010 8:34 am

      I loved Narnia, but I loved Anne more…I would have been sad to choose between them, but I would have gone with Montgomery. Anyway, I’d love to see your thoughts on this!

  14. November 30, 2010 2:33 pm

    I had not heard of The Magician’s Book, but after reading this write up (having come across this blog the other day by chance and subscribing to it) I am entirely intrigued. I was a huge Chronicles of Narnia fan as a child.

  15. November 30, 2010 3:38 pm

    Dare I say it, but I have actually never read any of the Narnia books! Don’t really know why either. They just never interested me enough as a child, I guess. Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising -series was my childhood fantasy favorite.
    After watching the first Narnia movie a few years ago, I bought the books, or rather the book, as mine is an all-in-the-same-covers version of the series, but it’s still waiting for its turn. Maybe, as you said, as an adult the magic just isn’t there.
    The Magican’s Book sounds very interesting, though, and luckily our library has it. (I already made a reservation :)). And who knows it just might make me finally read the series, too. :)


    • December 2, 2010 8:44 am

      I haven’t read Susan Cooper, so we’re even! :) I hope you enjoy The Magician’s Book as much as I did!

  16. November 30, 2010 4:10 pm

    I’ve got to read this now! I took a CS Lewis class last year and got completely hooked on his writing.

    I also wanted to comment and let you know I am giving you the Versatile Book Blogger award. Thanks for writing such a lovely blog!

    • December 2, 2010 8:44 am

      After reading Til We Have Faces this year, I really do want to explore more of his stuff. :)

  17. November 30, 2010 4:33 pm

    I’m interested to hear what you think of C.S. Lewis’s literary criticism.

    • December 2, 2010 8:44 am

      With any luck, I’ll be able to talk about it soon! ;)

  18. FleurFisher permalink
    November 30, 2010 5:22 pm

    My feelings about the Narnia books were very similar to yours. I causght the end of the film of The Lion, the witch and The Wardrobe on television a while ago and it pushed my adult concerns aside and brought the mgic right back.

    The Magician’s Book was on my wishlist, and you have definitely pushed it up the list of priorites. If only the Cornish Library Service would buy a copy!

    • December 2, 2010 8:45 am

      Can you tell them to make a purchase? We can do that here, although I don’t know how often libraries listen to us!

  19. November 30, 2010 5:53 pm

    Dear Eva,

    Once again you enchant us with your own enthusiasm for a precious book…rather a treasure of a book you love. Who could keep from wanting to read it, too?!

    I read the Narnia tales to my children when they were growing up, and they read them to themselves through the years, as well. And, then in recent years, I’ve seen the movies! :] I have to say that I’ve loved them from a Christian perspective most of all.

    Until today I haven’t examined them from a woman’s view or any other way, though I’m an English lit. minor/scholar and wont to do that sort of thing. To me, Lewis, is a Christian writer, scholar and apologist. His focus wasn’t so much on the male and female, since in God’s view we learn that there is no difference in how He loves us and sees us. It would, then, appear to me as that each of the characters in the Narnia stories represent a quality or several qualities that we have or need to learn as human beings in this lifetime. And, that the journey is a spiritual one…culminating in the crossing over….not to actual death, but to life everlasting. Lucy didn’t “die a virgin,” rather, she entered into paradise as a child with a pure spirit. “Let the children come unto Me for such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

    Deb/The Bookish Dame

    • December 2, 2010 8:46 am

      That’s a fair enough view Deb. However, I don’t think that the sexism in the way Lewis writes his female characters can be entirely dismissed. So we’ll agree to disagree. :)

  20. November 30, 2010 7:25 pm

    This is just the push I needed to add this book to my library list. I also loved Narnia as as kid, and am always interested in critical responses. I did a little bit with TLTW&TW when I was in university, and can’t wait to see how Miller tackles all the issues that arise.

    • December 2, 2010 8:47 am

      I think you’ll definitely enjoy it Memory!

