Wed
Aug 3 2011 11:10am
Not an escapist fantasy: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magicians must be one of the most reviewed fantasy novels of the last few years. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that the author is a well known writer and book reviewer for Time Magazine. It also doesn’t hurt that the book was very effectively hyped as “Harry Potter with college age students”—after all, anything with Harry Potter on the cover seems to sell like hotcakes. The end result of all of this is that, in addition to fantasy fans, lots of people who don’t regularly read the genre picked up the novel, and many of them had their expectations severely challenged. I hosted a discussion about the novel a few months back, and I was surprised by how extreme people’s opinions were. With its sequel, The Magician King, due out soon, I wanted to revisit the first book, and specifically look at the possible reasons why this turned out to be one of those “love it or hate it” books. Be warned: this post contains major spoilers for The Magicians—but nothing about The Magician King.

You probably already know the basic plot summary for The Magicians. If not, “Harry Potter with college age students” is actually a fairly accurate way to sum up the plot at its most basic level. Quentin Coldwater is a very bright teenager trying to test into a good college, but instead finds himself enrolling in Brakebills, a secret magic college hidden away in upstate New York. Like many teenagers, Quentin is 1) constantly dissatisfied with the world around him, 2) insecure and a bit full of himself at the same time, and 3) quite mopey. A good chunk of the story revolves around Quentin getting used to life as a brilliant and newly independent young man in a college full of other equally brilliant magic users, but there’s a larger plot that’s at first hardly noticeable and gradually becomes more apparent as the novel progresses.

This larger plot is the main reason why I think The Magicians is an interesting read for fantasy fans, because it involves a clever meta-fictional twist. Despite his friends’ teasing, Quentin never outgrew his love for a (fictional) series of five young adult fantasy novels set in Fillory, which has—to put it mildly—a strong resemblance to Narnia. In a hint of the future, a glimpse of a (thus far) unknown sixth novel in the Fillory series quite literally draws Quentin towards Brakebills.

Later on in the novel, we learn that Fillory is actually not fictional at all. It’s a real place, Quentin and company visit it, and it turns out to be very different from the magical realm they expected. In some ways, it’s just as flawed as the real world is. Some of the seemingly infallible characters from the Fillory books turn out to be obnoxious blowhards. What’s more, the “monster” who kills a student during a Brakebills lecture that goes horribly wrong turns out to be one of the Chatwin children who visited Filllory in the books.

So what we have here is a young fantasy fan who suddenly finds himself confronted with the existence of very real magic, a reader of escapist books who becomes aware that the fiction he used as an escape is not fictional at all. While the Harry Potter comparison is obvious (and, again, totally understandable from a marketing perspective), I think it’s also appropriate to compare The Magicians to a more adult version of The Neverending Story—the original novel by Michael Ende, not the horrid film adaptation that ends more or less exactly where the book starts to get interesting. Just like Bastian Balthazar Bux, Quentin must come to terms with the fact that a fantasy that becomes real isn’t as easy to live with as one that remains safely in the realm of fiction.

Lev Grossman is doing more than just telling a story here. Indirectly, he’s having a conversation with fantasy readers about what it’s like to be a fan of stories that involve magic and alternate realities. It’s about escapism. It’s about what it means to be comfortable with something when you know that it’s a dream, a book, a wish, a movie—and then wishing you could forget what you find out when someone lifts the curtain and shows you the reality behind the fantasy. I think one of the reasons some people disliked this book is that it made them uncomfortable, but in a way that’s hard to put your finger on. As entertaining as the book is (and yes, on one level this is also simply a really fun story), underneath the surface it plays with some of the basic suppositions people have about fantasy—and it doesn’t play nice. (That’s also why I think that some people who complained that the magical realm of Fillory isn’t detailed or fleshed out enough, or that it’s too derivative of Narnia, sort of missed the point.)

