Bringing Magic to the Grown Ups
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the third installment in the grown-up version of Harry Potter hits bookstores today, and we’re ready to wolf it down.
What do you say about the third book in a series when you already think the author deserves a trophy room full of ironic quidditch cups for the first two? I loved Lev Grossman’s latest, The Magician’s Land. I also loved The Magicians and The Magician King.
Grossman, who dropped out of a Ph.D. program in comparative literature at Yale (he’s admitted, “I need to get [that] taken out of my fucking bio”), came out with The Magicians in 2009. It’s the story of an exclusive college of magic in upstate New York and the students who attend it. Think Harry Potter in the Ivy League, complete with secret societies.
The sequel, and now the third installment — no spoilers here — delve even deeper into another kind of fantasy world. In short, it’s a fantasy book carved out by a fantasy geek.
So to help you figure out whether you’ll enjoy this third and final installment in the trilogy, I made the following handy checklist.
- If you liked the first two, you’ll like it.
- If you didn’t like them, you won’t like it.
- If you haven’t read the others, don’t start with The Magician’s Land. Start at the beginning. This isn’t The Magic Treehouse.
What amazes me most is that Grossman manages to make each of the novels different, despite the fact that they’re definitely leaves off the same Ent. The Magician’s Land doesn’t start like The Magicians or The Magician King. Instead, it begins with Quentin Coldwater joining a heist, which, admittedly, is a little clichéd. When last year’s me was looking forward to the final book in the trilogy, she didn’t know what she’d find on the first page, but she definitely didn’t picture one of the most overused movie plots of all time.
But you know what? It works. In most heists, you have thieves with attitudes so focused and poetic that they don’t seem human. In The Magician’s Land, by contrast, the thieves are so … well, the opposite of melodramatic, which, as far as I know, is a concept so unglamorous that we don’t even have a word for it.
The character of Eliot continues to be wonderful. I don’t know where his elegant, boyish, hilarious, clever voice comes from. Heaven, probably. Grossman probably just ships these characters in from above. Janet really rounds out, to the point that it’s a little upsetting that we weren’t sufficiently graced with her acidic presence before. I used to think she was a filler character, but it turns out she’s just as intricate and perhaps more exciting as anyone in a Smaug kind of way. And Quentin? I almost think he’s too complicated for a traditional protagonist. His personality keeps evolving as he learns more about himself, and, shocking in this age of weak character development, he actually modifies his behavior based on what he learns.
In a way, the whole trilogy seems like a massive thought experiment. Grossman asks big philosophical questions, and then he goes about seeing what answers come up. The great thing about this series, or great thing No. 11 or whatever, is that once the writing arrives at an answer, Grossman picks a new question. The Magician’s Land doesn’t ask the same questions raised in The Magicians or The Magician King. Sure, some themes echo, but the real interest lies in watching Quentin’s world grow more magical with him, in ways that have nothing to do with spells or wardrobes.
The Magician’s Land pays homage to the rest of the series, but it’s firmly its own book, with new stakes and adventures. If you’re not sure whether to read it, please refer back to my checklist. That is all.