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The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  988 ratings  ·  269 reviews
The Magician's Book is the story of one reader's long, tumultuous relationship with C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. Enchanted by its fantastic world as a child, prominent critic Laura Miller returns to the series as an adult to uncover the source of these small books' mysterious power by looking at their creator, Clive Staples Lewis. What she discovers is not the fam ...more
Hardcover, 311 pages
Published December 1st 2008 by Little Brown and Company (first published November 25th 2008)
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Emilia P
Dec 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: real-books, churrrch
Like Laura Miller asserts, even in her title, and sticks to very evenly throughout the book, one usually comes with a prejudiced eye to the Chronicles and to Lewis. I am not a skeptic--I am a Christian, and unlike Miller who was enamored of the books as a child, I really didn't come to them completely until I was a senior in college, after lots of spiritual twists and turns, and finally fully accepting that, well, the Church was where I found and celebrated the magic and the mystery of the worl ...more
Aug 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone who loves reading, Narnia, fantasy, ok, all of you.
I don't usually read literary criticism but this is totally fascinating. It stems from Miller's personal love of the Chronicles of Narnia and goes on to analyze them, and their place in the cannon, talk about C.S. Lewis' life, his faith, the role of Christianity in the books and in his life, as well as his relationship with Tolkien. She talks about the nature of reading, the difference between reading as a child and as an adult and in my favorite parts, the dichotomy between the little girls who ...more
Jan 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Many books written about C S Lewis are essentially gushing paeans, written by sycophantic acolytes. Written by a non-believer, The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia might be described as a secular appreciation, not only of Narnia, but of Lewis' imagination as a whole, as well as its wellsprings and tributaries. As young reader, Miller fell in love with Narnia, only to become disgusted and appalled when she grew up to learn that her beloved stories had been carefully imbued by the ...more
Monica Edinger
Jul 18, 2008 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed reading this tremendously. I'm no longer a "friend of Narnia" as such, but like Miller, sure was as a child. Perhaps not quite as fanatic (my imaginary land of choice being Wonderland), but I did reread them too and loved the Chronicles very much (and, yes, have my Puffin box set among my favorite childhood books).

Then I remember well teaching The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for the first time as a young teacher and being shocked, shocked! at the heavy-handed Christian themes. B
Apr 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Narnia is shrouded in darkness. The harsh King Miraz, uncle to the throne’s heir, Prince Caspian, rules the land, and has made certain any memory of “the old days” (as Caspian calls them) is stamped out. But Caspian—having heard tales of Satyrs and Fauns, Nymphs and Dwarfs, Talking Beasts and all manner of magical creatures—longs for more than the drab castle in which he lives. Risking torture and death, Caspian’s new tutor, Doctor Cornelius, sneaks the young prince to the top of the highest tow ...more
Jan 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
(Apologies in advance: this is less of a review than it is a reader's response -- more about me than it is about the book. Please feel free to move on down the road.) :-)

I may be remembering incorrectly, but I think the Narnia books were the first books I ever loved best. I didn't get the whole paperback box set at once -- it was years before I read The Horse and his Boy, for one, and I think The Magician's Nephew was on a bit of a time delay for me too -- but those & then the Anne of Green
Mar 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Book reviewer and co-founder Laura Miller fell in love with Narnia in the second grade when her teacher handed her a copy of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Several years later, Laura, by then a lapsing Catholic and a junior-high student, read that C.S. Lewis's intent in writing the Chronicles of Narnia had been a recasting of Christian doctrine for children. She felt snookered and angry and did not revisit Narnia for many years. During those years, the Christian aspect of the Nar ...more
Dec 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
I’m a sucker for literary criticism. I mostly enjoyed the first two thirds of this book, though there were times that it seemed more like Eat, Pray, Love, (a book I utterly despised) than anything the Last Action Hero of Literary Criticism, Harold Bloom would have written. For those who do not know me, I found that . . . off putting.

As a founding member of, Miller has had a rare opportunity to talk to authors who have wrestled hard with C. S. Lewis over the years. Neil Gaiman, Philip
Nov 26, 2008 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
I fully expected this to be a much-needed attempt at reclaiming The Chronicles of Narnia from the Christian commentary that has essentially annexed this series as a kind of sacred text and regard it as a great theological statement (I know these types of people myself). I would have been just fine with simply that, but the title here is misleading, which, frankly, I should have expected coming from Miller. Instead of marking territory for a battle, she embarks on a pleasantly meandering, extreme ...more
Andrew Schirmer
Mar 18, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: lit-crit
Laura Miller's The Magician's Book owes its genesis to a classic conundrum--what happens when we revisit beloved childhood books with the insight gained through adult experience? In particular, how is one to face the fact that one's beloved fantasy world is in fact an elaborate hodgepodge of myth fronting a Christian allegory? For the author, The Chronicles of Narnia were a gateway into a lifelong love of literature, not merely escapism.

