‘The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia’ by

Laura Miller, whose beautifully written The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia, explores the extraordinary literary qualities of Lewis’s creation.


One of the lesser fronts in the modern culture wars features a vicious if bizarre struggle over the soul of children’s fantasy literature, now become a zero-sum contest between opposing theologies. If you like The Chronicles of Narnia, in which C.S. Lewis’s child characters serve a Christ-figure (and later go to heaven), you’re supposed to be repulsed by the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, that militant atheist. Likewise, Golden Compass fans should consider the entire Narnia series to be what Pullman called it, “nauseating drivel.” The fact that millions of readers like both series, even the moral vision in both series, is grandly ignored.

There are Christians who like Pullman’s books and there are secular critics who love Narnia, though they are heard from even less. One of the most thoughtful of the latter is Salon.com writer Laura Miller, whose beautifully written The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia, explores the extraordinary literary qualities of Lewis’s creation. Miller was entranced by Narnia as a child, felt betrayed by its Christian themes as an irreligious teen, and was drawn back as an adult by a first (reading) love so powerful that almost all can and must be forgiven. She, and the other skeptical Narnia aficionados she interviews—Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Franzen among them—haven’t much use for The Last Battle, the overtly Christian concluding volume, precisely because the sort of perfection a heavenly ending requires necessarily destroys the very story-ness, the wonder and adventure, of the other books. Miller makes an eloquent case for Narnia as imaginative literature at its best. “A long time ago, I opened a book, and this is what I found inside: a whole new world. This world is enormous, yet it all fits inside a book. It goes on forever and ever. At nine I thought I must go to Narnia or die. It would be a long time before I understood that I was already there.”


‘The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia’ by

  1. This book has been recommended by many critics in many places; I’ll definitely be buying it. I read and loved the Narnia books as a child, too, and had no idea about religious allegories until I was older.

    Also, thank you for these ‘read these book’ posts. I always enjoy your book reviews in Maclean’s and I appreciate these recommendations.

  2. I am a Christian who loves Philip Pullman I had the privilege of meeting Him last year in Toronto. At the time I had not read his books (a combination of distaste for the anti religious themes and a general disinterest in young adult fiction). I can not tell you how impressive the man is (both an intellect and as warm human being). I can not overstate what a fine and powerful work of art the his dark materals triligy is. His portrait of organized religion is extremely shallow (Roman Catholics are right to be offended) but his characters are rich and rewarding (especially the villains) and for a brit. He is refreshing free of anti Americanism. Frankly he is at lest as good a writer as Tolkien and twice as good a Children’s novelist as Lewis was (To give him his due Lewis later adult novels “till we have faces” and “the Great Divorce” are very fine indeed.
    His books are extremely moral and strangely haunted by concepts such as prophecy, Destiny, Honor and self sacrifice. As a challenge to my Christian faith I would put it at about the same level as the Da Vinci Code (that is not very) I found my recent exposure to Five Point Calvinism to be much more spiritual unsettling. However these are not in my opinion Children books the tone is very dark the sense of death and betrayal at times threatens over whelm the novels. As a result I would not recommend them to any but the most mature middle school student.
    I suggest to all Christian friends read the books for there own sake and you might find a delicious irony in that just as William Blake felt that Milton was of “The Devil’s party without knowing it” Pullman might be on the side of the angels after all.

  3. I think that the debate over the underlying message (religious or athiest) in these books is extremely misplaced. What is important is whether or not the books are good stories, and I think that clearly the Narnia series absolutely obliterates the Dark Materials trilogy. If you are going to criticize Lewis for being influenced by the Bible, you might as well throw out the entire canon of western literature. Take for example The Lord of the Rings — clearly there are Christian overtones in this story. For some reason, Canadians nowadays want to deny this, perhaps because of political correctness. Look at the tale and how compelling it is. The Narnia books create a whole other world, the Dark Materials (and I’ve read both) is just not as good. Period.

    It may be convenient for the author to criticize Lewis, but this is either an attempt to sell books or complete arrogance. Miller is right – the Narnia books are masterful stories by themselves.

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