Grossman also places his narrative squarely in a world where fantasy series like Harry Potter are well known. His characters occasionally show how aware they are that they’re living in something that could be construed as a Potter satire. This is usually done in a clever “look what we have to deal with in reality” way, e.g. when one of them mutters grumpily that he has to get his broom when they’re late for a match of welters, a magical competitive sport like quidditch that has absolutely nothing to do with brooms. It’s funny and a bit gimmicky, but it also highlights again the dissonance between fiction and reality that the more intelligent characters in the novel experience. Josh, who is a bit more like a frat boy, doesn’t seem to be so bothered by all of this, yelling out “let’s get some unicorns up in this piece” when things aren’t exciting enough for him. And of course there are a ton of other allusions to SF and fantasy in the book, as Lev Grossman explained on Tor.com last month.

I read The Magicians right after Jo Walton’s excellent Among Others, another recent fantasy novel that’s at the same time a wonderful story and a conversation with genre fans—albeit one with a very different tone. Among Others is an appreciative, even loving, approach to fantasy and SF, whereas The Magicians has a much darker, almost satiric edge. Among Others’ main character, Mori, is aware that magic is real and is, at the same time, a big fan of real SF and fantasy, but in her world there’s a clear separation between fiction and reality. In The Magicians, Quentin not only learns that magic is real, but also that what he thought of as fiction is real too, and that there are clear differences between the two. Mori escapes into fiction, but Quentin’s escape becomes much less effective when he finds out what the real situation is. Mori’s story is a hopeful one, whereas Quentin gradually loses every illusion he had. Maybe I’m taking the whole meta-fictional thing way too far here, but I kept wondering how Mori would react to reading The Magicians. (I imagine she’d want to bop Quentin on the head for being such a thankless whiner.)

Aside from this meta-fictional gamesmanship, Grossman also doesn’t pull any punches when showing what life may be like for a bunch of magically gifted young adults who are off their parents’ leashes for the first time. Many people have complained about how negative the main characters are, and it’s true: there aren’t many examples here of people using their skills for good, or even just being thankful for their extraordinary gifts. There’s a lot of boredom, disinterest and cynicism. The most talented ones have the blasé attitude of a gifted person who looks down on those who manage to muster some excitement about magic. There are cliques and power circles, and people stuck on the outside. And yes, as on almost any college campus, there’s a good amount of booze and casual sex. This is not a novel to read if you’re looking for faultless, likable characters, and that includes our hero Quentin, who is simply too myopic to see how lucky he is. In the middle of the novel, he sums this up very effectively by thinking “I got my heart’s desire [...] and there my troubles began,” but even earlier, well before he finds out about magic and Brakebills, we find out what Quentin’s general attitude is:

I should be happy, Quentin thought. I’m young and alive and healthy. I have good friends. I have two reasonably intact parents — viz., Dad, an editor of medical textbooks, and Mom, a commercial illustrator with ambitions, thwarted, of being a painter. I am a solid member of the middle-middle class. My GPA is a number higher than most people even realize it is possible for a GPA to be.

But walking along Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, in his black overcoat and his gray interview suit, Quentin knew he wasn’t happy. Why not? He had painstakingly assembled all the ingredients of happiness. He had performed all the necessary rituals, spoken the words, lit the candles, made the sacrifices. But happiness, like a disobedient spirit, refused to come. He couldn’t think what else to do.

Pushing things even further, the book also shows what life may be like after graduation from a magical college. Not only is a magical education nothing like what it’s made to look like in fantasy books, but just like with a real life diploma, a piece of paper doesn’t automatically lead to success and happiness. The graduates don’t turn into heroes. Instead, they set up in a bachelor pad in Manhattan and continue to drink like fish and screw around. Or they take one of the do-nothing, high-pay jobs arranged for them by Brakebills, presumably to keep them quietly comfortable so they don’t get bored and go down the Evil Genius path. Or they get banished to the Antarctic branch of the college. When Quentin meets his girlfriend’s parents, Grossman even shows a chilling example of middle-aged graduates. As hilarious as that entire scene is, it also shows two people who have become bitter, a bit unhinged, and obsessed with trivialities. Not much to look forward to, here. Again, it’s no wonder some people were turned off by this relentlessly cynical outlook, especially if they came into it expecting a slightly older Harry Potter.

