The Magician King (The Magicians, #2) The Magician King question

Julia & Power (Contains Spoilers)
Jillian Jillian Aug 13, 2011 02:37PM
Can we get a discussion going about Julia's ascension to demigoddess through rape and submission? While I thoroughly enjoyed the book and recognize that both Julia and Quentin lose everything they have to obtain/hold onto their magical powers, why must Julia have endured rape in order to get there? And while Julia discloses using her "nuclear option" to get what she wants at other points in the novel, Grossman specifically defines what happens between Reynard & Julia as rape. Then, her transformation is complete once she accepts and submits to what she has lost before she can accept what she has to gain. Is this acceptance and forgiveness even, at the highest level? Or am I giving Grossman far too much credit, as I fear I am?

I'd love to hear other thoughts. I want desperately to love The Magician King, but this plot point is a huge blemish for me. Anyone else feel the same?

Without going as fullbore at it as Adam Hops, whom I nevertheless think is making a fair point, I have to admit that on some levels the reactions to that scene here disturb me a little bit. I am not trying to underplay the importance of rape or its portrayal/use by the author, but... am I the only one to remember that that scene depicts the massacre of an entire group of people, some of them screaming in terror, some with heads lopped open, blood fountaining across the room, etc, etc, but the only measure called into question as being unnecessary is rape? I know Julia is, if not a heroine, then at least one of the protagonists, and I recognise that the main issue is the author allegedly portraying rape as some kind of (positive!) swap for power, a necessary trade-in due to gender. But.. can we retain enough perspective to recognise that this scene was in no way some isolated bit of female hating that didn't tie into the rest of the narrative's brutality?

Personally I never liked Julia very much, although this by no means implies that I felt the scene was less shocking - but given that several other female characters were killed in that scene, and that I felt both those women and some of the men who were brutally murdered at the same time were alround more interesting characters and just plain better human beings than Julia, I can't say I felt the scene was "lacking grit" before the rape occurred. I should also point out, just because noone has done so yet and it's one of the things I enjoyed about both Grossman books, that in both story arcs the most intelligent AND most magically puissant characters are female (generally they also seem to be portrayed as more emotionally healthy and together than the males).

But what also happens in both books, and seems to be a general theme of the mythos, is that pride comes before a fall and that the price of power is too high. In both people get too big for their boots and attract the attention of powers dwelling on a scale beyond their ken, and in both what is summoned is the equivalent of a serrated blade stabbing through a child's birthday cake into their face. Penny loses his hands, Julia gets raped, both lose something of themselves that they can never regain, both... seem to end up in a place where they've transcended their loss? Although Penny may be just playing the higherminded prig card, whereas Julia has genuinely ascended to another plane of existence (which should admittedly make it easier to overcome trauma). Note I am not equivocating limb loss and rape, but I think we can agree they are both of terrible severity. If Penny had been female and lost, say, her breasts instead of her hands, would this also have been totally unacceptable due to its psychosexual weight - despite it being pretty hard to argue that the loss of ones hands isn't a greater hardship for a human being?

My reading of the passage was similar to Mike's I think - that this depicted the horror of phenomenal powers warped by malign intelligence, for what is power if not the ability to do what you want, and take from other people what you like, when you want it? The protagonists seem to spend most of their time trying to acquire magic as though it will make everything ok, when in fact it ends up making everything worse because it only accentuates how unbalanced their personalities are to begin with (Quentin is just about beginning to grasp this leitmotif/life lesson by the end of the second book, which I felt helped him some way towards being less of a selfcentred whingebag). Julia's group were a Brakebills in their own way, as elitist and distanced from normal humanity as those students, they made a play for godhood beyond time and space and one of the oldest divine archetypes came back and bit them in half. Quite frankly the fact that Julia survived at all was almost pushing it - and no I am not insinuating that she was "lucky" to be raped in any way. That something positive could be allowed to occur in relation to this horrible nadir for Julia's long suffering character, because of a serene female divinity mightier than the spiteful male monster, well... I don't think it is quite fair to imply that what the author means is that one was necessary for the other to be justified. I think if you tried you could build up an argument that Julia sold her body (to various guys) to get what she wanted (magic/power) and that in the end the power took her body as punishment for this "sluttish" behaviour, and that Grossman thought she was getting her just desserts according to some insane Old Testament sense of morality. But I really didn't get anything like that impression from the character, from the story, or of the author himself - and I'm not just saying that because I have talked to Lev a little and he struck me as quite the opposite kind of mensch.

