Revisiting The Magicians

William Myrl, Matthew Thomas
Staff Writers

With a TV adaptation currently airing its fourth season on SYFY, a fifth well underway, and BOOM! Studios warming up the presses for a graphic novel prequel set to release this summer, it seems that the time is ripe to take a look back at the New York Times best-seller that inverted the relationship between fantasy and escapism- and just about everything else we thought we knew about magic along the way.

The Magicians, written by Lev Grossman and published a decade ago by Viking and Penguin Books, has been called, “Harry Potter for adults.” While it is a bit like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, where Hogwarts takes a background role to outside threats and teenage angst, “The Magicians” brings along new kinds of twists and turns that will leave older readers hungry for more. Lev Grossman handles all of the educational business in the first half of the first book, and the remainder of the series is a portrait of existential malaise that spans universes.

If a book can be judged by how much it makes us feel, then The Magicians succeeds in manners both terrible and great. I was deeply invested in our brilliant and morose children’s-book-loving protagonist Quentin Coldwater, and more so in his relationship with Alice, an extremely talented magician seeking the truth behind her brother’s death. I experienced their mutual betrayals with an intensity that nearly stopped me from reading any further. The primary characters seem to be competing for a prize in churlish dickery. A hard group to love, and yet love them I did. Everyone is a bit broken, and Lev Grossman should be applauded for staying true to his characters’ faults, even when it hurts.

The writing in Grossman’s debut novel is stronger and prettier than I’ve come to expect from the New Adult novels, even if his explanation for the existence of a secret magical world beneath our own is pat for the emerging genre. After graduation, magicians become nihilists. When magic can give them anything they want, nothing it gives them has value.

Because of this dissatisfaction, the inner-workings of coping with mental health becomes a big part of the story. What Brakebills needs most is not to defeat the Beast or the Niffin, but to provide better counseling services to its students. Roughly 100 percent of the student body suffers from one or more personality or mood disorders, and much of the story is spent investigating what those kinds of traits can mean for superheroes.
For me, “The Magicians” was a book that I just couldn’t put down, but I’ll never read it again. It was too stressful. Instead, I recommend tuning in to SyFy at 9pm EST to catch the original series based on the books, which is a little easier to digest.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment

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