In The Magician's Book, Laura Miller traces her ever-changing relationship with the best loved books of her childhood, C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia.
How did your research along the way influence the development of the book?
Much of the time, it worked the other way round. As I researched Lewis's life, I kept being reminded of books I'd already read. I'd read Richard Holmes's magnificent two-volume biography of Coleridge, and when I delved deeper into the Lewis/Tolkien relationship, the parallels to Coleridge's friendship with Wordsworth sprang immediately to mind. The obvious theme of dominance and subjection in Lewis's own life brought me back to Freud, whom I studied in college.
Is your mention of the phrase in the Chronicles “what I choose to take with me” a deliberate nod to the debate over whether you can pick and choose what you believe in a religion?
Although faith is an issue in The Magician's Book, it's readerly faith rather than religious faith that really interests me. The three parts of my book correspond to the unquestioning belief that a child brings to reading a story, the unforgiving skepticism of the adolescent and finally the nuanced appreciation of the adult. To me, living with ambivalence, and loving in spite of it, is not just a sign of maturity but one of its rewards. Literature is human, not divine. It can't be perfected. I think of my book as partly an argument for freedom of interpretation, a reader's freedom.
Do you think you'll keep coming back to the Chronicles as your perspective continues to change?
I hope so, since one of the few benefits of getting older is that, if you're lucky, your understanding becomes richer. The next stage will be passing the books on to the children in my life. I don't have children myself, but I'm very close to a pair of young twins who make several appearances in The Magician's Book. I've tried reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to them, and they were captivated by the first four chapters, but I thought about how dark and scary the book becomes further in, and it seemed wise to wait a little longer. One fascinating thing: when I asked them what they thought the book was about, Desmond said, “It's about two boys and two girls,” and Corinne said, “It's about a girl who said what happened and nobody believed her.” There's an example of the diversity of interpretation!