Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Magicians

Quentin did a magic trick. Nobody noticed. They picked their way along the cold, uneven sidewalk together: James, Julia and Quentin. James and Julia held hands. That's how things were now. The sidewalk wasn't quite wide enough, so Quentin trailed after them, like a sulky child.

Quentin Coldwater is a high school senior sickened by his colorless life in Brooklyn, dwarfed by his friend James, and in love with a girl he can't have. His only way to escape boredom is to imagine living heroic adventures in Fillory, 'a magical land' depicted in Fillory and Further, 'a series of five novels published in England in the 1930s.' The book opens when Quentin arrives to an interview for Princeton, but things turn up a different way and he unexpectedly ends up in Brakebills, a secretive school of magic in Upstate New York.

I was very intrigued by Lev Grossman's The Magicians (2009) when I read comments that said it was a fantasy novel between Harry Potter and Narnia, but for adults. I have to admit that my first impression while reading this book was that of perplexity; mostly because of several elements that made me think of Harry Potter (and later in the book of Narnia). 

But after putting more thought into it, I think depreciating Grossman's book because of its thematic resemblance with other works is forgetting its obvious originality. In one of his articles in Time Magazine, Grossman wonders: 'Is art about making up new things or about transforming the raw material that's out there?' 

I think the answer is obvious. Every writer gets inspired by other works, be them books, news articles, pictures, paintings, songs, etc. Everyone, at one point, gets very sensitive to another person's work, gets inspired by it and feels like using this inspiration to create something else, with a new perspective. Grossman talks about '[c]utting, pasting, sampling, remixing and mashing up' what he calls the 'raw material' and I couldn't agree more. Grossman evidently got inspired by magical worlds previously invented and came up with the idea of Brakebills and Fillory. 

What is particularly interesting however is the perspective he has on these worlds. Don't expect to follow the adventures of boys and girls in their age of innocence. Life at Brakebills is not so different than life at any other real college. Quentin and his friends drink wine, smoke, get into fights and wonder about what they'll do after they graduate. 

Grossman's novel deals with situations other fantasy stories put aside: failure, mistakes, guilt and regret. He introduces us to believable characters whom any teenager can relate to. Quentin might be smart but inside he is unstable, lacks confidence and gets disillusioned very easily. 

The Magicians reconsiders the whole idea of magic. Quentin realizes once at Brakebills, that magic won't come to him 'magically': the only ones who can become real magicians are those who actually believe in Magic. And the only ones who will appreciate this book are those who still have that sparkle in their eyes when they hear the words 'magical realm'.

Quote from the book: 
    “I think that's a real bear!”
    “Let's buy it a beer,” Quentin said.
    “I think it's asleep. And anyway it doesn't look that friendly.”
    “Beer might help with that,” Quentin said. He felt punchy. “This could be the next clue. If it's a talking beer, I mean a talking bear, we could, you know, talk to it.”

About the publication: Plume, Penguin Group (USA), 2009.

About the cover: Didier Massard and Jaya Miceli.

More about the author: Lev Grossman

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