Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.

Starting a new book this week -

The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia by Laura Miller

Synopsis from publisher:

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 familiar, idealized image of the author, but a more interesting and ambiguous truth: Lewis's tragic and troubled childhood, his unconventional love life, and his intense but ultimately doomed friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien.

Finally reclaiming Narnia "for the rest of us," Miller casts the Chronicles as a profoundly literary creation, and the portal to a life-long adventure in books, art, and the imagination.

My thoughts so far:

I have seen some pretty mixed reviews for this book - some people loved it, some REALLY didn't like it. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, based on the rather mixed reactions.

So far, I am completely enjoying it. Laura Miller is mixing literary criticism and memoir with the history of Lewis and his books to create a very interesting volume. Each chapter encompasses a new topic - chapter 1, why she loved the Narnia books; chapter 2, the importance of the animals in Narnia; chapter 3, why readers love books about gardens; chapter 4, why children are drawn to books where kids get to be heroes.

I haven't quite figured out the method behind her arrangement of the varying subjects, but each chapter itself I've found to be fascinating.
My favorite so far has been chapter 4, called Boxcar Children. Miller talks about the value of children seeing other children being the hero - children following the quest.

"I was stirred by how much was expected of the Pevensies. I wanted to be challenged in the same way. I wanted to give me all for a cause I could be sure was worthy. (And even at that tender age, I had an inkling that finding such a cause would be the hardest part of the quest.)"

Additionally, she talks about why kids love books that feature kids - where one or both parents are absent. I hadn't thought about this before, but I can certainly see that trend in the books I loved as a child - Little Women, Lazy Tommy Pumpkinhead, Pippi Longstocking - all have strong, adventurous kids who don't depend on their parents for their adventures. I especially related to her comment, when describing her response to another reader's reaction to the great children's novel Island of the Blue Dolphins -

" 'I can't believe they give a book like that to children', she remarked. 'It's about being abandoned by your family! What could be more disturbing?' I was startled; it had never occurred to be before that the novel described a terrifying scenario, although the girl's situation was occasionally desperate. I didn't see her as abandoned. To my child's mind, she was liberated."

I don't really know where this journey through Narnia will take me next, but I'm enjoying the journey so far. It's making me remember how much I love the novels - I can sense a reread in my future!


Carolynn said...

this sounds like another one i'd like! and you know, *I* can lend you my new Chronicles of Narnia all-in-one book if you need! hee!

The Great Catsby said...

Hm I would love to see this kind of thing with Harry Potter since I would argue that probably more of our generations readers have some type of affliction to those novels. Great post though!

Zibilee said...

As someone who hasn't read Narnia, but is curious about it, this seems like a neat book to me. Do you think I would be able to appreciate it without having read Narnia?