I don't know if it is ever possible to argue for rape in a book to be "completely justified" unless it is some kind of nonfictional study - but I'm pretty sure the principle applies equally to grotesque slaughter; I mean, everything could have happened "off screen" and been alluded to, surely? Or the spells could just have not worked, resulting in a frustrated dissolution of Julia's group, or... I'm sure you can come up with further alternatives yourselves. What we GOT, though, was an extremely harrowing passage that was easily one of the most powerful (and, I felt, well written) sequences in the entire book and which played out in accordance with the patterns of that world as they had already been shown to us. I can't see it as gratuitous, because it was a horrible thing shown unflinchingly as such without flippancy or distancing irony or humour, and it made sense in the context of Reynard and the plot, which had been building towards that outcome for some time whilst lulling the reader into a false sense of security (one shared by the protagonists, of course- which is what makes the scene even more effective).

I've gone on for longer than I've intended, perhaps because I did find the scene especially disturbing - just, as I hope I've explained in reasonable detail, not for the same reasons as those alleged. On a side note about the breasts thing: I hadn't found it unpleasant (like I did, say, the sex description in A Game Of Thrones), because it IS in character and guys WILL notice these things. I don't think that makes us pigs any more than women noticing nice eyes, big pecs and tight buns on a guy somehow makes them sluts, but I guess actions speak louder than words in that domain.

Anyway I see people, and especially women, finding that sequence very unpleasant with or without my "justifying context" - but I do think that taking a wider view of the novel is necessary if we're going to try and add weight to both sides of the scales and give Grossman a little credit. If not simply as a human being, then at least as an author within the context of his work.

Josh (last edited Aug 30, 2011 01:43PM ) Aug 30, 2011 01:17PM   1 vote
The way I read this the contact with a divine being was what began the ascension, not the fact that said contact was rape. From that perspective, Reynard's choice to rape Julia is distinct from his choice to raise her to divine status. This is a depiction of how a rapist might act: giving the victim something they want and using that to justify the act, or simply using that association to confuse their victim. It wasn't that Julia had to "submit" to the fact that she was raped which was the final hurdle to her becoming divine. It was the fact that she wasn't allowing the ascension to be completed because she associated her ascension with the rape. She had to give this perception up before she would allow the process to be completed, and notably it was after the meeting with OLU that she was able to do this, no doubt because at that point it became obvious that the semi-divine status would be a connection with that goddess, which made the distinction between the two things more clear.

Also, while someone might describe rape as "dehumanizing" (though I would say it's probably more so for the rapist than the victim) this isn't the same as what we mean when we say that a divine being isn't human. Drawing such a parallel should show you how different they are, not how similar they are.

I suppose that if you wanted to compare this situation to a real world one, you might consider the idea of a teacher who rapes a student. The student might need time to understand that the things they learned aren't necessarily evil just because they've learned them from someone who did something evil to them.

Mike (last edited Aug 14, 2011 09:15PM ) Aug 14, 2011 09:14PM   1 vote
It was brutal. Really tough to read to a character I cared for. Probably one of the toughest things I've ever read.
But I think that's the point- Grossman really makes it clear that magic can be dark. Really dark. Seeing such a dehumanizing and gut wrenching scene really drives home the cost of attaining power- right when she had remembered what it was to be human and beginning the process of healing, she had her humanity taken from her by force, both literally and figuratively. Magic isn't to be messed with if you're not willing to pay whatever the cost might be- especially if you go as deeply into as Julia did.
Necessary? Maybe not- but really effective at conveying Julia's descent, the raw and dark power of magic.

