Six impossible things before breakfast.

A library science student's perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


I thought Lev Grossman's novel, The Magicians, was a very good read. The main character, Quentin Coldwater, is like one of those characters from "classic" children's fantasy literature by C.S. Lewis, E. Nesbit, or J.M. Barrie all grown up who's turned sarcastic and bitter towards the world. Quentin starts out as an ordinary high school student--or so he thinks--until he is recruited to attend Brakebills, a college for magic, located in upstate New York. The book races through Quentin's four years at Brakebills, where he is joined by a cast of fellow troubled students who would fit in just fine at any four year institution. The real adventures begin after Quentin graduates, when he's left behind the safety and security of a school he's come to think of as home and has to try to come to terms with what it means to be a magician in the real world.

As a child, Quentin grew up reading a series of stories, called Fillory and Further, about a group of siblings who fall into a magical world much like Narnia and solve a number of quests and mysteries while reigning over the land as benevolent young kings and queens. Quentin always wondered if the stories were really just fiction invented by their author, Christopher Plover. And even as a teenager, when something strange or odd happens, he can't help but entertain the notion that maybe there's more to Fillory than the rest of the world thinks. Early in the book, as Quentin enters a dark, gloomy house he thinks to himself that if this "turned out to be a gate to the magical land of Fillory, it was too bad he wasn't wearing more practical shoes." (pg 9) I love the tone this sets: somewhere between fanciful and realistic.

I also really likes the way Grossman incorporates the idea of Fillory so deeply into the books. It seemed so well thought out, so real, that I wondered if Christopher Plover really had been an English writer in the early twentieth century, just one I'd never heard of somehow. Joy Marchland writes: "When I finished the book, the first thing I did was Google "Fillory" on my Android phone to see what would come up." Well, I barely made it to the third mention of Plover and Fillory before I had to look it up. And here's what you find: a (seemingly) real website for the author. The site even contains "chapter one" of The World in the Walls, the first in the Fillory and Further series. Sure, once you really start to explore the site it seems a little shallow, but the fact that it even exists is pretty neat.

The book is definitely not a walk in the park. Quentin and his friends live dark, gritty lives for the most part, and the lighter moments still have an undercurrent of wild, almost dangerous energy to them. At its core, the novel is really about Quentin figuring out how to live his life, and what he finally comes to terms with is that "he'd thought that doing magic was the hardest thing he would ever do, but the rest of it was so much harder. It turned out that magic was the easy part." (pg 333) Life is tough is kind of the motto of the book, but as Quentin's friend Alice puts it, "Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there's nothing else. It's here, and you'd better decide to enjoy it or you're going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever. (pg 333)" Well put, Alice.

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