The Magicians is essentially a dark novel. Go through the list of characters and you’ll find that almost all of them have their dreams and expectations shattered at some point—the ones that actually have the ability and energy to dream, that is. The Magicians is the perfect antithesis of an escapist novel: it pulls the curtain up, reveals that magic is real, and then makes it clear that even young, gifted people often don’t have it in them to use it wisely or even appreciate it. That it does this by using some of the most beloved young adult fantasy fiction as a starting point makes the experience of reading it even more disconcerting. It’s no wonder that this novel got some very extreme reviews from fantasy fans.

I approached The Magicians expecting a gimmicky “adult Harry Potter” story, and was very pleasantly surprised. Yes, it’s a novel about teenagers in a magical college, but it also has some very complex characters, genuinely surprising twists, and a level of depth I didn’t expect in the least. That The Magicians manages to remain highly accessible, readable and entertaining while delivering all of this is simply amazing. The various levels of cynicism in this novel may be hard to cope with for readers expecting a more traditionally escapist fantasy, but if you don’t mind having your expectations challenged, The Magicians delivers a very rewarding reading experience that will remain with you for a long time to come.


Stefan Raets reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. Many of his reviews can be found at Fantasy Literature.

27 comments
Matt Wright
1. matty42
I am really looking forward to the sequel, as I loved this book and its take on magic and the real world.

Besides which, right outside my classroom at the school where I teach is a tree that looks just like the one on the cover.
Suzanne Earley
2. SuzanneEarley
The link to Grossman's previous article about the allusions is broken, the correct link is: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2011/07/a-brief-guide-to-the-hidden-allusions-in-the-magicians

I recently read this, and a week later, I still can't decide if I liked it or not. I think maybe the fact that Fillory seemed to be so obviously Narnia, that it pulled me out and made me uncomfortable. It was definitely challenging, and I am looking forward to reading the sequel, to see where it leads, for good or for ill.
Stefan Raets
3. Stefan
Thanks for the heads-up about the link - I just fixed it!
dwndrgn
4. dwndrgn
I didn't like this novel precisely for the reasons you state: the characters are unlikeable, cynical and the 'real' fantasy part felt very pasteboardish, as if the author wants to convince the main characters that all this magical realm is real but wants the reader to see the two-by-fours holding up the shop fronts...

I like to escape and this didn't do it for me. Real life has no happy endings so I have to get them from the fiction I read.
dwndrgn
5. iamboogie
I hated this book because of Quentin's privileged navel-gazing. You're right; the characters are unlikeable. The overt classism of the book angered me; the exact reason they're unhappy stems from their privilege. Who can understand the true value of something if it is handed to them and they never have to ask for it?

My favorite part of the book was the move into Fillory and the darkness it contained; the meta-critique worked well, for me. If you're a miserable sot with a myopic view of the world, you'll only reap the same from your life. That's a fine theme that runs through the book. The only trouble is, for all its educated flourishing about this idea, the book itself is myopic. If you move into a world where the only real scale of economy is the ability to do magic, Quentin is already at the top, no matter his struggles. And from the sound of it, "The Magician King" will go on dealing Quentin Coldwater a privileged hand.
Church Tucker
6. Church
I wonder if people who don't like this also dislike "A Song of Ice and Fire." Different sub-genres, but similar tones.
james loyd
7. gaijin
"I imagine she’d want to bop Quentin on the head for being such a thankless whiner."

I liked the book, but can anyone read it without wanting to do that?

My biggest complaint about The Magicians involves the drinking. Not the fact that everybody drinks (and believe me they do...heavily...all the time), but there's no reason other than pretension to bother specifically naming all the various drinks as if anybody cares what type of wine they drank way too much of for every single occasion.
David Belliveau
8. avenmagi
@Church

I strongly disliked this book but love "A Song of Fire & Ice." For me the tone of "The Magicians" had nothing to do with my dislike for the book. I love realist/dark takes on fantasy. For me the difference is that this book just seemed to be cynical for the sake of being cynical. Martin's series has likable characters like the Imp and Jon Snow. So even though those characters have rough times and face impending death at various points a reader becomes emotionally attached to them and wants the characters to overcome the odds against them.

