The Magicians starts with the main character, Quentin, going for a college interview with his friend in Brooklyn. However when he gets to his destination he finds that his interviewer dead of a heart attack on the floor. The paramedics come, tend to the deceased, and hand Quentin an envelope found on his person. Quentin leaves the house and opens the envelope to find a final unpublished chapter of his all time favorite childhood book series which take place in the world of Fillory, very similar to our Narnia. As he’s walking Quentin all of a sudden finds himself on the grounds of a magic college where he takes an examination and is admitted as a freshman.
I think this book is essentially a coming-of-age story despite, and thinly disguised by, the fantastical elements. Quentin attends a college that is essentially his fantasy but what he never thought possible. Like many people he is unable to decide on a major- described as a discipline here. He finds a close group of friends with whom he experiments with alcohol and drugs. He has his first love which grows and crumbles in the college and post college experience.
(I need to find a way to make a cut to a post for the spoiler parts which I really really want to discuss).
As much as I think this is a coming-of-age story I also think its a story about the dangers of refusing to grow up. Martin, aka The Beast, becomes a beast due to his refusal to leave the magical world of Fillory and essentially his childhood. He becomes this creature which terrorizes Fillory and occasionally Earth and Brakebills College. His actions reflect Quentin’s desire to go and stay in the land of his childhood dreams. I thought up to the very ending that this book was about accepting and dealing with the problems of adulthood. Eventually you must choose a major, graduate, and find a job. Eventually you’ll have to deal with the death of a loved one. And eventually you’ll have to realize that the desire to cling to your childhood can be destructive and will inhibit the progression of life and relationships. Those last few pages really threw me for a loop though. Granted the life that Quentin eventually carved out for himself in the normal mundane world left a lot to be desired I felt that it was contrary to the lessons of the book to return to Fillory in order to be a king.
In a way this book reminded me a bit of The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt which had themes of adults praying on their children in order to maintain their art despite the damage it caused.
So despite all of this confusion about the ending this book felt exceptionally poignant to me. As I mentioned above, Quentin’s difficulty in finding a discipline felt a lot like difficulty in finding a major in college. I personally waited until the first semester of my junior year of college to declare my biochem major. And I still question whether that was the right decision. I relate quite a bit to the questioning of the future that the main character displays throughout the book. I think so much of the time there’s a belief that things will get better during the next step of life and that we just need to get there and then we’ll be happy without regards to how this current place in life is unique and quite possibly happy within itself.
I also want to mention that there is an exceptionally strong female character in this book (several in fact!). I’m still not certain what to think of what happens to her (Alice) and so I haven’t said much. She is probably the real hero of this book.
There are quite a few references to various popular fantasy books. Considering the themes of growing up I wonder if the author was commenting at all on adult fans of these books.
In the end I loved this book. I would like to reread it at a different point in my life to see how I feel about it. Maybe I’ll have a different point of view on those last few pages. My copy came from the library and I’m going to start combing the shelves of the used bookstore to look for a copy.