Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book 67: The Magician's Book

I'd never actually heard of this author or this book, but I somehow stumbled on Laura Miller's review of The Myth of Persecution, and based on how much I liked that review, I decided to check out her book about Narnia.  I think I expected her to focus on atheism and religion within the books, but she actually goes through quite a few different topics, all in a rather conversational tone.  In her introduction, she also mentions talking to other people that loved Narnia as an adult, and she incorporates some of these conversations, but this makes up a much smaller part of the book than she implies at first.
I quite enjoyed this book, which is both chatty and analytical.  Miller describes her own personal development as a reader, her relationship with The Chronicles of Narnia, and mixes this with chapters chronicling C.S. Lewis's life, his relationships with other authors, such as Tolkien and their similar and differing world views, as well as chapters of actual analysis of how the series treats gender, race and other topics.  She says she was almost always a skeptic, even as a child, but she completely loved these books, and felt betrayed when she discovered that they were very Christian.  She compares her experience with those of other children, and feels that her sense of betrayal was much more pronounced than that of some others, possibly because she didn't realize it on her own and was told by an outside source.  She describes finally coming back to them as an adult, and discusses and analyzes some of the stories from other contexts, such as Lewis and Tolkien's desires to create new myths, and even addresses the ways in which Narnia stories contradict Christian teachings.  She also looks at Lewis's problematic views of foreigners that can be seen in the novels, and the gender issues that have troubled many others - the problem of Susan and expanding from that.  She believes that people have in many cases been so focused on the Christian aspect of the novels (either celebrating/defending this part or critiquing them for it) that many of the other parts of the novels that would lend themselves to discussion get ignored.
Personally, I could relate to quite a bit of what she discussed and found other aspects of her book rather illuminating, especially given my lack of knowledge regarding C.S. Lewis.  I also loved these novels as a child, was shocked to discover they were Christian allegory and finally reread them as an adult.  By the time I reread them, I didn't quite rediscover my love for them, thinking they were fun stories for children but that overall they were too black and white for me.  However, Miller's analysis makes me reconsider some of that judgement.  I would also say that while I enjoyed these, they weren't the defining novels of my childhood the way they were for her.  I had many other series and books that I also enjoyed, and would probably describe as the ones that touched me the most, particularly Joan Aiken's Der Zauberschatz von Astalon (The Kingdom and the Cave) which unfortunately seems to be out of print because I would love to have a personal copy (my German childhood one became quite battered and has disappeared), and several of Astrid Lindgren's non-Pippi Longstocking novels (in addition to her more reality based novels, Lindgren also had several amazing fantastical ones, such Mio, Mein Mio, and Die Bruder Lowenherz).
Overall I would definitely recommend this one since it's a nice combination of some light literary criticism with a more personal tale of someone's life and development as a reader, something I think many other readers can relate to and enjoy.

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