As for the end, I'm not sure I see acceptance and forgiveness, but certainly justification and justice. While there doesn't seem to be an outside force forgiving her for anything, it seems she's finally at peace with the long, twisted, and horrible path that brought her to her destiny.

Night (last edited Aug 22, 2011 04:37PM ) Aug 22, 2011 04:35PM   1 vote
It was problematic to me that throughout the book Julia's relationship with sex is usually either detached or very negative. She has sex with James which she doesn't seem to enjoy and then afterward her sexual encounters are mostly tools for her to gain more magical knowledge.

There is only one instance that I recall in the book when she enjoys sex and that is with Pouncy right before they summon Reynard. She's at her happiest then I think since her Brakebills test. She's finally found what she's looking for and come to peace with her Brakebills experience which allows her to experience sexual pleasure. Just then when she finally is satisfied and doesn't want to continue with the summoning she is unable to stop it and this horrible thing happens to her. This is a pretty cruel twist.

Also it seems to me that she is almost raped twice that is to say that her memory alteration by Brakebills is a violation that she feels keenly which causes this mental splitting of her identity. in fact when she gets depressed about Brakebills her mother asks her if she was raped. Julia's entire relationship with magic strips her of her identity from the start and rape completes this stripping.

I don't really know why Grossman felt it necessary include a rape scene in this book. Maybe I have to read it again. Rape is so often gendered female in books and it was really troubling to me to see it happen yet again.

Amy I agree.
Mar 26, 2014 08:14AM

I would like to point out that Reynard's behavior in the book is in accordance with the European mythology surrounding that particular character. For example, here is an excerpt from "The History of Reynard the Fox: How Medieval Literature Reflects Culture" by Anne Lair: (
"In 'The History of Reynard The Fox' sexual acts seem to take place either instead of a meal or after a mea thus 'penetrating' the circle of food: pleasures of the palate and pleasures of the body, both necessary, seem to be interchangeable or to complete each other. Reynard behaves the same way to gain sexual access to females as he does to gain access to food, seizing any opportunity to have intercourse, without respecting his partner or even worrying if she is willing or not, as in the case of the queen, who may be considered a trophy for him."

One has to wonder whether that author chose rape as the ordeal Julia must suffer through enroute to her status as demigodess because it is what Reynard would do, or if he chose Reynard to be the diety that was summoned because he fit nicely with the "rape of Julia" plotline.

To give Lev the benefit of the doubt, how much of the rape motif should we call art imitating life, not the other way around? It sounds like we're assuming male authors use this as a means to an end but would we say that about a female author using the same theme? I was equally as disturbed by the rape as I was by Penny losing his hands in the first book. That topic is taken extremely lightly in this book but he would never be able to do that with Julia. Are their losses comparable? What comparisons can be drawn between Julia's sacrifices as a woman and Alice's?

I don't necessarily have anything against rape as a plot device, but it does seem to be THE only way to give a female character "grit", "motivation", "a dark past" etc. Since so many women in real life are actually raped, you'd think a larger part of the population would end up superheros.

Rape is horrible and it was horrible when I experienced it, but it wasn't the worst thing that's ever happened to me and it's not the reason I have "motivation". I'd like to see some new character development for the sake of creativity, even politics aside.

Jillian wrote: "Can we get a discussion going about Julia's ascension to demigoddess through rape and submission? While I thoroughly enjoyed the book and recognize that both Julia and Quentin lose everything they ..."

It broke my heart when Julia submitted to Jared and Warren. She is a strong and brave character. However, the point that was being made (must have been made) was how far Julia was willing to go to advance in herself.