In Grossman's book the only emotion I felt about the characters was a strong disire for them to face impending death so they could all die. For me this book is best summed up by a quote that appears near the end of the novel "Sure you can live out your dreams, but it'll only turn you into a monster. Better to stay home nd do card tricks in your bedroom instead." It one thing to be cynical, it is another to have that quote be the moral of your story.
dwndrgn
9. hapax
I didn't particularly like this book (I have no fondness for pretentious fanfic/foefic presented under the guise of "metafiction") but I like even less the tone of admiring reviews like this -- which basically state that if I don't like it, it's because I'm "uncomfortable" with having my "suppositions" about genre "challenged", that I prefer my childish "escapism", that I'm not as grown-up and deep and aware as the author (and reviewer) about how nasty and squamous life and humanity REALLY are.

The possibility that a reader might find unpleasant characters, smug prose, derivative world-building, and a premise built upon juvenile snook-cocking masquerading as world-weary cynicism sufficient reasons to dislike a book seems to baffle such reviewers, forcing them to play Junior Psycho-analyst over a simple difference in reading tastes.
Stefan Raets
10. Stefan
@4.dwndrgn - Fair enough, and you're definitely not the only person who felt this way about the book. I love a good escapist novel to sink my teeth into as much as you do.

@5.iamboogie - "If you're a miserable sot with a myopic view of the world, you'll only reap the same from your life. That's a fine theme that runs through the book." Very well put. (But having just finished reading The Magician King, I think you'll be in for some surprises as far as Quentin's privileged hand in the sequel.)

@6.Church - The cynicism is common in the two, but I think it's an entirely different sort of cynicism, and there are many other differences. @8.avenmagi's comment says it perfectly.

@7.gaijin - I can only imagine that Lev Grossman enjoys his fine wine and spirits! I actually didn't mind the name-dropping of all those beverages, it didn't jump out at me at all while reading the novel, but after reading your comment I think I might not be able to un-notice it when I reread the novel...

@8. I agree with you re: the difference between ASOAIF and The Magicians. Regarding the level of cynicism here, I understand how you feel - people have different levels of tolerance for this type of darkness and cynicism, much like some people only need one or two drinks to get tipsy. When it comes to darkness, pessimism and cynicism, I can stand a lot before I'm under the table :)

@9.hapax - I do obviously love this novel, but I didn't mean to offer a value judgment - "escapism bad, cynicism good" - just to point out how strongly this novel falls on one end of the spectrum, and maybe to warn away people who prefer their reading material trending more towards the other end. If that came across as value judgment on my part, it was unintended. I don't expect you or anyone else to know which other books I've read and reviewed here and elsewhere, but let me assure you, I love a good, fun, well-told escapist fantasy as much as anything else. So, no value judgments here. It's all good. (And, completely unrelated - thank you for introducing me to the wonderful term "snoop-cocking".)
Eli Bishop
11. EliBishop
I'm perplexed by how so many people are describing all the characters as unpleasant, unlikeable, etc. Quentin does come across as kind of a putz, although I think a lot of that is just because he's the viewpoint character, and it's hard for a viewpoint character not to sound self-involved unless they have no insecurities at all. Eliot and Janet are reckless lushes, but they're understandable and entertaining and they do the right thing at some important times. Penny is a hothead, but interesting. Josh is decent, if not that interesting. And why no love for Alice? The only thing wrong with Alice is that she puts up with Quentin.
Church Tucker
12. Church
Quentin does come across as kind of a putz, although I think a lot of that is just because he's the viewpoint character, and it's hard for a viewpoint character not to sound self-involved unless they have no insecurities at all.
I think that's the issue. There's plenty of purely sympathetic characters in The Magicians, but none of them (unlike with GRRM) are POV. I'm OK with that, although I can see it being a difficulty for others.
dwndrgn
13. nlowery71
I haven't read this one, so I can't say whether I'd like it, but doesn't it seem like a lot of literary writers borrow sf themes for the purpose of explaining how bad things would be if this stuff was real? Like The Road, which seems to set out to tell us how the end of the world would be really sucky, not fun and adventury like in The Stand. Do they really think readers don't know that?

