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The Magician's Land (Magicians Series #3) by Lev Grossman

There is nothing quite like the final book in a series to bring your summer reading to a close.  So I was excited when I saw that The Magician’s Land, the final book in Lev Grossman‘s Magicians series, was being released.  Even better, via the fine folks at NetGalley, I was able to get my hands on a review copy.

Publisher’s teaser? Publisher’s teaser:

book-magicianslandQuentin Coldwater has lost everything. He has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams that he once ruled. Everything he had fought so hard for, not to mention his closest friends, is sealed away in a land Quentin may never again visit. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him. Meanwhile, the magical barriers that keep Fillory safe are failing, and barbarians from the north have invaded. Eliot and Janet, the rulers of Fillory, embark on a final quest to save their beloved world, only to discover a situation far more complex—and far more dire—than anyone had envisioned.

Along with Plum, a brilliant young magician with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demimonde of gray magic and desperate characters. His new life takes him back to old haunts, like Antarctica and the Neitherlands, and old friends he thought were lost forever. He uncovers buried secrets and hidden evils and ultimately the key to a sorcerous masterwork, a spell that could create a magical utopia. But all roads lead back to Fillory, where Quentin must face his fears and put things right or die trying.

This book brought up for me the age-old question of whether or not to reread the books in a series before reading the conclusion.

This is not an easy decision because you only have so much time and there are always a long list of books you want to read. Going back and rereading a couple of books can feel like a sacrifice. But in this case, I think it would have helped me enjoy Magician’s Land a great deal more.

Instead I was furtively trying to remember aspects of the back story, trying to keep various characters straight, and trying to put this third book in perspective with the series as a whole all while I was reading it for the first time.

That said, I enjoyed returning to the series and exploring this alternate world where magic exists as does the magical world of Fillory. Grossman has an interesting way of using language that is very current and colloquial (with tongue-in-cheek references Harry Potter, Narnia, etc.) even as he builds a fantasy world with gods and demigods.

Upon finishing the book I offered this at Goodreads:

On first reading this felt very much like a book that can only be understood as part of a larger series; with an exploration of characters arcs and a bringing together of various threads. Not sure how it all fits together quite yet. Need to ponder a bit.

Fans of the series, however, are sure to enjoy this final volume.

So I pondered … and came up with very little to add.

The part about only being understood as part of the series seems pretty obvious but you never know, someone might want to start the series with the last book because it is new. I wouldn’t recommend that.

I’m still not sure how it all fits together, however, so I have decided to go back and reread the first two books.

In the meantime, I did enjoy the central story of how Quentin deals with being kicked out of Fillory and how his story and the magical land’s destiny end up intersecting again.  The mystery/adventure which powers this part of the story was well done. It brought in Plum and included a reconnection with Alice and provided the action as Quentin seeks to understand himself and his place in the world better.

I also enjoyed learning more about the “real” story behind the Chatwin’s visits to Fillory and getting a better sense of how Fillory “works.”

And the ending does have an elegance to it; and offers a satisfying closure which can often be lacking in the concluding book of a series.

The hardest part to connect with, however, was those sections featuring characters like Janet, Elliott and Julia which, like me, you might have forgotten about in the years since you last read about them.  I am sure I missed much of the humor and references to these characters.

I also felt like the distraction of trying to remember things from the first two books made it harder to focus on some of the big picture themes (Fillory versus Narnia and the related philosophies for example).  I think a reread would help. When I am done I will report back.

All in all, I have to agree with Publisher’s Weekly:

Though the tone is occasionally too ironic, and Quentin’s victories overly easy—such as a reconciliation with a key character from the first novel—this novel serves as an elegantly written third act to Quentin’s bildungsroman, in which he at last learns responsibility and to not simply put childish things aside but understand them—and himself—anew. Fans of the trilogy will be pleased at how neatly it all resolves.

So if you are a fan of the series and haven’t yet read The Magician’s Land, I recommend rereading the first two books before tackling the last. Unless, you just have a better memory than I do, in which case dive in and enjoy the satisfying conclusion.

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

In my review of The Magicians I offered this opinion as to what its author was up to:

What Lev Grossman attempts to do in The Magicians is both bring this shared love of childhood fantasy adventures into a more adult-like world but also ask the question: “What if something like Narnia really existed?”  These two concepts make up the bulk of the book but they do not always work together.

The just released sequel, The Magician King, picks up where this left off and ads the question: “What if you found the fantasy land of your dreams but eventually got bored and restless? “What if it wasn’t enough?”

