October 3rd, 2011
|01:31 am - The Magicians - An Excellent Novel, Not Aimed At Me, But Which I Enjoyed|
I recently read Lev Grossman's excellent novel The Magicians, and have just started the sequel, The Magician King. I saw a review of The Magicians a year or so ago, and was mildly intrigued, but had never heard of Grossman before and worried that it might be too literary. I didn't think about it again, until fairly recently, when I read Lev Grossman's excellent Time Magazine article about fanfiction . So, I was intrigued, and started The Magicians, and found myself very much enjoying it. My own short description of the book would be that the setting owes about equal parts to Harry Potter and Narnia, but the characters are highly gifted but socially dysfunctional college age (for the first book) and early 20s (in the 2nd book) characters, and (from my PoV) unlike either the Harry Potter or the Narnia series, The Magicians is actually quite good, and what little I've read of The Magician King also looks to be good.
It's also an odd thing for me to be reading and in many ways it felt like it was a book where I wasn't quite the intended audience. My primary contact with Harry Potter has been seeing the first film, and having no interest in seeing or reading more. Like most other geeky teens of my era, I read the first Narnia book, but never cared enough to read more, and while I read several of them in my 20s, my mild enjoyment was mixed with a larger amount of disgust at the racism and misogyny. Thankfully, The Magicians has similar trappings – a secret school of magic, and also a magical realm clearly based on Narnia, it is very little like either of these sources. In part, because it's actually exceedingly well written, in part because the characters are complex and believably dysfunctional – I've never been remotely as devoted to my own unhappiness as the protagonist of The Magicians was, but I've had several friends who were.
Also, likely because my parents were both serious anglophiles while I was growing up (and still are today), the whole American anglophilia and the "romance of England" is something that is utterly lost on me, and The Magicians is very firmly set in the US, with US characters, which definitely helped my enjoyment. I've read too little of The Magician King to say much about it, but The Magicians was both sufficiently enjoyable that I got very little sleep for a couple nights as I was reading it. It was also considerably more literary than 99% of what I read. Grossman talks about this distinction in an interview:
LG: I have this theory about modernism and fantasy, which I’ll do in 30 seconds. I read SF and a moderate amount of fantasy (which I'm somewhat pickier about than with the SF I read), and while I prefer the adventure stories I read to have complex well-developed characters, I actively avoid all modern literary fiction, and there were many parts of The Magicians where I honestly wondered why I was enjoying it as much as I was, but I did.
They came into being at the same time, which is very interesting. They were both reactions to the disasters of World War I and the electrification of cities, and urbanization, and the rise of the automobile, the end of that twilight world of the Victorians. They both are reactions to that in different ways. Modernism went very inside and delved into the interior lives of people. Fantasy externalized all that in these fantastical, magical, metaphorical landscapes. I thought, “Well, what if you did both the inside and the outside at once?” I tried to combine those foci of fantasy and modernism into one kind of writing.
Current Mood: thoughtful
Grossman's theory is not his theory: it's Tom Shippey's, most thoughtfully elaborated in his wonderful book J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. Well worth reading if Grossman's brief precis intrigued you.
I'll need to check out The Magicians.
I read the entire Narnia series as an adult. I didn't spot any misogyny in it. The part that ruined the series for me was the end of the last book, which was - literally - "they all died and had a happy afterlife." Creepy.