This week I’m reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Before I go on, let me state that I only read books I like. If after a few chapters I’m bored, I won’t finish the book. Given that, the books I discuss on this blog, are books I like. (Even if it doesn’t always seem that way.)
I was intrigued when I heard The Magicians described as a Harry Potter for adults—and I would certainly agree, it’s not for children. What’s my take on it? Well…
In The Magicians, Quentin, the main character, is invited to attend Breakbills, a college for magicians. At Breakbills, Quentin, along with other extremely bright students, learn that magic is more about hard work and technique, than talent. Although, only that spark (that unknown quality) allows them to become real magicians.
Like other good fictional protagonists, Harry Potter among them, Quentin doesn’t fit in. At least, he feels like he doesn’t. He’s fixated with a Narnia-like series of books about a magical place called Fillory. If only, Quentin thinks, he could live in Fillory, he would be happy. So, when he’s invited to attend Breakbills, it seems like the next best thing. Breakbills is a college for magicians. Real magicians—not your David Copperfield variety. And if only that was the answer.
But it isn’t.
Grossman does his best to take the magic out of magic (at least, that was my impression). Breakbills is hard work, and in his sophomore year when Quentin joins a group of kids called the Physicals, it also becomes a place of hard liquor, drugs and sex. Your typical college adventure.
Somehow, Quentin, and the rest of the Physicals, even though they seem to be wasted ninety percent of the time, manage to graduate from Breakbills. They head off into adulthood, back into the real world and with Quentin still managing to hang on to the hope that if only he could live in Fillory, he would be happy—since Breakbills didn’t do it for him. Well, low and behold, Fillory is a real and Quentin and his still wasted pals manage to find their way in. Quentin is in Fillory, he’s even given a quest, but he still isn’t happy.
At 75 pages from the end, give or take a few (I’m reading this on my iPad, so pages remaining depends on font size), Quentin is still a sniveling, whiney, unlikable lead character. Which is what his girlfriend, Alice (the least often inebriated Physical kid in the group) finally points out. Basically, she says (and I’m not quoting), I love you, Quentin, but stop being such a boob! The world’s not waiting to hand you happiness on a silver platter. You’re in Fillory; if you can’t be happy now, you never will be. And, if I’m not mistaken, that’s the moral of Lev Grossman’s story. Don’t spend your life thinking you’d be happy if only… Rather, be happy right now (or at least, choose not to be so miserable).
I couldn’t agree more!
I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that while there was much to like and dislike about the book, the last 75 pages were worth the wait. I wrote much of this review before the very best part of the book (Sorry, Lev Grossman). Did Quentin redeem himself? Well, not exactly, but the action was great and Grossman threw in some interesting curveballs to tie everything together. I admire Grossman for taking Harry Potter and the world of Narnia, turning them sideways, if not totally upside down, and creating a very “human” magical adventure.
I might even read the sequel: The Magician King—but not yet, because now I’m reading The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan.