Wednesday, July 1, 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.

I'm currently reading The Magician's Book by Laura Miller. You can catch up with my first post here, and my second post here.

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 final thoughts:

While the middle section of the book was probably the most emotionally difficult for die-hard Narnia fans, due to its extensive discussion of the faults in the series, this last section is the hardest from a literary perspective. Miller delves into the motivations and inspirations behind the series, and some readers could find this slow going.

Miller does spend a considerable amount of time examining the friendship between Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein, and explores how each influenced the other's work. She tells of their commitment to and love of the Norse mythology; their belief that their stories were not novels, but medieval "romances"; the strain in their relationship when Lewis became successful before Tolkein; their differences of opinion on each other's work; and how Tolkein brought Lewis back to his faith:

"Tolkein persuaded Lewis that the stories he'd thrilled to all his life - about sacrificed and reborn gods like Balder or Dionysius - were really like echoes moving backward and sideways and sometimes even forward in time, reverberations of the one occasion when God actually sacrificed himself for mankind. The other stories, made by men, weren't "lies" (or, as Lewis liked to call them, "lies breathed through silver"); they were shadows of the single instance when the myth "really happened"....With this in mind, Lewis could believe in Christ as the Son of God and not give up the other myths he loved so much...Those stories, like Middle-earth itself, were not "real", but they were nevertheless "true"....."

I found this book, as a whole, to be a fascinating read. There were times when it was a bit slow going, but those were the exception. It was an interesting critical analysis, and a great history lesson as well. For readers who have enjoyed the Narnia series, I would definitely recommend The Magician's Book. It will require a little persistence, but I think you will find it worthwhile.

"If you read enough, and C.S. Lewis certainly did that, you come to see that every great story contains elements - talking beasts and brave orphans, lonely girls and dying gods, trackless forests and perilous cities - that can and have been used and reused over and over again, without becoming exhausted. If anything, they grow denser, richer, more potent with each new telling. Every great storyteller contributes a little to this patina, but storytellers are human, and inevitably those contributions have flaws. Myths and stories are repositories of human desires and fears, which means that they contain our sexual anxieties, our preoccupation with status, and our xenophobia as well as our heroism, our generosity and our curiosity. A perfect story is nor more interesting or possible than a perfect human being."

Finished: 6/30/09
Source: Hachette publishing group
Rating: 7/10

Don't just take my word for it! Here's what some other fabulous bloggers had to say:

Bermudaonion's weblog

A Reader's Respite

This book counts toward:


Padfoot and Prongs - Good Books Inc. said...

Very very interesting review. I have read the Chronicles of Narnia many many times, as well as Tolkien's works. They are pretty much the books of my childhood. I will have to pick up a copy of this book.

Thanks for the insight!

Zibilee said...

So glad that you liked this one. Having never read Narnia, this book might leave me a bit bewildered at times, but it sounds like something that would be very interesting to read. I have often wondered about the man behind the story.