Magicians (Review)

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The Magicians
Lev Grossman, 2009
402 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
March 2010

While paying homage to Tolkein, Narnia and Harry Potter, Lev Grossman manages to carve out his own path. His book both plays with magic and explores its darker side, the emotional underpinnings of those drawn to its enchantments.

Quentin Coldwater suffers the slings and arrows of high school unpopularity. But on his way home one afternoon, he unwittingly slips through a portal and finds himself on the grounds of Brakesbill College for Magical Pedagogy.

So begins his journey of magic, which one day will take him into a parallel world of talking animals, witches, and warfare—but not before he has been warned about the dangers of unregulated magic. A warning, of course, that Quentin and his Brakesbill friends do not thoroughly heed. The results are tragic.

Yet there's great fun in this book: the school's "mobile library" where reprobate books take wing, fluttering along the ceiling beyond the reach of librarians; a secret password in Elfish that had to be given up because "now too many people have read Tolkein"; a video game box that goes on the fritz any time a spell is uttered within 200 yards—"which was pretty much constantly."

The mood darkens, however, once Quentin leaves college and heads to New York. His self-absorbtion transforms him into an unlikable character. The persistent question remains: what is Quentin looking for? What unhappiness or loss is he compensating for with his magic?

And why the obsession with Fillory, the magic world of the Narnia-like series that he—and all his classmates—have read and re-read since childhood? The journey Quentin ultimately makes, like all literary journeys, is one of self-discovery. That's where the real magic is found. This is a terrific read!!

See our Reading Guide for The Magicians.

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