Jill's Reviews > The Magicians

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
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's review
Sep 07, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: sci-fi-fantasy

This book is a powerful meditation on what it means to grow up. Many reviews liken it to "a grown-up version of Harry Potter," but I don't think this is quite correct. The HP books are powerful because they clearly show right and wrong, and they provide a "safe" fantasy land for the heroes (and their readers) to experience the pain of death, disappointment, and fear that life brings. But in the end, goodness wins out. Conflicts resolve, and characters live "happily ever after."

Quentin, on the other hand, experiences the desire for this, but not the resolution he expects. Like most of us, he moves through life wishing for something wonderful to happen to him. He works hard and has talent, which makes his future seem bright. Challenges are overcome, but the "meaning of life" eludes him. He finishes college... and now what?

For the subgroup of people who grew up with the privilege of the middle and upper-class, groomed for success by supportive teachers and parents, at home in organizational bureaucracy, being set adrift after the structure of K12 and college feels like abandonment. One expects a grand quest, something to make it all mean something. Perhaps one has a dream, and one pursues this dream, knowing that one is powerful and full of "potential". And then one hits the brick wall of reality. For Quentin, this is actually being in Fillory and realizing that it is not, as Ember says, "a theme park, for you and your friends to play dress-up in, with swords and crowns."

As the book gets darker, the same issues that come up in the HP books arise here, but they aren't easily, safely, or tidily dealt with. (Some might argue that in individual HP books this is also true, but taken as a complete series, it's clear they end up "happily ended".) There aren't really clear heroes (except Alice) or villains (except Martin).

So what do you do when your dreams fail you? That is what this book is about. I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but I think that Grossman does a laudable job spelling out the options and bringing Quentin through several options to a sort of understanding. It's not a happy ending in the traditional sense, but it's not a bad ending either. It's an ending that you or I could live with, and I think Grossman is telling us that we can have this same ending, if we are willing, when we come to a place where we are "grown up."

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