The Magicians probably has more going on for it than just that, but sometimes it seems like some literary authors approach sf/f like it's a different language. I had a college professor like that -- he wrote really weird stories himself, but when faced with literal magic or science fiction tropes, he was completely baffled. It wasn't that he didn't like it. He just didn't get it. The entire class would have to explain it to him.
M F
14. Madeline
I think iamboogie is exactly right, particularly with this:
"The only trouble is, for all its educated flourishing about this idea, the book itself is myopic."

Except I found it darkly amusing that Grossman, while clear-sightedly illuminating various skeletons in fantasy's closet, seemed blithely unaware of the those of litfic. For instance, did he notice that there were other parts of the US than New York and other people than Yankees? The one trip the characters make to, what was it, Ohio? was just to demonstrate that anything outside of the Ivy League lifestyle was a continuous coast to coast mush to be shunned. This was sold to me as "so, all those books about an middle-aged white professor of humanities who has a relationship/professional crisis? De-age him 25 years and add magic" and I'm glad it was, since that left me free to notice the quite well-done worldbuilding around the edges. Of course the characters aren't going to leave New York and do anything interesting like work for a living. It's litfic! Their only option is to angst, up on their pedestals that we're supposed to all be looking at!
dwndrgn
15. Robert Sparling
Does everyone here simply not get it? The Magicians is brilliant, mostly for the reasons you seem to be stating caused you to dislike it.

You level the accusation that the charactes are unlikable: correct. Quentin is unlikable. Eliot is an unhappy bastard. Janet is unfullfilled. Even Alice is in constant fear of becoming like her parents and thus, her neurosis tends to make up a lot of her personality. We hate her weakness. The point here, is that Grossman created people, not characters. Real, screwed up people, who happen to be at a college for magic. Maybe we all don't remember high school, but self-obsessed narcissism was the norm for eveyone. This is how teenagers act. How they do not act is Harry Potter-ish, a character who was written as if he was 12 for the first 6 books of his series.

The navel gazing, the myopic vision of the main character and his obsession with escapist fantasy (even after he is within a magical fantasy) is intentionally highlighting the fact that magic doesn't change who you are. If you're a snot before Brakebills, you're a snot when you get there. It's a direct correlation to the idea of priviledge and classism; magic puts them at a higher level than everyone else, yet Eliot is still an alcoholic, Janet's still in love with a gay man and starving for affection, Penny refuses to grow up, and Quentin is simply lost. He has no idea what to do. He hits an existential impasse that half the population of college grads hit right after they get the diploma. "Now what?" He searches for meaning, blinds himself to a loving relationship, and then dives head first into a poorly planned venture into Fillory because he can't think of what else to do.

Magic isn't the point of this book. Magic is commentary, it's trapping. It's like winning the lotto, which history has shown can really ruin your life: it looks like a great idea but has some hidden snags. The Magicians shatters fantasy tradition because it's NOT meant to be escapist. It's an accusation against the fantasy reader who has become too concerned with the gilt of fantasy, the pretty little details, and not the story itself. The game at Brakebills is a perfect example of Grossman's winking at the reader and cracking wise at Poter-philes. Look at how complex the game is, how silly and detailed, and yet fairly inconsequential to the story. Most students don't even want to play it because they think it's passe. The kind of reader that spent hours going over the Quidditch rules, bought rule book, played the video game, this is the reader Grossman is poking fun at it. Hence the broom reference.

For anyone who doubts, you do indeed get to see the character change, through horror. This isn't the heroes journey because it's not supposed to be. This was a loss of innocence. Quentin's priviledge, his magic, becomes impotent since he can't fight with it well, can't save his friends, can't even get a magic wish to fix things with. He is cast down at the end of the book, wiser for all that he's lost but afraid of it, hiding in the simple job they give him. His illusions are stripped away by his experiences, which are echoed by the Fillory/Narnia connection: it's a world thought innocent, until reality asserts itself.

I'm sure many of you will say "But I read fantasy to escape." I will say you're bad readers. A Good story should always be the point of reading, a refreshing one even better. An unlikable character is your issue? Is Lolita a bad novel because the character is a monster? No. The complexity of the work relies on that character being one, and then making the reader follow him through his perversions. A character is just a part of the whole, the story being the whole.

