Home Arts & Lit The Magicians – Lev Grossman

The Magicians – Lev Grossman


Chloe Glassonbury was initially disappointed by Lev Grossman’s novel, but as she started to consider it in a different light she began to change her mind…

magiciansI first picked up Lev Grossman’s 2009 novel The Magicians because it had been widely described in reviews as the adult Harry Potter. Unfortunately, this preconception coloured my reading of the book, so that it wasn’t until I neared the end that I finally appreciated its intricate depth and worth. I loved Harry Potter. I loved the spells, the bravery, the beautiful settings, the friendship and the great adventures to defeat an evil enemy. The Magicians failed to live up to each and every enchanting aspect of Harry Potter for me.

The setting is cold and unspectacular. The magic is completely bizarre and feels incoherent and unpolished. For almost the entirety of the novel there is no sense of an enemy to be defeated, so that the plot lacks pace or purpose. And most crucially, the characters are wholly disappointing – they are timid and afraid, they are cruel and egotistical, they are unambitious and whining. There is no sense that the characters are in any way admirable, brave, or appreciative of the world which they are lucky enough to find themselves in. But The Magicians is not Harry Potter, and it should never be judged by the same standards. Instead, the novel has a depth and a purpose beyond what its title suggests, and reads far better when viewed as a reaction to the ubiquity of magical worlds in children’s literature, as well as the many imperfections of humanity in general.

The novel follows Quentin Coldwater through early adulthood, a period he spends at Brakebills Academy learning magic, competing with and befriending other highly intelligent students, and generally cultivating an irrational sense of disappointment at his extraordinary life. Quentin’s ambitions are dominated by an overwhelming desire for something more; just as modern society constantly desires and promotes greater wealth, greater celebrity and greater happiness, Quentin feels unsatisfied with the magical world that he has stepped in to, and instead strives for the life in the Narnia-esque fantasy novels that he grew up reading. Quentin’s dissatisfaction with his lot never ceases, and his consequent deterioration makes for an interesting, if frustrating read. The magic and fantasy elements to the novel veil a much deeper story with implications for humanity, giving The Magicians worth and application beyond what its genre may suggest.

If you’re looking for an exciting fantasy read, a novel filled with adventure and suspense, or a magical world with the depth of Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia, The Magicians won’t be for you. However, if you are interested in exploring how a fantasy can acknowledge and startlingly display many of the faults of human-kind and modern society, then The Magicians makes for a compelling read.

Chloe Glassonbury, Books Team

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