Magic and Angry Gods and Final Exams, Oh My: Unexpected Thrills in ‘The Magicians’

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from Syfy website

by Chester Wilson III

Throw together “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” with a splash of “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,” and you’ll end up with something like “The Magicians.” Based off of Lev Grossman’s best-selling trilogy, “The Magicians” centers around a secret academy hidden in New York that teaches its students the art of magic. In between classes, the college-aged characters uncover the secrets of magic, from murderous gods and ghosts to an entire universe outside of their plane of existence with an uncanny resemblance to a children’s book.

When Quentin Coldwater, the show’s would-be protagonist, gains entry to a prestigious school for the purpose of training individuals in the study and application of magic, he has to part ways with his best friend Julia — and the two follow two extremely different paths. Julia, who was already vetted and rejected from the very same school, rediscovers the existence of magic and joins a group of street witches in New York. There, she gets an unorthodox education in the practice of magic.

While the character Quentin is gripped by the reality of keeping his grades up at Brakebills and perfecting his relationship with the class genius, Julia learns under the tutelage of Mariana, the self-proclaimed “Top Witch In New York,” who takes Julia in, and teaches her every bit of magic she’s learned since her own expulsion from Brakebills. Brakebills apparently isn’t the gilded academy they want the students to believe it is.

“The Magicians” represents a new era in the magic-fantasy genre, tearing apart the generic “hero born to save the world” story, where magic solves all the world’s problems, and the villain is a two-dimensional enemy whose death would make the world a better place (because, reasons). Instead, it turns many of the classical stereotypes on their heads. Grossman gives us a story that shows the less glamorous side of fairy tales, where the villain’s motivations aren’t objectively wrong, where magic has more in common with advanced Calculus than anything from “Harry Potter,” and where the hero and his gang are just as twisted as anyone can imagine they’d be if freshman in college had the power to animate the dead or start fires with the flick of their wrists.

The show presents an interesting dynamic between the exclusive education offered by the invite-only academy, Brakebills University for Magical Pedagogy, and the magical gangs of witches and magicians who practice magic behind the walls of safehouses in abandoned buildings.

The Magicians completely contradict the commonly written magic in literature. Grossman makes it very clear that magic in his universe will not be run off of sugar and spice, or hard work. The book and show make it very clear that while most people believe this to be fact, they couldn’t be further from the truth. Grossman’s magic runs off pain; the characters’ own inner storms are their true power.

Both the book and the show are great. To fans of “Harry Potter,” I can definitely see someone enjoying the read. But if it’s between reading the book and watching the show, I’d definitely watch the show first, and read the book second. The way the third season’s looking, the show’s taking the story in a whole new direction — different, but not necessarily better. Grossman takes his audience behind the curtains of another world and leaves them clamoring for more.

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