Over the holidays, I gave myself the gift of a bit of pleasure reading; one of the books on the NYT’s year end best list, Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia. It is essentially a work of literary criticism devoted to C.S. Lewis’s beloved series. Miller, who adored the Narnia series, nevertheless felt bitterly tricked when she discovered they were a Christian allegory. Kids, she argues, are literalists, and as heavy handed as the religious symbolism may be, they lack the general knowledge to see the similarities between a story about a magical lion and the Christian messiah. Years later, Miller returned to the books to examine them as an adult. Hers is a smart and fairly serious undertaking, one that I’ve enjoyed in part because her childhood experience so closely mirrors my own. One idea in particular has really stuck with me. She posits that most avid readers, folks who love books (most of you, I imagine), are forever in search of the purity and pleasure of that first book (or books) that so enchanted us. That as adults, we can never quite recapture that absolute delight when our critical faculties were not yet developed, and our immersion in fiction was complete. That we read, now, in some sense, in an effort to get back to the garden.
For me, the books were, in fact the Chronicles (hence my interest in Miller’s book). But I’ve not reread the series as a grown-up precisely because I fear finding them wanting, hollow, devoid of the pleasure they once afforded me. I’m curious to know what your touchstone book was, and if you’ve ventured to read it now that you can, perhaps, see its shortcomings, peek behind the curtain.