Nov 11 2014

The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

“If you grew up reading Harry Potter, read Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy.” That’s certainly how I would sell people on the books. They’re more adult than Potter, but they have structural similarities: Magic works in our world, but it is a secret known only to a few. There are schools that teach the adept how to master its techniques and arts.

Hitherby spoilers.

Whereas the schools in the Potterverse are boarding schools on the English model, accepting children from age 11, in the world posited by Grossman they are universities, or at least very very selective liberal arts colleges. In the first book, The Magician, Grossman’s protagonist escapes a gray upbringing by gaining admission to Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. The book is a collegiate novel and a coming-of-age story, wrapped around the discovery of both magic itself and a fantastic worlds known as Fillory.

Fillory is a bit of a stand-in for Narnia, in that it is supposedly a fantasy world described in a well-loved series of children’s novels featuring English siblings who discover a secret entrance to the world (in a grandfather clock rather than a wardrobe) and have adventures there. Except Fillory is quite real within the world of The Magician and its sequels.

Quentin Coldwater, Grossman’s protagonist, finds paths to and from Fillory, and also an analogue to Narnia’s Wood Between the Worlds, which in this case is an apparently endless city called the Neitherlands.

The Magician’s Land picks up after Quentin has been banished from Fillory, where he had been one of the kings of the land for much of the second book. It’s been several years since I read the other two volumes, and only a few of the scenes have stuck with me. (Some of the best were from the first book — the flight to Antarctica, the business of a magic college — proving either the second-book problem again or at least the fallibility of my recollection.) Detailed recall of the first two is not entirely necessary for enjoyment of the third.

The third book is about young adults coming to terms with themselves in a world outside the college bubble. Except of course the young people are magicians, and their choices can remake worlds. They are engaging and interesting characters, having adventures to save Fillory, when most of the keys lie within themselves.

This was fun reading, at times very funny, and the derring-do has panache and consequences. If you grew up reading Harry Potter, or at least enjoyed the Potter books as an adult, The Magician’s Land and its predecessors offer a similarly enjoyable tale.

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