Miller's style can be irritatingly conversational and the
Jan 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
"...The word "spell, as Tolkien mentions in his essay "On Fairy Stories", once meant "both a story told, and a formula of power over living men. Where does this power come from and what is it made of?"

This passage (chapter 26) most accurately summarizes the riddle Laura Miller sets out to answer for herself in The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures In Narnia.

Truthfully, I picked this book out at the library because I just couldn't resist the title. Nonfiction titled The Magician's Book: A
Mar 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone
I found this book to both “uneven” and interesting, which has made it hard to decide on a ranking and how to review it. Since I was not familiar with the author (as least I don’t recall reading anything by her previously) I did not have any preconceptions about her style, likes, or dislikes. Nor, did I anticipate what “A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia” would be about, except for the obvious. Ultimately, I have decided it is very worthy of reading.

It has been a long time since I read “The Chronic
Patty Zuiderwijk
Story: 3/5 She felt betrayed when she realised Narnia can be seen as a biblical retelling.
Characters: 3/5
Writing: 2/5 Not every subject is neatly captured in one chapter and it randomly reappears in another chapter.
Reread: Nope.
Dec 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
I went into The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia a skeptic myself. The cover inset reads, "... another book's casual reference to the Chronicles' Christian themes left her (Miller) feeling betrayed and alienated from the stories she had come to know and trust...finally reclaiming Narnia for the rest of us, Miller casts the Chronicles as a profoundly literary creation..." The implication of course being that as a Christian, (a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian at that - I kno ...more
Apr 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I don't think I've ever read a book of lit crit so quickly or with so much enjoyment. A blurb on the back describes it as "conversational, embracing, and casually erudite" which is exactly right. Laura Miller talks about everything from Beowulf to Led Zeppelin, from Little House on the Prairie to Lolita, all with equally fresh insight. She makes her own prejudice perfectly clear: she is a lapsed Catholic and has no patience whatever with Christianity in any form, and she even describes Graham Gr ...more
Derek Jones
May 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A study of C. S. Lewis' Narnia series from an intriguing perspective: that of a nonbeliever. Miller makes it clear in her prologue that she is enthusiastic about Lewis' work but remains unmoved by its Christian message. As a Christian myself, I was preparing for something that was perhaps bitter or deconstructionist, but it is neither. Like Lewis himself, Miller has a talent for presenting a complex subject in a concise and direct manner, well organized and reasoned without being dry.

Miller reve
Shawn Thrasher
Mar 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
There is something very rewarding about reading something very well written that is about a book that you love dearly, a piece of writing that expertly, lovingly, but also objectively appreciates a book, discusses the influence of a book, explores the history of the book, and adeptly practices literary criticism upon the book (without totally ruining the book forever and ever). Miller can't possibly personally ruin Narnia because she loves the books so much; this is not her goal here. Like so ma ...more
May 01, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: literary, non-fiction
I liked a lot about this appreciation and analysis of The Cronicles of Narnia, but I also hated a lot. What was most hateful was Miller's misapprehension of the Chronicles as "proseltyzing" and "evangelical". Lewis tries to present Christianity as he understands it and wants others, especially children, to understand it. Take it or leave it. Its vaue as literature takes it way beyond its foundation in faith. Miller's crisis about how you could like this book and hate Christianity is not called f ...more
Tiff Miller
I picked this book up at random from the library, intrigued by both the cover art and the title. I hesitated, though, because I was worried that the author would dim my view of my first literary hero, C. S. Lewis.

But this woman, Laura Miller, gets it. More than anyone I have ever met. What The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe did for her when she first opened its pages, it did for me too.

This book actually made me tear up in places, because I finally feel like I've met someone who understands
Lucy Bellwood
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I fell in love with the beautiful, clothbound Narnia books in our house when I was very young. My mother used to read them to me before bed. (I’m even named, in part, after Lucy Pevensie.) Like Miller, I didn’t encounter the books’ Christian themes until I was a teenager, and felt deeply betrayed once I had. Returning to Narnia through Miller’s criticism rekindled all the things I loved about the series as a child, but with an insight and breadth I couldn’t lay my hands on in high school. There’ ...more
Jun 06, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: theology
Similar to the tension with which Laura Miller loves the Narnia books but vilifies certain positions the author (C.S. Lewis) takes, I intend to do the same with this review of "The Magician's Book". :-) I liked her book immensely, but at times her unchecked political correctness mistakes good for ill (much like an overactive immune system, damaging as it seeks to serve). The reader will appreciate Miller's nod to objectivity and transparency when laying down her cards in the first chapter: "I be ...more
Oct 10, 2013 rated it liked it
A little girl opens the hinged door of some commonplace piece of household furniture and steps through it into another world. I opened the hinged cover of a book and did the same.