Quentin and his friends are now the kings and queens of Fillory, but the days and nights of royal luxury are starting to pall. After a morning hunt takes a sinister turn, Quentin and his old friend Julia charter a magical sailing ship and set out on an errand to the wild outer reaches of their kingdom. Their pleasure cruise becomes an adventure when the two are unceremoniously dumped back into the last place Quentin ever wants to see: his parent’s house in Chesterton, Massachusetts. And only the black, twisted magic that Julia learned on the streets can save them.

Magician King is still a dark, adult modern version of the young adult or childhood fantasy adventure and it still contemplates the question what if magic, and the fantasy land of your childhood, was real. But then it takes this background and foundation and forces the characters to wrestle with the complexity and difficulty of adulthood that remain even if magic exists. What does it mean to be a hero? What does it mean to be willing to really give of yourself to something or someone larger than your own selfish interests. Does the happy ending still result?

Along the way Grossman also explores what the architecture or building blocks of magic might look like and how human interaction with that – past, present and future – might work or not work.

More after the jump …

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Like so many, a big part of my becoming a devoted reader at a young age was the magical books of fantasy writers like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.  I jumped from these “classics” to many others (magical worlds like the humorous  Xanth and the adventurous Pern).  And I still read fantasy; even young adult fantasy like Harry Potter and the explosion of works that followed in the wake of that phenomenon.

So when The Magicians by Lev Grossman was released it seemed a must read.  Here is the publishers blurb:

Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he’s still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery.

He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin’s fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.

I read the book in August but haven’t had a chance to put my thoughts down.  What follows is an attempt to rectify that.

What Lev Grossman attempts to do in The Magicians is both bring this shared love of childhood fantasy adventures into a more adult-like world but also ask the question: “What if something like Narnia really existed?”  These two concepts make up the bulk of the book but they do not always work together.

The Magician's Book by Laura Miller

Laura Miller had a problem.  When she was young she was absolutely captivated and enthralled with the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis.  Given a copy of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by a school teacher she dove in an entered a new world.  Things would never be the same.

But eventually she grew older and began to find out things about Lewis and Narnia that changed her relationship with the series: the Christian underpinnings of the story, Lewis’s world view and political opinions, etc.  But as she pursued a career as a literary critic she decided to return to these books and she found there was still much about them that she loved.

The road that had once seemed to lead to free and open country had in reality doubled back to church.  Now I was trying to explain why my damning adolescent assessment of Chronicles wasn’t entirely sufficient, either.  As an adult, I’d discovered that I could follow Lewis pretty far without feeling obliged to return to Christianity, and that the old sensations of freedom, of wilderness in Narnia, remained.

She sets out to make sense of this journey.  The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia is her answer in book form.

I guess you would have to put Magician’s Book into the category of creative non-fiction.  Good thing too, because otherwise it would be hard to categorize.  Part memoir, literary criticism, biography, and current events reporting it frequently slides between childhood memories, academic criticism, Freudian analysis, personal opinion, and interviews with other authors.

Sometimes this manages to flow and hold together in a coherent way and at others the transitions are a little rough.  I found the sections dealing with Lewis’s faith and politics were the least convincing – but perhaps that is my bias – but the book as a whole remains an insightful and engaging look at Lewis and Narnia.

Bringing some order to the universe

Well, actually just a little to this particular corner of it.  Most of the time the content on this site seems entirely random and haphazard.  All too often it actually is.  Little planning or forethought goes into it and that effects the quality.  As part of a sort of New Year’s Resolution I discussed bringing some focus to this site by reading more from a particular author and on particular subjects.  And that idea is about to come to fruition.

The first focus, or theme if you will, of this year is myths and fables.  The idea is to explore in both fiction and non, the idea and practice of myths, fables, and stories.  Now, I am not an academic and don’t plan on presenting an online seminar or anything. It just means my reading, and thus my reviews, will be tied together by this thread.  Not all of it necessarily, but a chunk of it.

Just to give you a taste of what is coming, here are some of the books that will be reviewed and discussed in the coming days and weeks:

I hope to be able to have the time and energy to write about all of this in a way that presents a semi-coherent theme.  Not by explicitly tying them all together but simply by allowing you to see the similar ideas and threads that naturally connect them.

I also have planned some reading on intellectuals I have long admired and studied.  Two in particular I will be reading on this year are William F. Buckley and George F. Kennan.  So stay tuned for that as well.

I hope this process will help me focus my writing and at the same time make reading this site more enjoyable and interesting.  Maybe the miscellany will be a little more collected that way.

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