Saturday, March 27, 2010

Here there be spoilers...

I'll try not to be too spoiler-y, in case you're going to read it, but if you're planning on reading Lev Grossman's "The Magicians," you might skip reading this 'til later.


After here, there be spoilers.

I'm not quite sure what to make of the book. The after-Brakebills scenes were much less J.K. Rowling and much more Bret Easton Ellis: people drink a hell of a lot, lie around, scratch themselves, sleep with each other, and don't DO much. Until Penny turns up with the button that allows them to get into Fillory.

There's a comment made - towards the graduation-time of the main protagonists - that some of the magically trained folks either go on to "straight" graduate schools and do work in things like pharmacology. Or apparently some become involved in using their powers for things like preventing asteroids from hitting the earth. In other words: they decide to serve humankind. We do not see the lives of those folks, and given some of the comments near the very end of the book, I wonder if that is intended to be a way to "use magic and not screw up your life."

Because, at several points, Quentin has the very cold realization: magic is a form of power. It can, and does, totally corrupt.

There's a lot of pessimism in the second half of the book. Some horrible things happen - both magical-horrible and non-magical-horrible - to characters you have come to care about.

And yet, at the very end, there's a tiny hint, a tiny hope, of reconciliation, of forgiveness, for Quentin (in his life, Quentin summons The Beast twice - or at least he believes he does - and he feels eternally guilty for that).

But also, there seem to be elements of unfairness. That the teachers, the magicians, at Brakebills did not play fair. All of the students, upon graduation, were given a "cacodemon" that they could supposedly release and that would fight to the death for them. Well, Quentin's demon turns out to be a giant wimp, and instead of saving the day, makes things worse. And I don't know, I almost feel like in some way Fogg could have foreseen that...and given Quentin a better demon.

I don't know. I can't tell if the book is pro-God and forgiveness, anti-God, or if it is just saying that the universe is random, bad crap happens, and we don't really have a fighting chance, and there's no one out there who will step up to bat for us.

And yet, there's that last page, that very last page, that suggests some possible restoration of things.

There's also a strong sentiment of "be careful what you wish for" - several points in the book where Quentin gets something he wanted (most spectacularly, the travels to Fillory), it turns out to be really bad, and instead of leading to happiness, it leads to the destruction of a lot of things he valued (but maybe didn't realize that he did).

And actually, also, maybe there's the theme that "too much power is bad, unless that power is very strictly channeled." There's too much of a temptation to use magic for things that have selfish ends, and that seems to go badly quite often.

It's like, the Narnia-travel books seen through a very jaundiced, very jaded, non-believing-in-Aslan grown-up eye. Fillory is actually kind of depressing and anticlimactic.

I get the feeling that Grossman is trying to SAY something here...I don't know quite what? That the little things in life are really all that we have, that moment of happiness when you wake up on a warm summer Saturday, or the comfort of taking a hot shower at the end of the day, or laughing with a friend, and that that is what we should hang on to and live for, not yearn towards something bigger and greater? Or maybe he's saying that life is crap everywhere? I don't know.

I will say a lot of the characters wound up disappointing me somehow.

Especially the last we hear of Josh: he's passing up the chance to right what's gone wrong in Fillory (or at least that's the assumption I get of what Quentin, Janet, Elliot, and the unnamed "hedgewitch" are going to do) because he wants to try to stumble into Middle-Earth and "bone an elf." Really? REALLY? Wow.

Actually, given some of the situations in the book: it seems like sex, or the quest for sex, gets people into a lot of bad situations. Again, I'm not sure if Grossman is going somewhere with that other than the standard old, "people will screw around on their lover and wind up hurting them." (But it goes deeper than that, with the whole situation with Mayakovsky).

I don't know. It was certainly an absorbing story, but it doesn't exactly leave me feeling uplifted. Or, doesn't make me want to believe that magic is real and that some people have it as a power. Like a lot of modern novels, I get the sense that the characters are mostly stumbling through the narrative, and they do things that I - even as comparatively unworldly as I am - knows will lead to great heartbreak or trouble, but they seem not to be able to see that.

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