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The Magicians 122

Posted by samzenpus
from the potter-by-any-other-name dept.
stoolpigeon writes "The popularity of web site Will It Blend? is indicative of how people enjoy mashing things together. Of course this kind of sharing and combining has been going on in the arts for quite some time. The new Lev Grossman novel, The Magicians asks 'will it blend?' of two rather popular fantasy series, J.K. Rowling's world of Harry Potter and the tales of Narnia from C.S. Lewis. Grossman's thoughts on both are tossed on top and then the author begins to play a symphony across the full range of buttons from stir to liquefy. What comes out is not children's fantasy but at times a rather bitter mix." Keep reading for the rest of JR's review.
The Magicians
author Lev Grossman
pages 402
publisher Viking
rating 7/10
reviewer JR Peck
ISBN 978-0-670-020550-3
summary Boy feels socially akward...boy discovers he's magical...boy gets into private magical school.
Grossman is an author and critic for Time and has written for a number of high-profile magazines. He is a talented writer and handles his story telling with skill. His characters have depth and this story takes on a very gritty sense of reality, something that is not often found in fantasy. I was impressed with his writing, yet at the same time I was torn with how I felt about the book. I found it to be compelling and at the same time difficult. It took me a few weeks to process the whole thing and get an idea of why the book impacted me the way that it did. I'm going to lay that all out now, but I have to say that when reviewing fiction I work very hard to avoid discussing plot. In this case, it will be impossible to some extent. I don't think I'm going to give away anything that the promotional material doesn't make pretty obvious, but anyone who wants to go into this book knowing as little as possible should stop reading now.

The protagonist, Quentin Coldwater, is a nerd. He's an academic over-achiever living a life of privilege, set on a path of success. He's also extremely unhappy, feeling disconnected from the rest of the world. He struggles with his inability to connect with others and the meaninglessness of life. He has sought out and found some respite in the fantasy world of Fillory, a magical land created and explored in the books of an American author that lived in England. At the start of The Magicians Quentin in on his way to an interview as part of the admissions process for Princeton. But this does not end up as another normal day for Quentin. Rather than his ultimate destination, Princeton, Quentin ends up at Brakebills. Brakebills is a university in upstate New York where students learn magic.

While Hogwarts was not the first literary school of magic, it is the model Grossman has in mind and he is very up front about that fact. The students take part in a magical game called Welters. At one point a team member of Quentin's, Josh, is absent at the start of a match. Quentin hunts him down and the following interaction takes place between the two of them.

Josh stood up. He saluted smartly. "Send me an owl."

"Come on, they're waiting for us. Fogg is freezing his ass off."

"Good for him. Too much ass on that man anyway."

Quentin got Josh out of the library and heading toward the rear of the House, though he was moving slowly with a worrying tendency to lurch into door frames and occasionally into Quentin.

He did an abrupt about-face.

"Hang on," he said. "Gotta get my quidditch costume. I mean uniform. I mean welters."

"We don't have uniforms."

"I know that, " Josh snapped. "I'm drunk, I'm not delusional. I still need my winter coat."

This sliver does a lot to reveal the similarities and differences. Brakebills is very much like Hogwarts in external ways, and completely different in substance. The school is for adults, not children and the life that Grossman portrays is much more in line with reality than fantasy. This is not a book to pick up for a young child. This story contains profanity, sexual content, graphic violence, as well as alcohol and drug abuse. This is where I ran into my first issue with The Magicians. I'll get to that shortly, but first I'd like to finish laying out what the book involves.

Not all of Brakebills is lifted straight from Hogwarts, though I don't think the reader with much experience in reading fantasy will find anything that could really be called new. What there is, as I have mentioned, is very well done. Grossman builds up to moments of palpable tension. He pulls the reader into the life of Quentin and shows real finesse at times. His characters very much come alive, in their brief moments of joy and in their many moments of pain, frustration and loss. Anyone who has felt the hurt of being outside, dealing with the cruelty of others or a general questioning of meaning will be able to relate well to the protagonist.

