The Magicians

Horrible, horrible, horrible.

There’s a tendency to conflate things “adult” with things “fucked up.” Take as an example the next game to suck away my entire life (6 months WoW-free! Yeah!), Diablo III. A couple years ago, early in the development cycle, some screenshots of the game were released that had a certain segment of the gaming community up in arms. Their complaint? The screenshots were “too bright,” “too colorful,” and one of them featured a small, non-descript rainbow in the background. “Oh no!” cried the pimply-faced hordes. “Blizzard is making the game for the kiddies! It needs to be darker and more grim!” What followed was a campaign to return the world of Diablo to what they thought were its rightful roots, mostly involving turning the gamma correction on the screenshots way down, saturating the pictures with black filters, and making everything look grainier. Does it look any better? Debatable (in my mind, no). But the argument that things which are meant for adults are supposed to be more cold and dark and grim is not to be ignored.’

A similar desire is at the heart of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, I believe. I had the misfortune of trusting some must-read Fantasy book list on the interwebs, and picked up this piece of tripe (and not the tasty kind you get at dim sum. The nasty kind that’s thrown into cheap hot dogs) as the book commemorating my father’s birthday (I’m sorry, Dad). I do not know who Lev Grossman is, but my mental picture of him now is the same overweight, self-righteous, lank-haired, pimply young man residing in the “Fellcave” he calls his parents’ basement that I imagine wrote long, angry screeds about Diablo III. The Magicians is marketed as a “Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia for Adults!” but what I read was the same emo, cynical, mistakenly jaded bullshit most young adults go through during and immediately after high school (I am no exception, I’m afraid. There is a very angry short story on my hard drive dating from that period which I laugh at now, but seemed very earnest and wise to the ways of the world at the time). Turn Harry into a college-age teenager, make him completely dissatisfied with life in all its forms and permutations, send him to a magical college and eventually a poor facsimile of Narnia, and skip over all of the good stuff with tiresome exposition about how nothing makes him happy. Throw in some gratuitous sex, some random violence, and what felt like interminable exegeses on how fake the world is (shades of a poorly written Holden Caulfield with MAGICAL POWERS, I suppose) and how brilliant those who hate it are, and you have a book tailor-made to appeal to kids who haven’t yet grown up, but imagine they have. The author is one of those who believes that referential fiction is automatically good fiction, and throws in fantasy and pop culture references left and right, not necessarily as truly vital pieces of character insight, but as a wink to his audience, implying “Yeah, I get it. I read and watch and listen to the same stuff you do. Aren’t we cool?” This isn’t pastiche, this is shout outs.

There was a time when I undoubtedly would have resonated to this, and managed to ignore the poor writing, the ham-handed exposition, the tacked-on plot, the laughably insulting deus ex machina ending, the very masturbatory self-absorbed navel-gazing at the heart of the main character (who is, most insultingly, named Quentin. If you are going to give ME, a Faulkner-obsessive, a main character named Quentin, you had damn well better make sure he’s a good one. This Quentin makes me want to rip the book in half) and found it all terribly insightful. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

In short, don’t buy or read The Magicians. It makes me despair for the state of modern fantasy. Oh, and of course it’s a best-seller.

I don’t know what to do with this (thanks be to Her for the link), but I feel very guilty for finding it as funny as I do.

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