As a child, Laura Miller loved Narnia – her first reading of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe left her literally speechless – but she turned away as a teenager, feeling betrayed upon her discovery of the underlying Christian message of the Chronicles. As an adult, she has come around to a position of being able to separate what she loves about Narnia from what she considers to be the intrusive evangelism embedded in the stories.
Ms. Miller has clearly researched her topic well. She shares not only her own views and those of personal friends, but also comments from contemporary authors and critics including Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, and John Goldthwaite. Additionally, she writes knowledgeably and more or less fairly, though not always charitably, about C.S. Lewis and a number of others who had some impact on his life, among them J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, George MacDonald, and William Morris.
As much as she dislikes the religious elements of Narnia, Ms. Miller recognizes the power of the story – the story of Narnia in particular, and the great power of Story in general. She notes that “the Chronicles resemble the Wood Between the Worlds” in that they are “a portal to other worlds,” and that Lewis showed her “how a story can work in several different registers at once.” Ultimately, she manages not to throw out the bathwater with the baby – steadfastly and unapologetically rejecting the Christianity which she feels it is the Chronicles’ primary mission to convey, but maintaining that “Narnia is the country of literature, of books, and of reading, a territory so vast that it might as well be infinite.”
Lewis fans, particularly Christian ones, will find much in this book with which to take issue. However, they may also find some valuable insight into non-Christians’ objections to Narnia, and a map of the common ground on which the Chronicles appeal to a broad range of readers from diverse backgrounds.