I don't necessarily think that we, as readers should take this as some sort of feminist cause. Grossman was trying (and succeeded, hence this discussion) to break our hearts, but with the ultimate goal of making the reader understand the rough road Julia had. (In contrast to the others' sheltered education at Brakebills).

I think this is a necessary part of her story. Without the graphic details, the book and characters are in danger of losing its (their) edge that makes these books different from Harry Potter and other "wizard" books; which are for the most part squeaky clean compared to Grossman's world.

I felt a little bit different about the rape with Reynard. It felt somewhat contrived and, unlike most of Grossman's narrative, rushed and convenient.

My interpretation of this event was it was the culmination of Julia's disconnection with humanity for the sake of magic.

She becomes more and more un-human as her story progresses, and the combination of divine contact with a violent, dehumanizing event is what's required for her to make the final transitions.

This all gets "foreshadowed" during the trip back to Earth with Quentin. "I can't be here" is her prevailing theme during that sequence, and it's because she really isn't human any longer. She needs the magic-enriched Fillory to finalize her journey.

I didn't see this as a "I need to brutalize my powerful female character to justify her power" plot crutch or anything like that. It seemed a disturbing, but logical, requirement for a character (who happens to be female) who needs to make the final, difficult, leap away from humanity.

I agree; it was almost to tough to read. It seems so common for female characters to have to undergo such atrocious acts in order to experience a transformation or reawakening. Julia is an otherwise tremendously written character. In a book that inverts many literary tropes, why Grossman succumbed to rape as a symbol of loss is beyond me. Gods raping mortals is prevalent in Greek myths, and the hedge magicians allude to Greek myths in general. But I still find it unnecessary to completely crush Julia. Her numerous losses would have been enough to support her character arc to demigoddess. I think I am just offended as a woman and a survivor that rape is used as a means for a female character to be dehumanized on her way to demigoddess. Maybe it is too soon for me to commenting on it however; I just finished it and had to get this off my chest. I agree-huge blemish.

Leave My (last edited Aug 22, 2011 09:31PM ) Aug 22, 2011 08:44PM   0 votes
I'm glad this question is being discussed here. I'm really really tired of straight male writers inflicting rape/sexual assault on their female characters as an easy way to make their novels more "gritty" or "edgy" (William Gibson is also guilty of this, a lot). As Angel pointed out - In the case of Julia it's all made much worse when the rape is written as some kind of sick rite of passage through which she ultimately can gain real god-like power (she even "gets" to fly directly afterword, ugh!) Honestly it made me want to throw the book out the window especially since I was already extremely annoyed at the casual sexism tossed around in both books. Did anyone else notice Grossman seems completely incapable of introducing almost any female character (even minor ones) without creating some flimsy excuse to get them topless so he can describe her beasts in extremely vivid an totally unnecessary detail? Its an utterly absurd level of objectification that not only takes away from his female characters but also makes him seem like he is writing from his inner horny teenage boy. And lets not forget that Julia is the 2nd offensive and lazy use of sexual assault in the series. It is pointed out in the 1st book that Martin was turned evil in part because he was sexually abused as a child. Not only was that throw-away revelation unnecessary to the story, it's also a disturbingly common trope in narrative fiction. The whole "abused as a child makes you evil" trope and the equally as disgusting "rape makes you stronger in the end" trope have just got to stop!

I'm a bit confused by some of the arguments here. Some people seem to take as a given that a high percentage of women are raped. They also seem to have a problem with this book including a rape. This seems unreasonable. If rape is common, then literature should reflect that. It would be disingenuous to pretend it doesn't happen. However, if rape was incredibly rare, then it would be inappropriate to include a scene of rape unless it was necessary to the story.

Nikki I have less of a problem with a rape scene and more of a problem with Rape = Power. After all that Julia as a character went through, I feel like that ...more
Jan 06, 2013 05:59AM

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