I think you're short-changing yourselves by not giving this book a thorough enough read. I'm glad to see the author of the article seems to understand.
Mike Hurley
16. Courior
@15
I agree with you about everything other then Quentin ending up wiser at the end of the book and that readers who have a problem are bad readers.

On the first point Quentin constantly blames outward forces for his unhappiness. Every time we see him nearly grasp that his problems stem from himself, he turns to a new venture or blames an outward force. In many ways this makes him as human as the rest of us but also as aggravating as a character in a slasher movie. In many ways you could probably look at all literary novels as emotional slashers.

Quentin at the start of the novel is about to make the breakthrough that his life is grey and boring because hes depressed not that hes depressed because life is grey and boring. And along comes Brakebills and Fillory. By end of the novels hes blaming magic and Fillory for his depression. If you look back over the novel you realise everything would have gone easier if he didn't allow his fear of tackling his inner demons to force him to search for real demons.

On the bad reader front I'd say that not every book is written for every reader and the ones that are, are pretty boring to talk about(regardless of how fun they are to read).
Juliet Kestrel
17. Juliet_Kestrel
I have mixed feelings about this book.

As a reader I tend to get emotionally caught up in the book, any book, regardless of whether or not I like it. I felt like this book was well crafted and intellectually stimulating, but left me with an emotional hang-over for several days. In response to another comment, I am reading A Song of Ice and Fire for the first time with Leigh Butler here at Tor.com, and I am having trouble shaking my emotional reaction with only two chapters a week. I can’t imagine what those books would do me if I allowed myself to get sucked through it in a weekend like I did with The Magicians. Although, as also mentioned above I find myself rooting for the characters more in ASOIF.

So how can I honestly tell myself that I liked a book if it left me feeling so blah? OTOH I really appreciated what the author did, and found myself examining my fantasy fiction habits, especially the ones I read as a kid.

I haven’t decided if I will be reading the next one or not. I probably will eventually. I have a compulsive need to know “what happens next.” Maybe not until after I am done with ASOIF, I certainly can’t handle both those series at once, and god forbid Thomas Covenant pop up.
Eli Bishop
18. EliBishop
Courior @16: Those are really great points, and well put, especially the last sentence. Thanks.
dwndrgn
19. skabat
@15 We're bad readers for wanting a different reading experience than you do? Really?

To me, this book is akin to a romance novel where everyone lives in NY, is miserable, ends up getting divorces and living unhappily with cats, and saying it's a lesson for those who read romance novels. It's the writer who's missing the point.

Adult readers aren't children who need to be schooled on what fantasy is. We get that real life is different from fantasy. And those of us who love fantasy understand that the difference is a valuable one, and both kinds of experiences are to be treasured.
Stefan Raets
20. Stefan
There are no bad readers (he said primly). I'm sure some people didn't "get" the whole meta-fictional thing, and despite this enjoyed the novel, and that's fine. I'm also sure many people got it, and didn't like the book anyway, and that's fine too. I'm reasonably sure that many people who read this book weren't even aware of the overt and covert Narnia parallels. Doesn't mean it can't still be an enjoyable read. When Lev Grossman posted his list of references (the link's in my article), I discovered that I'd missed TONS of them, even some of the ones that referred back to books I'd read (like the Dothraki Sea from ASOIAF). Still loved the book.

Regarding likeable or unlikeable characters - I'm the kind of reader who doesn't mind highly unlikeable characters, antiheroes, and a generally cynical tone. Some people do mind those things. One of my best friends, whose taste I respect immensely, was completely turned off by the negativity in this book. Fine. De gustibus and all that. It's not about being a good or bad reader - it's about finding the books you like.
dwndrgn
21. Rosalind
Quentin was hard to take, but what struck me was that the author was speaking from Quentin's perspective - and being completely honest. There was no filter for his thoughts and feelings. How many of us would be likable young adults if people could hear our every jealous or self-satisfied opinion? Quentin must have been a lot more affable on the outside to win the love of Alice.
I chose this novel for my book club and was shocked by the polarized views it created. I read it purely for the terrific story and was not prepared for how it would impact the Narnia fans!
John Adams
22. JohnArkansawyer
This book satisfied me, a fantasy for people who don't read much "Fantasy".

