PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Books

"Harry Potter for Grown-Ups" Grows Up

The third and final installment in Lev Grossman's 'Magicians' trilogy, The Magician's Land, is also its best.


The Magician's Land

Publisher: Viking
Length: 416 pages
Author: Lev Grossman
Price: $27.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2014-08
Amazon

It really starts, as it always does in this kind of story, when the hero’s father dies. Returning from his father’s funeral, Quentin Coldwater uses a spell to light a candle, and feels a buzzing in his hands that alerts him to a new power in his magic: “Something had broken loose in him. He was truly alone in the world now, no one was coming to help him.”

The thing about Quentin is that no one has ever been coming to help him; not in the way that he needs. There’s no savior, nor is there even any pre-ordained quest. In Lev Grossman’s The Magician’s Land, magic doesn’t make things any easier -- only more interesting.

In the first book of the series, Quentin finds entry to the magical land of Fillory, a place he’d formerly believed to exist only between the covers of a series of children’s novels. In the second book, he rules for a time as king of that land before being exiled and stripped of his crown. Now Quentin has tried to “go straight” by taking a teaching position at Brakebills, his magical alma mater.

But in the process of saving a student from her own prank gone wrong, Quentin encounters Alice, his ex-girlfriend who died to save him at the end of the first book. Alice now exists as a malevolent being of blue fire, a “niffin”, neither dead nor fully alive. Because he cannot bring himself to subdue her, as is his duty as a professor, Quentin is fired from Brakebills.

The student he has saved, Plum, is expelled, and they meet again when they are asked by an anonymous backer to join a team of thieves. The object is a sealed briefcase that formerly belonged to one Rupert Chatwin, the now-deceased personage on whom Quentin’s beloved Fillory books were partly based. Plum has a unique tie to the heist, being the last living descendant of the Chatwin family, though she’s completely unaware that Fillory truly does exist.

There have been other books about how magic might work in the real, modern world, but not so many books about how magic might work with real people. Real people don’t get to sublimate their every disappointment into a single epic quest in which they are the heroes. Real people, when they get what they’ve wanted, usually find a way to be dissatisfied with it somehow. Or, as in Quentin’s case, they’ll find a way to remain dissatisfied with themselves.

But his father’s death changes Quentin. As long as his father was alive, there was always the hope that he might be pleased by Quentin, that he might even be someone worth pleasing. It occurs to Quentin that perhaps his father was a magician whose emotional distance and inattentiveness were a result of an effort to protect his son.

Quentin’s father, however, was not a magician, and the realization that his father did not live up to his expectations frees Quentin from the unreasonable ones he holds for himself. He finally finds his specialty (repair of small objects: “think smaller… like a coffee cup,”) which one of his colleagues attributes to his newfound maturity: “…I couldn’t find your discipline last time because you didn’t have one yet. I always thought you were a bit young for your age.” The dean of Brakebills will tell him, “You were always one of the clever ones. Everyone saw it but you. If you hadn’t been so busy trying to convince yourself you didn’t belong here, you would have seen it too.” Quentin’s emergence from his 20s sees the diminishing of his self-loathing and self-pity, and grows his character in a way that does credit to Grossman’s careful work with him over three books.

Other characters are less developed, but more fun. (Quentin has always been kind of a drag, if a realistic and intermittently relatable one.) In particular, Janet, Quentin’s former classmate who still rules as a queen of Fillory, remains deliciously angry and selfish. Even the Fillorian high king and fellow Brakebills alum Eliot is simultaneously baffled and impressed to find out that, though she can be kind and brave, Janet really has no soft gooey center. In her case, it’s “turtles all the way down,” so to speak, and it’s hard not to bear her the same kind of love/hate her cohorts have for her.

Julia, a main character in The Magician King, plays only a supporting role here, but the loose ends of her story are gathered and tied. Alice is more difficult to fathom, since as Quentin’s love interest she is viewed primarily through his eyes.

This is understandable but disappointing at the same time. Grossman has a lot of character and plot to manage, and he does it with uneven finesse. He has so many stories and people in his head that they stream out at times in an unwieldy fashion. The writing itself can be smart and hilarious, as when Grossman shifts his third-person voice out of Quentin’s head to match the cadences of either Janet or Eliot’s thoughts. Other times it lapses into lazy descriptions the book could do without altogether.

Maybe it’s the magic. I don’t really care that much. If there are too many stories in The Magician’s Land, they are all stories I want to hear, not least because they are so well-connected to stories I have heard before in different contexts. A primary feature of the series has been the self-conscious borrowing of themes and plot threads from famous fantasy novels, most obviously The Chronicles of Narnia, and this third book continues in that vein, borrowing from, among other sources, media as varied as The Neverending Story, The Ring of the Niebelungs, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Fans of the first two books will be well satisfied with the final installment. It has most everything they might expect, and enough of what they won’t to keep them as vested in the action as ever Quentin hoped to be.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.