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audiobooks Fantasy

The Magicians (thoughts & response to random criticism) by Lev Grossman

After being 50/50 amused and concerned by all the hatred towards this book (oh GoodReads, LOL) I decided to point my review and thoughts towards responding to some of the popular criticism.

Like it’s truly vitriolic and I don’t get it

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Magicians
  • Series: The Magicians, #1
  • Author: Lev Grossman
  • Publisher & Release: Viking, August 2009
  • Length: 416 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for adult reader fans of antiheroes and magic

Here is the synopsis via goodreads:

A thrilling and original coming-of-age novel for adults about a young man practicing magic in the real world.

Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he’s still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery.

He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin’s fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.

At once psychologically piercing and magnificently absorbing, The Magicians boldly moves into uncharted literary territory, imagining magic as practiced by real people, with their capricious desires and volatile emotions. Lev Grossman creates an utterly original world in which good and evil aren’t black and white, love and sex aren’t simple or innocent, and power comes at a terrible price.

My overall reaction to this book is positive. I think the three main points of contention are 1) unfair comparison – people read blurbs and then can’t reconcile when a book doesn’t deliver to expectation, 2) people seem to miss the fact that they aren’t supposed to like the characters where this is a more theme focused book, and 3) people saw the TV show, which is pretty vastly different, first, and think it’s better

So – the book asks two main questions.  What if Harry Potter and Narnia were real – what would it look like in the real world? What does the quest for happiness look like?

For me, the only real glitch was right at the start, and I’m going to take a moment for one of my infamous @OneReadingNurse medical rant/explanations: So the book takes place in America, in New York State. A body was found, very dead already, and an EMT came to the scene, performed a “lazy effort” resuscitation, and intubated the corpse. Ok 😂 first off in New York, EMTs can NOT intubate. Second: No one would have intubated an already clearly dead person anyway. Third, even if a qualified person was present they wouldn’t intubate in a “lazy effort” aka “slow code” – So I had a good laugh at the start but then thankfully Grossman stayed away from medical things and just tells a story

Ok down to business!

In response to Quentin being insufferable: yes! Some of the best characters are! The thing is that he isn’t supposed to be liked and I personally love complicated characters. Logically Quentin should be very happy with his life, he has everything he could have ever wanted. At the end of the “Graduation” chapter his own discontent finally dawns on him, although he hasn’t yet figured out that happiness is an internal factor. He reminds me of the characters like Martin Eden, Holden Caulfield, Scrooge. Quentin expects to have happiness presented to them on a silver platter once he reaches certain goals, places, people, things, yet he doesn’t quite realize that it’s an internal factor. That is actually a common human struggle in real life, among teens and adults alike, so I’m really mystified at the hate towards him.

Again, that sequence at the end of the graduation chapter where Quentin says that he got everything he’s ever wanted, and happiness is a fleeting thing, and It’s a terrible thing to know? That proves that he is self aware and not even slightly one dimensional.  There is a sequence of events in Fillory where Q sees the actual result of his wildest dreams, and there he truly learns the price of escapism.

For just one second, look at your life and see how perfect it is. 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 –Alice

Which brings me to my next point: the language. I graduated in 06 and was in college in 09, and this book really truly threw me back to those years. The kids I was familiar with in high school and college talked and acted pretty similarly to these characters, except with marginally less alcohol. We swore, we made fun of each other, we handled it, and we didn’t get hyperoffended by everything. I’m pretty sure hormonal teenage boys still notice boobs on women before much else. Has that changed since 2009? I REALLY  doubt it. People can be on their high horses all they want but this these characters actually feel real to me, very much unlike what I read in contemporary novels these days.

Are you kidding? That guy was a mystery wrapped in an enigma and crudely stapled to a ticking fucking time bomb. He was either going to hit somebody or start a blog.

Onwards! Let’s talk about the plot and magic

The magical test and the magic in general are also fairly interesting, and I like the parts that happen at the school quite a bit. It’s almost a relief to have the years summarized as they were, as I frankly don’t need to know every nuance of what happened as the characters develop relationships and memorize spells ad nauseum forever.

The part taking place in Fillory does seem like a fairly direct knockoff of Narnia, but …. Now bear with me …. Authors rip off published works all the time, in “retellings”, so really how is this any different? Heck someone just ripped off Little Women and it was so similar the author didn’t even bother changing the character names.

That said – how do you really think these people would feel being dropped into Fillory as they were? I freaking loved Josh, thinking the dryad was hot, and also the scene with the giant molten man where everything went to hell and Josh just commented on his balls 😂

There were darker themes too! The Fillory undertones of betrayal, death of the Old Gods, becoming a monster, set ups and more betrayals, and even the clocks? Action and consequence? This isn’t light subject matter! What about Elliot finally admitting that Fillory saved his life?

Now he had answers, but they weren’t doing what answers were supposed to do: they weren’t making things simpler or easier. They weren’t helping.

These characters all came from homes where they weren’t getting a ton of guidance and oversight, some of them were outright rejected. With how smart they all were, it isn’t hard to believe that they were turning to alcohol and drugs and other unsavory practices!

Plus the magic itself – heartbreaking at the end but cool.  Think of magic in a contemporary light, people just figuring it out as they go, sometimes accidentally doing something truly huge?  I think Grossman nailed it

I think overall it was interesting, engaging, and followed relatable aspects of life (such as searching for and misunderstanding happiness), teenage and college relationships, oddball groups of friends, even lost love is included and found family.

Oh gosh the story about Alice’s brother, and then Alice 😦

I will also add that Mark Bramhall does a heck of a audio narration. Honestly I think my favorite voice is that of Josh Hoberman, especially when he bounded off yelling *AND III F*CKED YOURRR MOTHERRRR* like I was howling laughing. The narration really is epic.

Long story short: definitely read this one

8 replies on “The Magicians (thoughts & response to random criticism) by Lev Grossman”

Maybe try audio? These are the first contemporary characters that actually felt like real people to me in a long time LOL

Liked by 2 people

Thanks, good to hear! Contemporary teens from the early 2000s were a fun bunch! I hope you like the books, I also definitely recommend the audio if you prefer that format!

Liked by 2 people

I agree, I liked this one though because while the idea (magic school, magic land from a book) etc is there, it’s not the same at all. Lots of nostalgia for our childhood reads here

Liked by 2 people

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