  21. November 30, 2010 7:53 pm

    I have to admit, I never was one of those Narnia kids that you yourself were. I think I read the first two books, but they just never made much of an impression on me. Same goes for J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing… I think I just really wasn’t into Fantasy when I was a kid, but think I’m actually much more open to it now!

    • December 2, 2010 8:47 am

      Fair enough! My mom was a fantasy reader, so I’ve always been a fan of the genre. I loved Tolkien too. :)

  22. November 30, 2010 8:03 pm

    All right then, I will read it. Only I don’t want to end up mad at Laura Miller, because from baseline I really like her. I am very fond of and its interesting articles. :p

    I too am not coming from a place of Narnia skepticism. I went on an adolescent strike against CS Lewis, out of annoyance with him for being sexist, but when I reread one of his books at last, I couldn’t believe I had stayed away so long. Apart from everything else, he writes lovely, elegant prose that’s a joy to read. I want to read all his books in chronological order. One of these days…that’s happening.

    • December 2, 2010 8:54 am

      I’d never read before, but now I want to read all of her stuff! :) If it makes you mad, you could always stop reading? I don’t think it will though. ;)

      I love his prose too: it’s understated but so effective.

  23. Ashley permalink
    December 1, 2010 5:35 am

    OK, so now I want to stop everything else I’m reading and reread The Magician’s Book and all of Narnia. In spite of the fact that I am almost at my library’s limit for how many books you can check out, and so I have to finish some books before I can check out the ones that have just come in! I blame you (in the nicest way possible, of course :-P).

    • December 2, 2010 8:54 am

      lol! Go finish them so you can reread everything. ;)

  24. jane permalink
    December 1, 2010 7:11 am

    OOH! This sounds wonderful! Thank you so much for posting about it. Not the sort of thing I would probably have come across of my own accord but I would love to read it. I LOVED Narnia as a child and have read some other CS Lewis in my time (Screwtape Letters, and a Grief Observed – the latter of which is beautiful and tragic), and it’s all so wonderfully written. He had such a gift in his ability to use words. I love the last quote you’ve posted and I think it’s true — it’s hard to actually feel yourself drawn into a book as an adult, but i think it’s all the more special when it does happen. Perhaps I should reread Narnia this Christmas!

    • December 2, 2010 8:55 am

      I hope you love it too! I agree re: Lewis’ writing, it’s wonderful. Have you read Til We Have Faces? I read it for the first time this year and would highly recommend it.

  25. December 1, 2010 12:06 pm

    I really want to read this. I have it and everything, but I haven’t had time to get to it yet. Now I really must make of an effort!!!

    • December 2, 2010 9:00 am

      Definitely make some time! It’s an easy read, in the sense that Miller’s writing flows well and keeps you turning the pages. :)

  26. December 1, 2010 1:25 pm

    I think I MUST read this book! Loved your thoughts on this one :)

  27. December 1, 2010 8:50 pm

    I’m excited to hear that you enjoyed this so much! I’ve had it on my list for a while, based only on the description. I’ll have to get to it now that I know that it’s a good one.

    • December 2, 2010 9:01 am

      Definitely lives up to its description! :)

  28. December 2, 2010 1:18 am

    Wonderful review, Eva! Your comment – “A+++++…that’s what I wanted to give The Magician’s Book!” – made me smile :) That rating is something, coming from you – I think I have to read this book soon.

    I was a latecomer to Narnia – I read the books in the collection a few years back and I loved them. I got an illustrated edition, which had all the books in one volume, and this book is one of my treasured possessions today.

    I found your comment – “I have long been attracted to the Middle Ages and have resented the Enlightenment writers who slandered the period so convincingly” – quite interesting. It is sad that the Middle Ages have been undermined by writers, historians and others and the word ‘medieval’ is used quite derogatively even today. I loved this line that you have quoted from the book, about medieval writers – “they handled no predecessor without pouring life into him.”

