Book Review – The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia

I don’t recall reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a girl-I was eight when it was published, and surely it would have impressed this child who lived so much in her imagination-like young Jack, and Miller herself. Although I’ve read Lewis for over thirty years and bought the Narnia boxed set when my son was ten, I can’t recollect our reading it. I do remember that when I prepared for my first C.S. Lewis Foundation conference in summer, 2004, “The Fantastic Worlds of C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien,” I dug through the belongings my son left behind when he went away to college and found the books. I devoured them with the simple delight of a child, the deep appreciation of a grownup, and the devotion of a believer.

As a Christian, the symbolism resonated immediately. Miller, however, writes that when she “discovered some of the more obvious ‘secret’ meanings” in the books, she felt tricked, angry, and humiliated because she’d been fooled. She wrote, “Once you realize that a good story has the power to deceive you, it’s impossible to wholeheartedly embrace the ignorance that is always a part of innocence.” She was horrified to discover that the joy of her childhood and the cornerstone of her imaginative life were really just the doctrines of the Church in disguise. She was unable, like Lewis, to creep past the “watchful dragons.” Narnia and Aslan made her happy. She thought that Jesus wanted her to be miserable.

“If the Chronicles had worked according to Lewis’ plans,” Miller writes, “and in the way many of his Christian admirers believe them to, I would have reassessed my attitude toward religion. I would have realized that Narnia and Aslan represented another face of Christianity, a better one than the Church had ever shown me, and that in turn would have led me back to the faith.” But to her, “Christianity worked like a black hole, sucking all the beauty and wonder out of Narnia.”

Miller, however, thinks herself a better person for having read the books.

She admired Lucy’s goodness in the The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, hoped she was like the young heroine, and was sure if they had inhabited the same world, they would have been the best of friends if they ever met. I wonder, would they? The name Lucy means light. Miller’s insight seems keen, but she doesn’t see.

She claims that she lacks the disposition to believe and has never found a good reason to believe, while Lewis, on the other hand, ran out of reasons not to. “I will not!” she shouts in the opening pages of the book, and then proceeds to take the reader on a fascinating journey “further up and further in” to the land of Lewis.

The reader travels through the seven books getting to know the characters and how the author shaped them from childhood and life experiences. Many critics have accused Lewis of misogyny. Miller explores the subject of Jack’s “girl trouble”-why he chose to write from Lucy’s point of view, and of his relationships with Janie Moore and Joy Davidman

Miller dips down deep into the dark valleys of Lewis’ psyche, exposing his basest proclivities but without the compassion shown by his more sympathetic biographers. She, however, never leaves the reader down into the valleys for too long before whisking him back into the sun. It’s a gently rolling road, this journey of critique and praise-like walking along enjoying Narnia’s spring, then winter, and then spring again. Of course, one can’t explore Lewis’s world without encountering Tolkien and his world-strolling through the Shire, discovering Mordor around the bend, and coming up the hill back into the Shire. Miller is cynical and disapproving one moment and adoring and sympathetic the next, moving from criticism to compliments on a single page.

Reading about Miller’s trips to Ireland and England made me want to hop the next plane and join her on her pilgrimage to Lewis’ childhood home, the Kilns, and the very paths Lewis walked, actually following in his footsteps-two “Alices in Narnialand.” But she was always searching for, and digging up, intelligence that would prove her right. I, on the other hand, would have been along just for a walk in the sunshine. Miller mentioned that the C.S. Lewis Foundation maintains The Kilns and was grateful for her tour of Lewis’ home.