I recommended it to my housemate, who reads a lot of diferent things but not much SF (my exposition as we watched the dreadful but pretty Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer seemed to aid her enjoyment, or at least her understanding, of the movie), and she really liked it, too.
John Adams
23. JohnArkansawyer
By the way, I've never read these "Narnia" books you all talk about. It's my understanding that by the end of the series, the author condemns a young girl to eternal damnation for, well, being a girl. How would those of you who've read them contrast that with Grossman's treatment of Alice?
dwndrgn
24. Robert Sparling
@23 Alice kind of gets condemned for being smart and brave enough to figure out how to kill Martin Chatwin (Martin right?), but I don't see the authorial intention to condemn her the way Lewis did Susan. I think she was just the only one with enough smarts to pull it off. You have to remember that Lewis wrote from a Christian persepctive and his allelgories are not subtle. I think it went something like "she had started to wear lipstick and notice boys, so no more fun adventure for you, and by adventure I mean heaven."

And to anyone else who mentioned it, what I mean by "bad readers" is that you're saying the book isn't very good for the wrong reasons. The people who seem to hate it because it's set in NY; sorry, but Kansas doesn't have an internatonal world capital, great lakes, a tradition of excellent colleges, two great baseball teams, historic architecture, nor a hilled wildreness to hide a magic school in. I get tired of shows set in NYC as much you do, but the character was born in Brooklyn, and that was probably meant to contrast heavily with their trip to Fillory, magical woodsy kingdom that it is. You're hating the book because of your own bias against NY, which means you aren't giving it a fair review. You went in hating it and now you're complaining because it's what you wanted to do in the first place. Enjoy. The internet was made for you.

Whether you like it or not isn't my concern. As someone up top pointed out, there were plenty of people who recognized the skill in writing this book that probably didn't enjoy it. My problem is that when someone says a book is "bad" because they didn't like a character, or a setting, they're tossing the whole work under the bus. As written, Magicians is a very intelligent work, layered with commentary and meaning and even a few jibes at fantasy readers. It perfectly describes the experience of being a teenager, grounding in reality a fantastic world, populated by honest character studies.

You don't like it due to preference, fine and say so. But don't knock this book into the bin with Danielle Steel just because you're not bothering with a close read.
M F
25. Madeline
Bless your heart, Robert Sparling, I hadn't realized that I was one of the "bad readers" who "just don't get" the brilliance of The Magicians. It is completely adorable to hear about how I'm not bothering with a close read from someone who didn't read these comments closely enough to notice that I didn't dislike the book. The internet was made for both of us!

I get that your opinion is that litfic is full of "honest character studies". Maybe you've even met people like those in the book! For me, it's nice to meet an actual representative of the people who support the litfic genre. But you're not distant enough from it to be able to grasp whether or not Grossman has escaped that box.

Yours is the sort of classic flamerant that makes me fondly remember my earliest days online.
John Adams
26. JohnArkansawyer
Madeline @ 14: I don't agree with this part of what you say:

The one trip the characters make to, what was it, Ohio? was just to demonstrate that anything outside of the Ivy League lifestyle was a continuous coast to coast mush to be shunned.


It's not "flyover country" that Grossman is showing us here, but the bleakness of any life without purpose. From that point of view, Ohio and New York City are effectively the same thing. I don't think Grossman makes barhopping in Manhattan all that attractive, either.
Chris Palmer
27. cmpalmer
I loved the book and I was surprised at the sharp polarization of the reviews on Amazon.

I wouldn't call anyone a bad reader. I do, however, think that people who only read (or at least enjoy) books with likeable characters and happy endings are missing some great literature. They won't run out of things to read, but it's kind of like only liking one type of food and never trying anything else.

I described it on Facebook this way:
Just finished "The Magicians" by Lev Grossman today at lunch. Cool book, but not for everyone. It's basically like Harry Potter, if Hogwarts was a small college in New York, the main characters were all foul-mouthed, alcoholic, disaffected slackers, and after graduation, they go to Narnia and screw things up, as written by Brett Easton Ellis. It is about magic, but it's also about realizing your every fantasy and still not being happy.

Three of my FB friends immediately went and bought the book based on my description.

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