Reading: The Magicians, by Lev Grossman

It’s out! And America’s 67th favorite book on Amazon at this writing, which means it surely doesn’t need the tiny puff of publicity this blog can give it.  But here are my thoughts, anyway, on what Lev’s made.

  • It’s great!
  • It’s very much a fantasy novel about fantasy novels, or maybe novels more generally and how it ruins your life to take them too seriously.  Much is made of the analogy between straining to imbue things in the world with “meaning” and straining to move a marble with the power of your mind.
  • In this connection, note that the book is in one sense about a bunch of magicians, but in another sense about a book-within-the-book called The Magicians.  This makes me want to italicize the title doubly, but I don’t know how.
  • Lev’s last book, Codex, was also a kind of literary re-envisioning of the conventions of a usually non-literary genre; in that case, the Da Vinci-style thriller with little nuggets of erudition stuck in it.  But Codex sort of looks down on its genre from above with suspicion, while The Magicians views its genre with affection, even self-consciously excessive affection, and from within.  That works much better.
  • People are going to say it’s “grown-up Harry Potter” but the “grown-up Narnia” aspect is much more important.  Lev is really interested in this moment at which you’re starting to not be a kid anymore, and you have to decide whether to go native in Narnia, or to shut yourself off from Narnia, until you start to forget there was a Narnia — the Susan Pevensie option.
  • Lev’s brother Austin, whose novel I wrote about in this blog’s first post, is also really interested in Susan Pevensie; a whole section of his one-man show “The Genius” is done in her voice.  Am I trying to say that growing up precocious in an academic household in Lexington, MA, and going on to nestle in privilege and pride at Harvard, is something like spending your childhood in a magical realm whose charms adult life can’t match, and even seems, at times, to mock?  No.  I’m saying that Allen Grossman is a warlock and all his kids have logged serious time in dimensions unknown to us.
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2 thoughts on “Reading: The Magicians, by Lev Grossman

  1. Qiaochu Yuan says:

    I finally got around to reading this book, and it’s fantastic. I especially enjoyed the list-of-awards-that-certify-that-you-are-a-Smart-Child near the beginning, although I don’t know how I feel about the ending. Also, I hope this book is never turned into a movie; something important is bound to get lost in translation.

  2. […] reddit tonight about his novels The Magicians and The Magician King.  (I wrote about The Magicians here.)  Lots of good material but I especially liked this from Lev on Narnia: You know how you — […]

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