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Bookends: A Magical Homage to Other Magical Stories February 8, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Lev Grossman, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: A Magical Homage to Other Magical StoriesThe Magicians Trilogy

By Dan Davidson

March 29, 2017

– 920 words –


The Magicians Trilogy:

The Magicians; The Magician King; The Magician’s Land

By Lev Grossman

Kindle Edition

1315 pages in print

Penguin Books



I freely admit that I was enticed into entering this magical excursion by the rather enjoyable television series that has been based on it. I caught only one episode while it was being broadcast last year, and it was scheduled against something else that we like to record and watch, so it wasn’t until season one turned up at Jimmy’s (yes, we still have a video store) that we picked it up and got into the story.

That done, decided I wanted to read the rest of the story.

They should manage to get three full seasons out of this series and, unlike Game of Thrones, it’s all been finished by the author, so there’s no excuse for violating the narrative too badly.

There’s a lot of blather in the comments about this series in the response section at Amazon. It’s Harry Potter for adults. It’s Narnia without the gloss of Christianity.

That’s all true, of course, but saying it that way escapes the fact that without those books, and others, like works by Ursula LeGuin, T.H. White, J.R.R. Tolkien and Dianne Wynne Jones. Lev Grossman would not have written this story.

The central character of the series is Quentin Coldwater, and we meet him just out of high school, when he is about to apply for university. The one he finds, or that actually finds him, is Brakebills College of Magical Pedagogy, and yes, it is sort of a Hogwarts for young adults. Brakebills is not exactly in our dimension, mainly in the sense that time doesn’t flow quite the same way there. Quentin’s parents are led to believe that he is enrolled at some prestigious business school, that he has a scholarship, and that’s pretty much the last they see of him.

Quentin has always been fascinated by magic, and is a pretty good self-trained stage magician, but he’s always wanted the real stuff, the type of thing written about in the Fillory and Forward novels of his literary hero, Christopher Plover. In these books the Chatwin children travel back and forth between England and Fillory by means that are very like those used by the children in C.S. Lewis’ books.

After getting most of the way through his years of study at Brakebills, where there have been a number of magical assaults and at least one murder, Quentin and his friends in the Physical Kids (one the “houses” at the college) learn that Fillory is real and can be accessed in two stages by travelling through an intermediary world called the Neitherlands, which is a kind of hub for interdimensional travel.

Fillory is not only real, but both wonderful and dangerous, and they find they have been led to find it by Jane Chatwin, the actual girl from the books, who wants them to deal with the monster that her brother, Martin, has become.

Readers who have seen the first series will be surprised to discover that the B plot, which involves Quentin’s high school friend, Julia, is largely absent from book one, and doesn’t turn up in any detail until the second book, where it alternates as flashbacks with the main plot in which Quentin, Julia, Eliot and Janet have become kings and queens in Fillory, once again emulating the Narnia books.

The main plot of The Magician King has to do with the group’s attempts to prevent the “gods” (if that’s what the beings who are the source of magic are) from reclaiming all the power that has leaked out into the various worlds, but we also spend a lot of time with Julia’s back story, and the book lacks the weakness of some middle novels because of the juxtaposition of these very different narratives.

At various times in all three books Quentin is forced to return to Earth, and spends years there before getting back to Fillory. In the first book he returns on his own after being savagely injured in the climatic battle with Martin. In the second he and Julia have to find their way back to Fillory after leaving to search for a magical artefact left behind on Earth. In the final book, The Magician’s Land, Quentin actually spends some time back at Brakebill’s as a teacher before getting involved in a scheme which he hopes will lead him to find a way to restore the humanity of the love of his life, Alice (did I forget to mention Lewis Carroll?), who became a being of pure magic in order to defeat the Beast back in the first book.

If we think of Quentin’s adventures as the A plot, the B plot of the third book is about how to save Fillory from coming to an end, and much of that is a separate adventure by Elliot and Janet, until events finally bring them all together again.

A lot of the characters in Grossman’s trilogy are damaged souls, and a lot of the story, which consumes decades of their lives, is about how they manage to become worthwhile people in spite of the damage.

I picked this e-book set up in November, and just finished the final book a week or so ago, leaving time between each volume to let the story settle. It was well worth the time.