Erudite extended essay about C.S. Lewis’s classic fantasy series, the meaning of reading in childhood and the author’s internal landscape.
Salon.com co-founder and staff writer Miller first entered Narnia some 40 years ago, when a second-grade teacher handed her a copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Raised in a large Catholic family in California, she found a new world inside that novel and its six companions; she imagined she must reach Narnia or die trying. Naturally, she outgrew that feeling, but could never erase the powerful impact that Lewis (1898–1963) had on her youthful imagination. Revisiting the books as an adult, she was horrified to discover that the Chronicles of Narnia contained Catholic doctrine disguised as storytelling. Still, she could not let go of her childhood favorite texts without at least trying to move beyond her skepticism about organized religion. Sorting through her conflicted reactions, Miller realized what she disliked about the Chronicles as an adult could not eclipse what she had loved and would always love about the stories. The author’s intellectual and emotional journeys come together nicely here. The chapters on Lewis’s texts will be rough going for those who haven’t read the Narnia books, but Miller’s vivid plot summaries, enhanced by her accomplished literary criticism, could possibly bring every member of her audience into the loop. Her intellectual biography of Lewis, doled out in fragments across the chapters, is less successful. Nonetheless, Miller’s insights about the Oxford don are sometimes stunning. She notes, for example, the temptation to call Lewis misanthropic, but adds, “he liked people well enough—as long as he believed they were a lot like him.” Other authors, Tolkien in particular, receive Miller’s scrutiny as well, but always in relation to Lewis and his imagined world.
A rewarding study by a first-rate arts writer.