2014 Book #21: The Magicians

2014 Book #21: The Magicians

magiciansI’d seen The Magicians around the internet, marketed as a sort of Harry Potter for adults. It’s the first of yet another wizardy series, and despite my best judgment (and having read all of the Game of Thrones books available), I checked it out from the library.

Here’s what happens: Harry Potter goes to Hogwarts, graduates, and goes to Narnia with some friends.

Except Harry’s name is Quentin, Hogwarts is Brakebills, and Narnia is Fillory. I’m sure you can figure out the rest of the plot. Seriously. That is the plot of this novel. Ugh. Really, it was all fine until one of his friends showed up saying he found a way into Fillory, about three-quarters through the novel. It was just a rehash of Harry Potter, but with some sex and alcohol added, so you know they’re older. There almost nothing original in the whole thing – it was just mindlessly entertaining until the downright stupidity of the Fillory adventure.

It’s also full of crazy plot holes. Here’s one of many: Each Brakebills class is composed of twenty students. After their first semester, Quentin and Alice (eventually his girlfriend) are inexplicably selected to skip into the second half of their second year. Later, when they graduate, there are twenty students in their class. What happened to the other two? The Magicians is full of annoying little holes like that. Lev Grossman also finds weird ways of using the “show, don’t tell” formula – like Quentin randomly goes into some sort of sunroom where he’d been hanging out, only to find his friend Eliot giving a blowjob to some unnamed, sinister-sounding kid. I thought something bad must be going down at school, but no, Eliot is just gay. That’s it: Grossman just found a really awkward, uncomfortable way of showing that this kid likes dudes – which isn’t even a thing in the book. Eliot’s sexual preference has nothing to do with anything important. No idea.

I have a feeling that The Magicians has been edited: I bet it was thinly veiled fanfiction about Harry Potter finding Narnia, then some publisher saying, sure, we’ll publish it, just change some names so we don’t get sued. Isn’t that how Fifty Shades of Grey happened? Even if it didn’t start out as fanfiction, it’s entirely derivative. Of the whole novel, there’s only one part I thought was interesting: during their fourth year, the class disappears for a semester, and no one will say why. One night, Quentin is woken up by a professor, he and his class are taken to a balcony at the top of the tower, and told to disrobe, after which they are thrown off the building as they turn into geese. They fly all the way to Antarctica for a few months. That part is original (as far as I can tell) and interesting. The rest of the book is pure wizard formula. And all of the Fillory crap is just plain dumb.

I’m so disappointed in The Magicians. My expectations weren’t high, but they weren’t this low, either. It’s just a really bad book written to capitalize on the nostalgia of 20-somethings. It would be fine if this book stood out in any way, but the characters are flat, and all of the descriptions are firmly rooted in the collective memories of Narnia and Harry Potter readers. Maybe I’m just a little too old, and maybe I’m not a big enough fan of Narnia. The more I think about it, the less I like this book, and I already disliked it. Ugh. This is a series I probably won’t be finishing – though I think I said that about The Hunger Games, too.

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  • If that’s how you choose to look at it, literally everything is derivative.
    Here’s what happens: Hamlet goes to Africa, becomes a lion and then his father is killed by his uncle. Seriously. That is the plot of the Lion King.

    The fantasy tropes you’re recognizing are there for a reason. They’re helping to set your expectations of how a “book like this should go” so that Lev Grossman can cheekily subvert your expectations as well as those of his characters. The entire series is a pseudo-satirical deconstruction of and love letter to the works of which it is “derivative”. Try approaching the series in the mindset that the whole thing is meant to be meta.

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