Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Magicians

As the last novel in Lev Grossman's trilogy has been released to rave reviews, I decided to read the first in the series, The Magicians. Some describe this novel as "Harry Potter in college," and that's not a bad tagline for the plot. Imagine more cynical versions of Harry, Ron, Hermione and friends at college with the concerns of that age group: drugs, alcohol and sex, with only magical studies to differentiate them from their peers at, say, Dartmouth.

As the story begins, Quentin, the main character, is preparing for his Princeton interview but is instead offered an opportunity to enroll in a mysterious magical college. Of course, he accepts and the rest of the story concerns his adventures at Brakebills, hidden in upstate New York and reached through magical portals.

But Brakebills is not Hogwarts, and Quentin is not embarked on a quest to save the magical world from an evil wizard. Indeed, Quentin has no quest at all, which contributes to his general sense of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. As a child, Quentin became obsessed with a series of books set in the fantasy world of Fillory (basically C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia). We learn of this obsession at the very beginning of the story, and if this novel has a theme, here it is:

"But there was a more seductive, more dangerous truth to Fillory that Quentin couldn't let go of. It was almost like the Fillory books -- especially the first one, The World in the Walls -- were about reading itself. When the oldest Chatwin, melancholy Martin, opens the cabinet of the grandfather clock that stands in a dark, narrow back hallway in his aunt's house and slips through into Fillory (Quentin always pictured him awkwardly pushing aside the pendulum, like the uvula of a monstrous throat), it's like he's opening the covers of a book, but a book that did what books always promised to do and never actually did: get you out, really out of where you were and into somewhere better."
Therein lies the heart of Quentin's journey into self-discovery, and one I look forward to reading more about in the second book of the trilogy.

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