At age seven, Miller encountered the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time when her second grade teacher handed her a copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. "It was this book that made a reader out of me," she writes. "I had found a new world, which at the same time felt like a place I'd always known." But as a teenager Miller eventually discovered the Christian symbolism that's as much a part of the seven tales as are the stirring adventures of the Pevensie children. By then a skeptical Catholic, she confesses that "Christianity worked like a black hole, sucking all the beauty and wonder out of Narnia the moment the two came into imaginative contact."
In The Magician's Book, Miller overcomes that initial revulsion to offer a multifaceted portrait of the sources of Lewis's masterwork, as diverse as his disdain for the English class system and his fascination with Norse mythology. She explores in considerable depth the close friendship between Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien (who converted Lewis from agnosticism to Christianity), in the process demonstrating the fundamental differences in the views of these men about life and literature and the way those differences shaped their legendary works. Miller enlivens her treatment by discoursing with authors like Jonathan Franzen, Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman, whose opinions of Lewis's creation are diverse and not always flattering.
The portions of Miller's book in which she recounts various plot elements no doubt will be more meaningful to those with a deep acquaintance with the Chronicles. But even readers whose familiarity with the texts is limited or nonexistent won't have difficulty understanding her references in context and may well feel the urge to revisit the books or encounter them for the first time.
"Narnia is the country of literature," Miller writes, "of books, and of reading, a territory so vast that it might as well be infinite." She's offered a mature portrait of C.S. Lewis's creation that still contains a spark of the childhood wonder that ignited her passion for literature. The books we love as children mark us for life, John Leonard might have said. From the evidence of Laura Miller's enduring enchantment with the world of Narnia, is there any question that's true?--Harvey Freedenberg
Shelf Talker: A noted literary critic paints an insightful portrait of the enduring appeal of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia.