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

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  887 Ratings  ·  238 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, 320 pages
Published December 3rd 2008 by Little, Brown and Company (first published November 25th 2008)
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Monica Edinger
Dec 25, 2008 Monica Edinger 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
Aug 04, 2008 Miriam 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 30, 2009 Rebecca rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Mar 14, 2011 eq 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
Emilia P
Jan 12, 2009 Emilia P 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
Jan 09, 2009 Shilough 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
Jan 23, 2009 Sheila 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
Feb 22, 2009 Kyle 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
Mar 17, 2009 Nikki 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
Apr 14, 2009 Jesse 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
Apr 16, 2009 Jon 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
Apr 22, 2009 Manzoid rated it really liked it
I like reading books about reading.

The author of "The Magician's Book" was swept away as a child, like many of us were, by the enchantment of that world beyond the wardrobe, and in fact that was her real introduction to the world of books. As a teen, however, (again like many of us) she felt betrayed and repulsed by what she then saw as ham-fisted attempts to proselytize Christianity. "The Magician's Book" is the story of her long journey back to appreciating The Chronicles again, on her own ter
May 11, 2011 Beverly rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, literary
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
I found The Magician's Book very thought-provoking reading. I read the Chronicles of Narnia more than once as a child and thoroughly enjoyed them. But I've been wary of an adult reread fearing that the Christian content which sailed right over my heathen head in childhood would be so much in the forefront that it would spoil the erstwhile magic. That said, the Chronicles were never of central importance in my reading life, so my relationship with them could never be as fraught as Miller's. It al ...more
Dec 10, 2009 Rachel rated it really liked it
The introduction described better than I've ever been able to (despite repeated attempts) the impact that great kids books have which adult fiction (for me and this author at least) can never really match. I loved some of the early chapters as well.

Thanks to Karen Horton for the book!
Mary Etta
Mar 03, 2010 Mary Etta marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Vicky
Shelves: unfinished
This sounds interesting. I've been a fan of C S Lewis since our KS days when a teen-age friend gave the Narnia set to our daughter Chris dealing with brain cancer. Later David and Polly loved reading "Screwtape Letters." Between the two and expanding to other writings we've been fans ever since extending to the grandchildren. Loved a stage play at MSU of which I would have loved to have read the script. (Didn't I see that with you, Vicky?)I think it was "Shadowlands." So this sounds like a good ...more
Sep 25, 2010 Danny rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-book
OK, so admittedly I didn't like this book as much as a good novel. Not as much as the novels of many of the authors quoted within the book: Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, Philip Pullman, etc.

And a lot of the book was spent on J.R.R. Tolkien and how he was a dour spoilsport who hates fun and children and his best friend C.S. Lewis.

But it was still a lot of fun reading about Lewis' life when he was writing the books, some of the landscape inspirations in England and Ireland, and what all the people
Apr 10, 2011 Mike 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
Oct 15, 2013 Robin rated it really liked it
This book is so great because Laura Miller writes many of the appreciations I have for reading that I just have not been able to articulate myself. There's so much I wish I had written down while I was reading it.

The Narnia books were never my favorites; but I certainly felt that thrill of recognition in other books that took me into their worlds and transformed me: Lizard Music, Earthsea, Hitchhiker's Guide, and Golden Compass. Even more so, throughout this reading, I enjoyed Miller's company
Jun 24, 2011 Anne rated it really liked it
I fell in love with The Chronicles of Narnia when my friend Melissa told me the story of "The lion, the witch and the wardrobe" and later "the horse and his boy". At our next school book fair, I bought the series for myself and proceeded to read and reread them. I still love fantasy...and pieces of Narnia are part of my family lore/vocabulary and part of my imaginative furniture.

This book is written, beautifully written, by someone who also fell in love with narnia...but then distanced herself f
Apr 09, 2012 Joel 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
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
Molly Brewer
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
Dec 30, 2012 Laura 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
Andrew Schirmer
May 03, 2013 Andrew Schirmer 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
Nov 11, 2013 Rikke 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
Mar 07, 2014 Laura 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
Derek Jones
May 24, 2015 Derek Jones 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
Jun 17, 2016 Megan rated it it was amazing
I think this book is just wonderful. It's part reading memoir, part biography, part criticism--thoughtful, thought-provoking. It makes me wonder what series I would write about--a series of books that thrilled me as a child but became problematic as an adult.
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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
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