    I also liked very much this line that you have quoted from the book – “As a child, I’d always believed that Lewis was on my side in that. As a young woman, I realized he’d disappointed me again.” There is a book called ‘Rereadings : Seventeen writers revisit the books they love’ edited by Anne Fadiman. In her foreword to this book, Fadiman talks a bit about one of the Narnia books ‘The Horse and the Boy’. It is related in some ways to the above quote and so I thought I will give some excerpts here. Here is how it goes :

    “I remembered ‘The Horse and his Boy’ only as a rollicking equestrian adventure…My jaw dropped when I realized that Aravis, its heroine, is acceptable to Lewis because she acts like a boy – she’s interested in “bows and arrows and horses and dogs and swimming” – and even dresses like one, whereas the book’s only girly girl, a devotee of “clothes and parties and gossip,” is an object of contempt. Even more appalling was Lewis’s treatment of the Calormenes, a brown-skinned people who wear turbans and carry scimitars…The book’s hero, Shasta, is the ward of a venial Calormene fisherman, but, as a visitor observes, “this boy is manifestly no son of yours, for your cheek is as dark as mine but the boy is fair and white.” That’s how we know he belongs to a noble northern race instead of an uncouth southern one.”

    Later in the foreword, Fadiman says this :

    “The problem with being ravished by books at an early age is that later rereadings are often likely to disappoint. “The sharp luscious flavor, the fine aroma is fled,” Hazlitt wrote, “and nothing but the stalk, the bran, the husk of literature is left.” Terrible words, but it can happen. You become harder to move, frighten, arouse, provoke, jangle. Your education becomes an interrogation lamp under which the hapless book, its every wart and scar exposed, confesses its guilty secrets : “My characters are wooden! My plot creaks! I am pre-feminist, pre-deconstructivist, and pre-postcolonialist!” (The upside of English classes is that they give you critical tools, some of which are useful, but the downside is that those tools make you less able to shower your books with unconditional love. Conditions are the very thing you’re asked to learn.) You read too many other books, and the currency of each one becomes debased.”

    Towards the end of the foreword, Fadiman says :

    “C.S.Lewis treated girls and Calormenes as inferiors, and I could not get that out of my mind. For a while, the knowledge of his small-mindedness wrestled uneasily with the pleasure I took in his book. By the time I closed the last page, however, I found that the pleasure, without conscious instruction from me though doubtless with some abetment by Henry, had clearly gotten the upper hand. The book’s flaws were serious, but the connection was too strong to sever.”
    “And why shouldn’t it be? The same thing happens with our parents. They start out as gods, and then we learn that they committed adultery, or drank too much, or cheated on their taxes, or maybe they just looked awkward on the dance floor or went on too long when they told a story. But do we stop loving them?”

    I am sorry for giving a long quote, but I thought you might like it :)

    Thanks for the lovely review, Eva! I can’t wait to read Laura Miller’s book!

    • December 2, 2010 9:04 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed it Vishy! And I’m happy you’re a Narnia lover as well. :)

      I read Rereadings a couple of years ago, and while I found the anthology on a whole uneven, I did like Fadiman’s foreword. Despite all the racism and sexism, A Horse and His Boy is one of my favourites in Narnia, so I empathised with her there. But I’m lucky, I think: I find it relatively easy to read books with the same magic that I did as a child! I’m not sure why…perhaps because I stopped taking formal English classes in high school.

      And don’t apologise for the long quotes: I definitely liked it!

  29. December 2, 2010 8:51 am

    What a terrific review. I read Miller’s book at the beginning of the summer and absolutely loved how much she connected so many things of interest to me. Right now I’m reading Michael Dirda’s Open Book, which has a few things in common with Miller’s book. You might enjoy it if you have not read it.

