Tag: Lev Grossman

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Posted April 29, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Fantasy / 4 Comments

The Magicians by Lev GrossmanTitle: The Magicians (Goodreads)
Author: Lev Grossman
Series: The Magicians #1
Published: Thorndike Press, 2009
Pages: 691
Genres: Fantasy
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Quentin Coldwater is about to graduate high school; his future is catching up with him.  Suddenly an offer to a very exclusive private college has become a real possibility, but this is no ordinary university, this is a school of magic. Not only will Quentin have the normal college experience of sex, love, booze and friendship, he will also discover his magical abilities. Not just a coming-of-age novel, Quentin will also discover that the world of Fillory from a children’s fantasy series he obsesses over is very real.

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians on the surface reads like a cliché fantasy novel but there is something deeper here. If you think of The Magicians as a homage to series like Harry Potter, The Golden Compass and Narnia, you can focus on the coming-of-age element of the novel. I found similarities to The Neverending Story but if I looked deeper I would say this is more of a magical version of The Catcher in the Rye. Quentin Coldwater follows the Holden Caulfield archetype, full of angst, self-loathing and all the normal teenage boy awkwardness, almost to the point where he could be considered an antihero.

Quentin not only has to work through his new found magical abilities, this only takes a side plot to what is really happening in The Magicians. The novel depicts and often amplifies the prototypical teenage boy experience, the depression, angst and emotional carelessness. The idea of magic being a gift turns out to be more a curse for Quentin. Unlike Harry Potter this novel looks at the magic being a curse, choosing Brakebills to get an education was possibly a downfall in his adolescent life, or at least that would be how Quentin will view it.

This is not an escapist novel; in many cases The Magicians is anti-fantasy. Viewing magic as a curse was an interesting way to view life and the fantasy genre. While it does this in a very interesting way, the homage to children’s fantasy novels was a bit over the top, while trying to avoid being a cliché; it ended up falling face first into the formulaic. I would have liked to explore the ideas of education and growing up with a gift/curse more than the actual fantasy elements but that might have risked alienating the target audience.

The Magicians is not without its flaws; in fact this novel could have been so much better if it took a more focused approach. The coming of age elements were interesting, the homage and Fillory parts of the novel were annoying and I think it would have worked out better without them. If the next books in the series continue to explore magic as a curse, I will gladly read it but I’m not interested in the Fillory story arch.