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Laura Miller

Laura Miller
New York, New York, USA
Senior Writer
I work for Salon, mostly writing about books, and occasionally about TV and film. I edited The Salon Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors and am the author of the new book, "The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia."


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NOVEMBER 21, 2009 1:22PM

The paperback of The Magician's Book is out

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I haven't posted anything here in ages, mostly because I've been writing more for Salon, where I've been doing commentary about such subjects as the viability of collective storytelling via Twitter and vanity book awards.

However, I just received a copy of the paperback of The Magician's Book, which is just as beautiful as the hardcover (yet lighter, and an excellent Christmas gift, I might add!). It includes the Q&A that I did with my Salon colleague Rebecca Traister and one of those suggested question lists for reading groups. (I can't quite figure those out. If you can't think of anything to say about the book you've just read, why be in a book club?)

Someone recently asked how the reality of publishing the book compared to my expectations, and I had to think hard. I have a more realistic sense of the sausage-making than most authors because of my day job, so everything good that happened seemed miraculous and I had few illusions to lose. Still, you never know how actual readers are going to respond, and a couple of things seem worthy of note.

First, by far the most common response was an impulse to share childhood reading experiences with me. This was a bit of a surprise, since I tend to think of the book as more literary criticism than memoir. Nevertheless, the first-person element was the book's center for many people. Suddenly, total strangers were confiding in me, and I wasn't prepared for that! Soon, though, it became one of the nicest things about doing publicity.

Second, I had anticipated more and fiercer objections from C.S. Lewis's Christian admirers. True, a few did accuse me of "hating" or being the enemy of Christians and Christianity, but far more of the Christians who read The Magician's Book approached it with open and curious minds. I had thoughtful, respectful, enlightening conversations about religion with several believers, a reminder that the fiery ad hominem debates we hear so much about these days are just that -- the ones we hear about, not the only ones that are going on. I was especially pleased by all the Christian readers who said something along the lines of, "I don't feel the same way you do about the religious element of the Chronicles, but your descriptions of the other things you loved about them resonated for me and made the book well worth reading." That's how I feel about the Chronicles themselves.

One thing I don't seem to have communicated well enough was my adult understanding of Christianity. I didn't want The Magician's Book to be about religion, since there are scores of books about that aspect of Narnia, and to be honest, as a nonbeliever the subject doesn't interest me that much. It was really only my understanding of Christianity as an adolescent that significantly affected how I felt about Narnia, so that's all I wrote about. The result is a snapshot, frozen in time, of attitudes I'd eventually grow out of. I went out into the world, read a lot of literary masterworks grappling with Christian themes, learned about the many permutations of the religion and above all met Christians who really did try to live by the values espoused by Christ (one college roommate in particular -- Nancy Billica, where are you?), so I do grasp that the version of the faith I was raised with is not all there is to it.

I can indeed see the good aspects of Christianity, and certainly don't hate the religion or regard it as an enemy, even if the fundamentalist strain fosters a lot of injustice. As much as I might admire some versions of the faith, however, I still don't believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, which is pretty much of a deal-breaker as I understand things. I doubt that a person embraces a religion through reasoning or by running down a checklist of its good and bad qualities, anyway. You don't decide to believe; rather, people believe first and come up with a rationale for it after the fact. Having read a lot about Lewis's own conversion, I'm convinced that's what happened with him, whatever he might have told himself (and the world) to the contrary.

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