Friday, July 01, 2011

"The Magicians" by Lev Grossman



Do you ever go to the library with an idea of what you want to check out, but the minute you walk into the stacks, you blank?

It happens to me all the time. I know exactly what I want before I get there, and then I walk into the building and I'm overwhelmed. I begin to aimlessly peruse, hoping to remember what it was I wanted, but I never do.

Images will flicker, but they usually dissipate before I can grasp them again.

I was smart this past library visit and had my Goodreads list ready on my iPod loaded up.

One of the books I grabbed was "The Magicians" by Lev Grossman. After I had read "Harry Potter," this one intrigued me, not because the reviews (all over the place) call this "an adult Harry Potter," but because it actually sounded interesting in and of itself. You read one story where teenagers go to school to learn magic and you just want to read more of them.

It's like all those people out there that can't get enough of their vampire romances.

I won't compare "The Magicians" to "Harry Potter" at all. It's fun how he will mention the J.K. Rowling series, nodding to an element, but the characters are merely "winking" and saying how that is a fictional world, whereas their's is the real one. I'm afraid to mention anything too modern in my own writing, and although the "Potter" series has pretty much transcended time and culture, I liked that Grossman wasn't afraid to go ahead and mention it, as he did J.R.R. Tolkien's works (which are older and even more timeless). I'm always afraid to mention popular culture while writing because I'm afraid it'll date the story.

"The Magicians" is the non-fantasy readers fantasy. It dips you in one leg at a time, like you're getting into a cold pool. It's something you may not be used to, but Grossman doesn't go crazy until the end, when it's in full-blown fantasy mode, and at that point, you're ready.

Unlike reading China Mieveille's "Embassytown," where you're thrown into the pool. Head first.

We've got our main character Quinton who's a miserable young chap. He's a brilliant lad who's followed the path to super-smartdom. On his way there, he realizes he's just waiting for something bigger and better to fall in his lap, but since he knows it won't happen, he's settling for being super-smart and getting into an Ivy League school. We find he loves a children's fantasy series of books called "Fillory and Further" and wishes for that magical life. "Fillory and Further" is also a very hefty nod to Mr. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia." Grossman summarizes the plots of the five books, and it's so Narnian. In a good way.

He obtains a certain document (which becomes important later), but a piece of it blows off. He follows it into a dying, winter garden. Then, all of a sudden it's summer out. There's a large field in front of him leading to a giant mansion. A guy is about to smoke a cigarette and Quinton's thought's are "Whaaa?"

The smoker, Eliot, takes Quinton up to the mansion and he finds out that he's just in time for the entrance exam.

And of course, he makes it in.

To Quinton's amusement, magic is real, but only the smartest of the smart can learn it. He feels he's finally found where he belongs. He finds a new set of friends. They practice magic together. It's a fast ride through his 5 years at Brakebills (the school) and throughout Quinton continues to be a moody character. Really, he's kind of unlikable. Not to the point where you have to stop reading the book. He grows on you. And then you just want to slap the S.O.B.

Most of the people in the book are actually a bit detestable. We find that magic isn't this amazing thing, but a horrible weight to bare. It can break you.

Toward the last 100 pages of the novel, we actually come to find out that the Narnian-ish world of Fillory is real. And the characters go there. And you know what else travels with them? All of their baggage.

The book has it's fair share of drinking, with some relational-situations (if you know what I mean) thrown in, so it's definitely an adult novel. Would I call it adult Harry Potter? Not so much. It's dark, not Cormac McCarthy dark, but still fairly dark. And it deals with a lot of emotional situations that make sense more to adults than they would to teenagers and kids. Whereas the reader kind of got to watch Harry grow, we're dealing with adults from the get-go here.

The main theme, it seemed, was dealing with your choices. Where can your good choices lead you? And even if you've made a good choice, how are you going to respond to it? Will you be entirely happy? Or are you going to constantly wish to see both sides of the coin? And of course it showcases the consequences of bad choices.

The only thing I wish Grossman did, although at the same time, I'm kind of glad he didn't, was build more on his mythology. He has created his own rules to this fantasy world and although he doesn't bore you with too many details, a little bit more of that mythology would've been nice. Not out-right explanations, but something...a little more history, maybe?

I'm sure we're going to be getting it because a sequel comes out later this year called "The Magician King."

And if you know me, I love a good series...