The Magicians is a 2009 novel by Lev Grossman, a Yale educated journalist and book critic. Given Mr. Grossman's long list of academic and journalistic accomplishments, it is somewhat interesting that this work turns out to be basically a Harry Potter/Narnia crossover fanfic.

The protagonist of the book, one Quentin Coldwater, is a hyper-intelligent but fairly maladjusted teenager who doesn't particularly like his life in Brooklyn, even though he has a middle class family and some friends. One day, he gets lost in a community garden and ends up at an elite magical boarding school in Upstate New York. He passes an exhaustive entrance examination, and is soon immersed in the world of magical study. Yes, this is recognizably the plot of Harry Potter, and the parallels are drawn out (and pointed out by the characters themselves) in the book. Although Quentin's immersion into a world of magic and people who are equally as talented and intelligent as him is a relief, his boarding school experience is not without its hardships, from the normal sexual and social tensions of the college years, to the eruption of a cthonic evil in the middle of one of Coldwater's classes. After his magical education is complete, Coldwater and some of his school friends move to New York City, where they live a life of drug and alcohol fueled debauchery, which threatens to destroy them. This self-destructiveness is averted when one of their schoolmates, a punk rock kid named "Penny", shows up with buttons that can magical transport them to Fillory, a Narnia stand-in that has obsessed the otherwise cynical Quentin since his childhood. During an adventure in Fillory, several different plot strands are resolved, and some mysterious characters that were bit players earlier on are revealed to be very important. At the end of the book, Quentin and several of his magical compatriots are perhaps a bit wiser.

Despite the somewhat ridiculous premise (like I said, the book is an unabashed attempt to crossover many aspects of the Harry Potter and Narnia series), the book is actually gripping, and the characters are actually sympathic and realistic. My biggest question about the book is what I am supposed to make out of it. Is the book meant to be a snark on the literary merits, and fanbases, of Harry Potter, and Narnia, or is this meant to be more of an affectionate parody? The author seems to know his fantasy cliches well, but I am not sure if he is taking them seriously: if this work is grounded in fantasy, or whether it is grounded in the jaded worldview of a New York intellectual.

For me, one of the mysteries of the book is wrapped up in something that C.S. Lewis wrote in the introduction to one of the Space Trilogy books, where he points out that for modern readers, many aspects of fantasy stories that seem fantastical were actually incidental to the story. Most medieval people would not have considered tyrannical princes, wicked step-mothers or woodcutters as unusual elements. In 'The Magicians', Lev Grossman presents, along with his fantasy worlds, a world of disenchanted, hedonistic young people who seem to have little concern or connection to the mundane world, and who seem to be mostly interested in alcohol, fashion, and parties. To me, this world is just as fantastic as the magic worlds, but to Grossman's intended audience, it might be a normal piece of background. This is, I think, a very important question, because one of the major themes of the book seems to be enchantment or disenchantment with the world: the book seems to be a commentary on the uses and abuses of fantasy, how it can either make the world a more wonderful place, or else how it can lead to the total dissatisfaction with the world that leads to nihilism and despair. But, of course, that is just one possible reading of the book, and I am not sure what exactly Mr. Grossman intended.

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