On Thursday evening, Deborah and I enjoyed the lively, friendly and insightful exchange at Word, the independent bookstore in Greenpoint (Brooklyn), between Lev Grossman and Laura Miller. The main topic was Narnia and its influence on generations of readers, and specifically on readers-- like Grossman and Miller-- who go on to become writers.
Miller recapped and amplified her themes from The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia -- a book that captured neatly much of my own relationship to C.S. Lewis's wonderful but ultimately unsatisfying world. Miller is especially good in her discussion of how our relationship to a book or an author's work changes as we age. For instance, she referred to the trap of the adult reader "colonizing" (I think I recall her word correctly) his or her own childhood imagination. Her clear-eyed, honest approach as a critic, and as a traveler back to the texts that most influenced her as a reader, are what make her so compelling a thinker. I will be re-reading The Magician's Book very soon.
Grossman's The Magicians takes a similar tack in fictional form. I bought the book at the event, and will be reading it this fall, so cannot comment fully, but its conceit is arch. Grossman--a witty, fluid speaker--made many points on stage, each of which could fill a longish blog entry. He said, for example, that talking animals are all very well but why do we assume (as Lewis did) that they would have anything much interesting to say? A talking bear --per Grossman and who am I to disagree?--might just drone on endlessly about honey.
Tolkien and Rowling inevitably figured in their discussion, but looming much larger alongside Lewis was Ursula Le Guin. Grossman suggested that Le Guin was the first fantasy writer of note to break from a British voice and viewpoint, the first doing "reconnaissance" in worlds without a purely European premise. He said that the map of Earthsea looks to him like Narnia shattered by a hammer.
The other writer who cropped up in the conversation was Susanna Clarke, who Miller interviewed at length and who Grossman credited with re-inventing the genre altogether.
A delightful evening! Special thanks to Kelly Amabile, the events coordinator at Word, for organizing it.