Narnia is the most beautiful landscape I've ever travelled to. Whenever I am asked what fantasy-realm I would prefer to live in, Narnia has always been and will always be the answer. It's a world so rich, so detailed, so magnificent and so real, that I still find myself eyeing large wardrobes suspiciously to this very
Feb 27, 2009 rated it liked it
This book is about a literary critic who fell in love with Narnia as a child, then became horrified and offended as a young adult when she learned of the Christian allegories and other fundamental issues in the books after reading a literary criticism of them. She recently returned to the books, looking for the magic she found as a child, and argues that others can find the same, even as a skeptic.

Unlike the author of this book, I did not fall in love with Narnia as a child. I read the "Lion, t
Feb 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I love to read. I have for as long as I can remember. I would sequester myself off in the woods during the summer, burying my head in a book as I solved cases with Encyclopedia Brown and the Boxcar Children, wondered if maybe my teacher was an alien, and wished my school was as awesome as Wayside. In the winter time I would crawl into one of my parents' cars, trying to find a secluded and warm spot as I journeyed off to other worlds. And despite my love for the stories and worlds of Louis Sachar ...more
Dec 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
I went from being a hater, to actually appreciating this book. I learned a lot and I think my original critique was too harsh for a promotional galley. I mean, one can only hope that the grammatical and editorial errors were corrected in future copies and the Index has more than the word "Index" repeated over and over again. That being said, please take my critique with a grain of salt because I don't know what was actually improved from the galley to the real deal.

My main beef was that the aut
I bought a Kindle. This is the first book I've attempted to read on it. I can see that a Kindle has advantages over physical books in a couple ways: while traveling as you can compress LOTS of books into a space smaller than one paperback and if you wish a book had slightly larger print you can push a couple buttons and make it so. However, for general reading, when space or font size are not a consideration, a "real" book is still preferable.

I checked this book out of a library. It really was
Corinne Edwards
As a child in early elementary school, the author, Laura, devoured the series of children’s books by C.S. Lewis called The Chronicles of Narnia. For her, they were the conduit into an entirely new realm of books and reading and, as such, hold a place not only in her literary life but also in her childhood itself. As Laura grew and discovered the barely concealed Christian messages within the books, a sense of betrayal tainted her view of the texts that had so brightly colored her childhood.

In th
May 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a rule I tend to avoid most literary criticism, due mostly to the fact that it very often resides in the realm of the theoretical and academic and very far from the personal. This book is very much not that. I'm actually largely ambivalent about the Chronicles of Narnia; I read and loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a kid but just didn't feel the same affection for any of the others at the time. I only read them as an adult, understanding the (now very obvious) subtext, and their m ...more
Apr 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
When you pick up a book titled The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia, you probably assume it will be about one person's experience with The Chronicles of Narnia. Laura Miller fulfills that expectation to some degree, but this book is balanced between being an exploration of personal responses to Narnia and a biography of C. S. Lewis.

Miller talks to a good handful of people about Narnia and relates their responses; these bits are sprinkled throughout The Magician's Book. That's re
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Laura Miller is a journalist and critic. She is currently books and culture columnist at She was a cofounder of, where she worked for 20 years, and is the editor of The Readers Guide to Contemporary Authors. A regular contributor to The New York Times Book Review, her work has also appeared in The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, Time, and other publications. She l ...more
“Buying a book is not about obtaining a possession, but about securing a portal.” 83 likes
“A long time ago, I opened a book, and this is what I found inside: a whole new world. It isn't the world I live in, although sometimes it looks a lot like it. Sometimes, though, it feels closest to my world when it doesn't look like it at all. That world is enormous, yet it all fits inside an everyday object. I don't have to keep everything I find there, but what I choose to take with me is more precious than anything I own, and there is always more where that came from. The world I found was inside a book, and then that world turned out to be made of even more books, each of which led to yet another world. It goes on forever and ever. At nine I thought I must get to Narnia or die. It would be a long time before I understood that I was already there.” 45 likes
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