The Magician's Book by Laura Miller

Laura Miller had a problem.  When she was young she was absolutely captivated and enthralled with the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis.  Given a copy of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by a school teacher she dove in an entered a new world.  Things would never be the same.

But eventually she grew older and began to find out things about Lewis and Narnia that changed her relationship with the series: the Christian underpinnings of the story, Lewis’s world view and political opinions, etc.  But as she pursued a career as a literary critic she decided to return to these books and she found there was still much about them that she loved.

The road that had once seemed to lead to free and open country had in reality doubled back to church.  Now I was trying to explain why my damning adolescent assessment of Chronicles wasn’t entirely sufficient, either.  As an adult, I’d discovered that I could follow Lewis pretty far without feeling obliged to return to Christianity, and that the old sensations of freedom, of wilderness in Narnia, remained.

She sets out to make sense of this journey.  The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia is her answer in book form.

I guess you would have to put Magician’s Book into the category of creative non-fiction.  Good thing too, because otherwise it would be hard to categorize.  Part memoir, literary criticism, biography, and current events reporting it frequently slides between childhood memories, academic criticism, Freudian analysis, personal opinion, and interviews with other authors.

Sometimes this manages to flow and hold together in a coherent way and at others the transitions are a little rough.  I found the sections dealing with Lewis’s faith and politics were the least convincing – but perhaps that is my bias – but the book as a whole remains an insightful and engaging look at Lewis and Narnia.

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More on ideas and literature

Alan Jacobs concludes his review of Neal Stephenson‘s latest novel Anathem with this:

But this is the problem with all of Stephenson’s books of the past decade, starting with Cryptonomicon (1999): He has more energy than his readers are likely to have.

But what a wonderful problem! Stephenson is immensely and delightedly curious about an astonishingly wide range of ideas and disciplines — from cryptography to mechanical computers and clocks to steam engines to calculus and geometry to martial arts to quantum-theoretical accounts of infinite possible worlds — and not many readers are likely to be able to catch up with it all. But even for those who fall behind there is, or should be, admiration for Stephenson’s sheer love of ideas, and his belief that fiction can be a powerful means for communicating those ideas and infecting others with a love of them — a love of them and a conviction that they matter, that, as another long-winded novelist once said, ideas have consequences.

Stephenson doesn’t get noticed by many of our best critics — it’s simply impossible to imagine a James Wood essay about Stephenson (though ‘tis a consummation devoutly to be wished). There will always be someone to step up and decry Stephenson’s interests as “adolescent,” simply because many adolescents (especially socially awkward male ones) are fascinated by the things that fascinate Stephenson. But then, the most “literary” of novels tend to be occupied with teasing out every implication, however subtle and even vaporous, of human relationships, and that’s an adolescent concern too, isn’t it? — just one that occupies a different subset of teenagers.

“Adolescent” is a sneer, not a critique. The important questions are these: Does Stephenson make his ideas live? Does he make us want to care about then as he does? Do those ideas matter — should they matter — to thoughtful people? Yes; yes; yes. Anathem is going to sell a hell of a lot of copies, but it’s also an important and exciting book, and deserves more serious reflection from serious people than it is ever likely to get.

Besides the mention of James Wood, Jacobs’ comments on ideas and literature seem relevant to the post below.

Anathem

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Debating Dostoevsky and literature

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If for some odd reason you read this blog but have yet to read Dan Green’s post on Dostoevsky and the resulting commentary – including James Wood and others – please do so as soon as you are able.  Intelligent, snarky, confusing, and thought provoking – it’s all there.

I want to make a note of something Wood said in the comments for future reference:

But then Green is hostile to ideas in fiction; he is a formalist fatalist (see his earlier post) for whom fiction, over the centuries, simply discloses not the world, nor ideas, but ideas about how fiction gets written…It is an astonishingly narrow view of the novel, and it needs to be said again and again that fiction does EVERYTHING: it is about itself, and it is also about the world; it is about sentences, and also about lives; it is form, and it is also politics, metaphysics, ideas. We don’t have to choose.

I want to come back to this when I have time because I think it does get to something that is very different about the way Dan and I approach literature.

Debating Dostoevsky and literature

Image via Wikipedia

If for some odd reason you read this blog but have yet to read Dan Green’s post on Dostoevsky and the resulting commentary – including James Wood and others – please do so as soon as you are able.  Intelligent, snarky, confusing, and thought provoking – it’s all there.

I want to make a note of something Wood said in the comments for future reference:

But then Green is hostile to ideas in fiction; he is a formalist fatalist (see his earlier post) for whom fiction, over the centuries, simply discloses not the world, nor ideas, but ideas about how fiction gets written…It is an astonishingly narrow view of the novel, and it needs to be said again and again that fiction does EVERYTHING: it is about itself, and it is also about the world; it is about sentences, and also about lives; it is form, and it is also politics, metaphysics, ideas. We don’t have to choose.

I want to come back to this when I have time because I think it does get to something that is very different about the way Dan and I approach literature.