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

Miller takes a charming side trip to the land of talking animals. She espouses that children are more likely than adults to fantasize about talking beasts because they don’t have the logical faculties to see that giving animals the power of speech would surely spoil everything we like about them. As a girl she adored Aslan but now sees “the theological strings and levers behind Lewis’ stagecraft; the great lion seems less a character than a creaking device.”

Miller calls on other writers who have strong opinions about Lewis and Narnia. Neil Gaiman says “Lucy goes straight to your heart,” and once she is ensconced there, it’s impossible to step far enough away from her to take her in. Phillip Pullman considers Lewis’ children’s fiction “repellent” and “morally loathsome.” His children’s fantasy novels, His Dark Materials trilogy, are regarded as anti-Lewis. But he does offer Miller a suggestion for how she can reconcile her feelings about Lewis and Narnia.

Miller ventures down some detours: a fascinating comparison of Lewis and Tolkien to Coleridge and Wordsworth in personality, work, and their relationships. She writes of what the romantics, Lewis and Tolkien-in the old sense of the word, adventure and journey-thought about the Modernists.

Miller explores the history and philosophy of story and myth. Her sympathies and criticism interact and intertwine. She wanders in and out of Freudian psychological elements of the Chronicles. Gaiman agrees with Pullman about the sexuality inferences, especially in the “Problem with Susan.” Susanna Clarke, author of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, however, feels those writers interpret too freely Susan’s growing away from Narnia.

In one of Tolkien’s letters, he opined that it wasn’t necessary to know an author to appreciate his work. I think studying a writer’s life makes the work more meaningful. The more I read and study Lewis and Tolkien and their writings, the stronger my faith grows. The authors’ flaws and struggles only serve to inspire and encourage me.

As I was winding up this review I became curious about what the mainstream reviewers had written about this first book by one of their own. So I read critiques from England and Scotland, then from New York to Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. All secular-full of praise, tributes to her bravery for taking on such a subject and the man who wrote about such “Christian legends.” There were but a few negative comments. Wasn’t it Lewis who said that we take from books what we bring to them?

Two comments struck a chord with me that led me to wonder if maybe two of the reviewers might be of a different bent than the others. “My one criticism of Miller’s analysis,” wrote Mary Ann Gwinn in the Seattle Times, “is that she fails to see how the Narnia stories reflect the Christian virtues of individual courage, truth telling and self-sacrifice in the service of a larger cause.” Michael Joseph Gross wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The heart of every believer is fed, and even sustained, by veins of unbelief. Faith is not only a gift but also a choice and always exists in tension with its opposite.” He also wrote that Miller’s book “is easily the best book ever written about Lewis.”

I would disagree. In a cursory search I failed to find a single review in a Christian publication. However, I do think it a worthwhile read for Christians, especially lovers of Lewis and Tolkien.

The Magician’s Book is at once engaging, distressing, delightful, and disturbing-especially if one hasn’t been exposed to the darker elements of Lewis’ life. It is thoroughly researched, delectably readable, and beautifully written. It’s obvious that Miller has done extensive and exhaustive study, but though the spirit of Narnia has infiltrated her intellect and senses, it has yet to touch her soul.

I found her protestations against Lewis’ message baffling for someone so taken with Narnia and steeped in knowledge about Lewis. Often I thought, “Me thinks she doth protest too much.” But then, Mrs. Moore lived with Lewis for three decades, and died apparently without reconciling with God. A minister’s daughter, she quit believing when her son was killed in WWI. Perhaps she felt doubly abandoned when Lewis turned from an intimate relationship with her to a personal relationship with God.

Then, to quote Tolkien, the thought struck “like lightning from a clear sky”-SUSAN!

Miller identified often with Lucy but seemingly avoided much mention of Susan, who Lewis said forgot about Narnia. “I think that whatever she had seen in Narnia she could (if she was the sort that wanted to) persuade herself, as she grew up, that it was “all nonsense.” Lewis wrote that in a letter to a boy in 1957. Did this not resonate with what I’d just been reading? How could Susan, who with Lucy was the first to see Aslan after his resurrection, who rode on his back clutching his mane, racing “across Narnia in spring”-how could she forget loving the great lion? Perhaps Susan will “get back to Aslan’s country in the end-in her own way,” Lewis offered in another letter. Or does Miller’s story explain what happened to Susan?

Sometimes with all the Light in the world, some just won’t see.

I’m a native Californian. I was a flight attendant for 20 years, and worked in in-flight communications for seven. I retired from United Airlines when I moved to Amarillo, Texas in 1991, and became a professional writer and freelance journalist.

I have written for the Amarillo Globe-News, Canyon News, Amarillo Observer, and Focus on the Family Magazine. I was a National Journalism Center senior fellow with Human Events in Washington D.C. I am a graduate of Bible Study Fellowship and Christian Leaders, Authors & Speakers Services Seminar and Personality Training Workshop. I write and speak on writing, personalities, inspirational subjects, and C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

As a student of C.S. L. and J.R.R. T., I consider myself a “Hobbit in Narnia,” attending various C.S. Lewis Foundation conferences and writing for their newsletter. I spoke on these adventures as the featured speaker at First Presbyterian Church’s 2004 Woman’s Gala in Amarillo.

I am the quintessential late bloomer. I married at 27, gave birth at 38, and went back to college and first published at 48. I was a Washington D.C. fellow at 50, and started speaking at 55. I completed my first nonfiction book, Smart Steps for Safe Travel at 59. I’ve published in Daily Devotions for Writers.

I am a past president with Panhandle Professional Writers and former director of Frontiers in Writing, PPW’s annual writers’ conference. In November I gave an all day program at PPW called “More Than A Hobby: The Six Essential Elements of Encouragement.” My presentation was based on Diana Pavlac Glyer’s book, The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community. I have been appointed coordinator for the C.S. Lewis Foundation Southwest Regional Retreat in October 2009. The scheduled keynote speaker is Dr. Glyer. I will also oversee a one-day writers’ workshop in conjunction with the retreat.