Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Magicians trilogy ends... with a bang?

  • Print

American novelist and Time magazine book reviewer Lev Grossman painted himself into a bit of a corner. His first(ish) novel, 2009's The Magicians, was a critical darling and break-out hit. Then he wrote a sequel, 2011's The Magician King -- it was, if anything, even better.

Now a New York Times bestselling author twice over, with production on a television series based on his series receiving the official green light, and with one book to go in his trilogy, the bases were figuratively loaded. Everyone was watching for him to knock one out of the park.

He just might have done so.

Straddling the worlds of postmodern literature and contemporary, urban and high fantasy, this series tells the story of Quentin Coldwater, a high-performing and imminent high school graduate waylaid from his Ivy League plans by the promise of something even bigger: a secret college of sorcery called Brakebills Academy in upstate New York.

Quentin, socially inept, often selfish, and as insecure as he is talented, is better compared to Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network than Harry Potter.

There's a core of goodness in Quentin, but Grossman doesn't always make him easy to like, and his close relationships are difficult, fragile things. His friends have their own problems: by and large, the sort of obsessive competitiveness Brakebills looks for doesn't often go hand-in-hand with being well-adjusted emotionally.

And magic isn't easy. It involves everything from calculus to ancient languages to painful finger exercises. The process of building a spell up from basic principles, then practising it, hundreds or thousands of times until it's performed exactly right, is somewhat like deriving a mathematical proof and preparing a Bach concerto and writing a piece of code all at once.

Thus far, this series seems like it could just as easily be billed as Microserfs for fantasy readers, or as Harry Potter for adults. But things take a different turn in The Magician's Land, because after five years of intense study (followed by a post-graduate period of sloth and hedonism) Quentin rediscovers his own sense of wonder, when it turns out the magical world of Fillory, Grossman's Narnia stand-in, is real.

Just as Brakebills proved quite different from Hogwarts, competitive and neurotic and manic, so too is the world of Fillory much different from Narnia, though not at first. In Grossman's universe, a series of books were written about a magical world, visited by the (now-famous) Chatwin children through a secret grandfather clock in a rambling house of 1930s England, mirroring C.S. Lewis' real-life series.

Only Quentin and his friends know that this parallel world really exists, and that the real-life Chatwin children actually went there, reporting at least some of their experiences to a neighbour with literary ambitions. But what really happened to them on the other side? Or afterwards?

What kind of psychological toll must it take for a child to literally enter a fantasy world, take part in actual wars, become royalty, experience months or years in the blink of an eye, and then be barred entry once they were deemed too old for that sort of thing? As the real history of the Chatwin children behind the Fillory books is revealed, the dark underside to their experiences is exposed.

C.S. Lewis ended The Last Battle, the final instalment of his Chronicles of Narnia books, by ending the world (of Narnia, not Earth). That's one more sub-plot in The Magician's Land, but perhaps still not the most important one.

More important is Quentin's journey to become the person he was meant to be -- not a hero of destiny, but just a good man and a fully realized human being.

Aslan knows that can be difficult enough.

Joel Boyce is a Winnipeg writer and teacher.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 16, 2014 G8


Updated on Saturday, August 16, 2014 at 8:41 AM CDT: Formatting.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Jets This Week: Crunching the playoff numbers

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • KEN GIGLIOTTI  WINNIPEG FREE PRESS / July 23 2009 - 090723 - Bart Kives story - Harry Lazarenko Annual River Bank Tour - receding water from summer rains and erosion  damage by flood  and ice  during spring flooding -  Red River , Lyndale Dr. damage to tree roots , river bank damage  , high water marks after 2009 Flood - POY
  • JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local-(  Standup photo)-    A butterfly looks for nector on a lily Tuesday afternoon in Wolseley-JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS- June 22, 2010

View More Gallery Photos


Do you think the CMHR made the right decision in banning selfie sticks?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google