April 27, 2011

For Those in Hogwarts Withdrawal

I just finished reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman, and wanted to share my thoughts. The book's plot draws on both Harry Potter and the Narnia series, but thrusts these recognizable memes into a far more gritty and unforgiving environment. 

Quentin, a Brooklyn high schooler, is on his way to an interview that he hopes will help him get into an Ivy League school. Things don't go as planned, as instead, Quentin discovers a dead body waiting for him. Quicker than you can say Gryffindor, he is magically transported to Brakebills, a college that he never even knew existed. 

However, although this school teaches that magic is definitely not PG-13 -- and the extra-curricular activities that go on when class in not in session would make most people turn a shade of red brighter than a Weasley's head of hair -- as time goes by, Quentin and his schoolmates learn that though magic can do many things, it cannot provide happiness or a purpose in life. 

Searching for some sort of "quest" to occupy their time, they make another shocking discovery -- that the mythical land of Fillory, which most of them read about in books as children, is in fact a real place. However, their eventual journey there once again shows that the sugar-coated stories told to children often gloss over some deeper, darker, painful truths. 

This is not a fantasy novel full of precocious children, benevolent elderly wizards and cute, cuddly talking animals. While there are moments of humor throughout the novel, at its core, this is a harsh and sometimes depressing spin on what it means to leave childhood behind -- and the overwhelming cost of trying to hang on to that innocence when it comes your time to finally grow up.

Some people may not like how this book -- the first part of a planned trilogy -- ends, but if you're willing to rid yourself of those "everybody lives happily ever after" endings you were constantly exposed to as a kid, you may find the journey through its pages are more than worth the effort. 

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