    • December 2, 2010 9:06 am

      You know, I’ve had mixed reactions to Dirda…something about his tone annoys me, even though I do connect with his love of books. At this point, I’ve read Classics for Pleasure, Bound to Please, and Book by Book of his…I suppose at some point I’ll give his memoir a go. I might like it a bit more than his columns!

      • December 3, 2010 3:38 pm

        I totally agree. I love certain things about his columns and think he’s brilliant, but I’m sort of turned off by his writing sometimes. But his memoir, especially the chapters about his early years, is utterly charming.

  30. December 2, 2010 12:59 pm

    Ummm… I want :) This is definitely going on my wishlist. It sounds fascinating.

  31. December 2, 2010 3:12 pm

    I’m reading The Chronicles of Narnia right now and when I am finished, I want to find a copy of The Magician’s Book. Your mentions and now your full review have made me very much want to read it! I love the quotes you’ve shared, and I love the way Miller seems to approach The Chronicles and their issues. Thank you for bringing this book to my attention!

  32. December 2, 2010 5:04 pm

    how interesting! I love Narnia as a child too.

  33. December 2, 2010 8:01 pm


    You asked “Do you have a book to recommend about The Inklings? ” The one I read in high school was The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter. It was the definative work on the Inklings in the late 70’s and the 80’s. I see some other works have been done since that time but I haven’t explored them yet. One (Tolkien and CS Lewis: The Gift of Friendship – Colin Duriez, 2003) seems to be cited in a few places but the only short review I could find called it redundant. Then I also found one called The Company They Keep: CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien as Writers in Community by Diana Glyer (2008) that sounds really interesting in part because she disputes Carpenter’s assertion that the influence on each other was minimal. This one is going on my reading list.

    I read Narnia when I was around eight as well – have the set where A Horse’s Boy appears in the proper order. When it was finally read to death by my boys, we got a newer set that has the books in chronological order.

    Your review brought back memories of my high school Tolkien Society and all the readings and research I did on the Inklings. I can’t wait to read the Miller book.


  34. December 3, 2010 9:19 pm

    Yes to all of this, Eva! I loved this book for so many of these reasons. I read Narnia when I was young, but only really fell in love with the first 2 and reread them over and over. I was crazy about The Magician’s Nephew, especially the in-between Wood that Digory and Polly discover — perhaps I was responding to the idea of books, like the pools in the Wood, being portals between worlds… great thought. I’m so glad you seemed to find this as fascinating and deeply satisfying as I did.

  35. December 4, 2010 1:04 pm

    Eva you have convinced me to want to read this now because I was very like you and when I saw that word ‘skeptic’ I was really put off. However now having read your thoughts, and this is what I love about book blogs, I really want to give this a whirl, I wonder if I would need to re-read all of the Narnia books first?

  36. December 6, 2010 5:11 am

    The Narnia books are the first set of books I fell in love with as a child and they occupy a huge and important part of my childhood. I bought the whole set for my nephew when he was one (I know, as if he could read then!) because I really wanted him to feel the magic too. I tried to re-read the first one (Magician’s Nephew) but it was actually rather difficult for me to get through it:( I too was put off by the word skeptic but you’ve convinced me that I ‘must’ read this book! It’s so lovely to see a blogger get so enthusiastic about a book!

  37. December 6, 2010 7:50 am

    Oh I’m so glad this turned out to be written by a friendly skeptic instead of a sneery one. I can hear from your review and the quotes you included just how much care and thought went into this book, but it also seems to lack any misplaced reverence (not that there isn’t a lot to revere about C S Lewis’ work) that might lead to partiality.

  38. December 9, 2010 5:28 pm

    Your enthusiasm is infectious Eva! I love that the book has sent you off in new reading directions. My favorite books are always the ones that have me wanting to go off and study new subjects or read more books. That is the mark of a great read to me. Enjoy your journey to new reading places. I look forward to the updates. As someone who has only read half of the Narnia books I am a bit behind but I will catch up one day!


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