The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Read by Mark Bramhall
Quick Thoughts: The Magicians was a wonderful surprise for me, allowing me to remember my fondness of children fantasy, yet with a dark adult edge that the more mature me has come to love.
I think there is truly a law of entropy for the fantasies of children. As a child and well past my age of innocence, I loved Narnia. I have read each of the first six novels in the series at least 5 times, and have read the entire series at least once every decade in my life. As a child, my grandest wish was to be sucked into the land of Narnia. I checked the back of every wardrobe, and behind every bush at school. I would stare endlessly at old paintings of ships at sea, and every time I had to wait for the train, I held my breath. For childlike me, Narnia was a place of adventure and magic, and I wanted in on it. A few years back I reread the series again, and came away with a new thought. Narnia kind of sucks. Not the stories, but the actual physical land of Narnia. Those grand adventures require slogging through the snow, which I totally hate, and crawling through long, tight tunnels which really would set off my Claustrophobic panic attacks. And truly, who wants to be stuck on a long boat ride with their obnoxious cousin. Not me, I tell you. I realized most of all, I don’t want adventure anymore. I want air-conditioning and internet and to live vicariously through the adventures of others either real or imagined. So no, I do not want to live through a zombie apocalypse, or fly off from my dying planet on a space arc and I am more than willing to leave Narnia to the plucky British types.
Listening to the Magicians, I couldn’t help but have a bit of an affinity for Quentin. His obsession with the Narnia like world of Fillory sparked many memories of a time when things weren’t so digital. Lev Grossman has created the ultimate playground for adults who longed for other worlds and I for one had a heck of a time playing in it. While this book was full of the fantastical, what truly makes it work is its realism. The first half of the book focuses on Quentin and some friends as they make their way through a magical school. Grossman shrewdly grounds his fantasy setting in the everyday life of college aged kids. There are no orphaned princes or Dark Lords to fight, just the typical day to day of trying to get through class with a hangover, and figuring out just who is sleeping with whom. Yet, the magical is always there simmering on the surface with occasional geyser like breakthroughs. In the second half Grossman brilliantly handles the Fillory segments by grasping the tropes of the genre and blowing raspberries at them. Traveling to a new word doesn’t change the essence of the characters, forcing them into pseudo-British speech patterns, instead uses the blunt American nature of his characters as a counterpoint to much of portal fantasy. The crude language and snarky comments provide much humor, and makes the almost ridiculously cliché fantasy land seem fresh. The Magicians is a brilliantly conceived novel of broken dreams and the perils of getting what you want most, and though often dark and despairing, maintains a true sense of hope and a reminder of our innocence.
I was a bit worried about Mark Bramhall’s narration as the book began. As a novel that focuses mostly on college aged characters, I though his voice came off a bit old. I also thought he didn’t have that silky smooth voice of many fantasy narrators. Yet, somehow, he won me over. As the book progressed his unique voice pulled me deeper and deeper into the story. He brilliantly handles the dialogue between multiple characters, without becoming muddled. I never became confused as to who was actually speaking during the many multi-character conversations. His narrative voice captured the fractured nature of much of the book better than I expected. Bramhall’s reading added layers to the tale, and a sense of a gruff lushness that a more silky smooth narrator wouldn’t have. The Magicians was a wonderful surprise for me, allowing me to remember my fondness of children fantasy, yet with a dark adult edge that the more mature me has come to love.