What makes a story you loved as a kid stick in your mind years and decades after you encountered it? That question animates Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book, which I’m reading now. Miller, a writer and critic for Salon, revisits her childhood passion for C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and tries to sort out what made her fall in love with Narnia as an 8-year-old and how her feelings changed as she grew into a more sophisticated, more ambivalent reader. (Christian symbolism? Ack!) As her website says, “The Magicianâ€™s Book is the story of one reader’s long, tumultuous relationship with C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.”
I don’t pick up books of literary criticism very often these days, mostly because I don’t get as many long stretches of reading time as I used to, and novels and other kinds of nonfiction tend to get bumped to the top of the stack on my nighttable. The Magician’s Book sat and sat and sat on my desk until my recent organizational binge, when I realized I should either read it or find it a new home.
I decided to read it. I’m glad I did. It’s given me back my own early love affairs with books. Like Miller, I loved the Narnia books, but there were others that thrilled me too: Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three and the rest of the Chronicles of Prydain, his retellings of Welsh myths. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Anne McCaffrey’s The Dragonriders of Pern and its sequels. (It’s a little embarrassing to cop to that.) Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. (Really. Don’t ask me to explain.) There are others. They all still have a place in my heart and, in some cases, on my shelves, though the McCaffrey books must have gone out in some long-ago purge. I’m a little sorry about that.
Anyway, Miller’s book also prompted me to get out my long-ago-loved copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and read it to my kids. They’ll have their own bookish love affairs to remember. Maybe Narnia will be one, maybe not, but I’m glad to be reminded that it will always be there for them if they want it to be.