Eventually school is over and the students graduate. And here is the turn that I think the promotional material makes obvious but some may not want to know about going into reading the book. The second section of the story begins as Quentin and his fellow Brakebills alumni find out that Fillory is real. They immediately prepare to set out on an expedition to the land they've loved since childhood. That Fillory is better spelled N-a-r-n-i-a is just as obvious as the connection to Rowling's work. Quentin and company enter Fillory using magic buttons that take them to an intermediary world of fountains. Jumping into each fountain takes a person to a different world. They have to take care to jump into the correct pool at the base of the fountain that will take them to Fillory. Fillory is a land of talking beasts and magical creatures.

So what sets The Magicians apart from lesser books that lift heavily from other works? Why is The Magicians a strong story while something like Eragon is a weak rip-off? I think it boils down to two elements. First is Grossman's strong writing. Even if this were just a big piece of fan fiction, it would be well written fan fiction. Secondly, this isn't just an homage to the work of others. While Grossman has lifted the settings and externals, the substance is completely different often to the point of taking a position that is completely antithetical to the original work.

My first problem, which I tie to the very adult content is wrapped up in why I read fantasy. I read fantasy on many levels as a form of escape, much like Grossman's character Quentin did. Much of the fantasy I've read is not only fantasy but it is written for children. At the bottom of it all there is no real risk or fear. I read with anticipation, not of an outcome but rather how that outcome will be worked out by the author. There is often death or treachery but it takes on a fairy tale like quality. It does not feel real or cruel but rather cartoonish. Grossman completely jettisons any of this kind of approach. He tackles the safety of these children's tales and eviscerates it. The violence in The Magicians is not cartoonish, it is often cruel even sadistic. There's not much in the way of escapism here. What Quentin finds is that magic doesn't change the basic underlying facts of life, not even traveling to another world does this. This is combined with the fact that much of Grossman's realism includes behavior and speech that isn't something that I would consider normal or appropriate. It may be for others but this isn't a book I would feel comfortable recommending to friends or family.

Then there is my second issue. I've read that Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is intended to be a type of anti-Narnia. Well Grossman doesn't just create an alternative world that is contrary to Narnia. He destroys Narnia from the inside. And this caused issues for me in both sections of the book at times. Not because of ideological difficulties with what Grossman puts forward but because it would frequently push me outside the story as it felt like Grossman would move from telling his own story to commenting on the story of another. It isn't that what he has to say about the other stories isn't interesting and that he doesn't bring up intriguing issues and criticisms of both, but rather that it jarred me out of the narrative as the story became more a work of exposition. Something like the flashbacks to History and Moral Philosophy class that fill so much of Starship Troopers. The author shows his hand, that he is more interested in making a point than telling a story.

The fact that a major component of the book is polemic in nature means much of the discussion around the book will not be about plot or setting but rather about the argument the author sets forth. I don't agree with Grossman's premise or conclusions but I do admire how well he states his case throughout the entire book, not only in those portions that might feel a bit preachy. I've read in an interview Grossman did about The Magicians that he feels that Rowling lets her characters solve their problems, rather than resting on divine intervention like the characters of Lewis's works. This is reflected in how he handles the world of each, though I would argue that this is not the case, especially in light of how Rowling's series ended. I think it does explain why he is so much rougher on Lewis.

Anyone looking for a dark story that questions the assumptions and underlying principles of those that are not so dark should really enjoy this book. Any parent that picks it up for their young one because they hear it compared to Harry Potter is in for a rude surprise. Those looking for a fun little escape from the real world wont find it here, though things are so grim at times they may find the real world a bit of a relief after the weight of Grossman's. The Magicians held my attention and I was impressed with Grossman's ability, unfortunately at the same time I was a bit disappointed with how he used that ability. With something this subjective your mileage may vary, and since release The Magicians has hit number nine on the New York Times best sellers list.

Viking set up a number of web sites to support the release of The Magicians. This is not so much about the book itself but will be of interest to readers and I think is an interesting development for book lovers in general. There are four sites TheMagiciansBook.com is a normal promotional site with information on the book. ChristopherPlover.com brings to life the fictional author of the Fillory books. Brakebills of course has a site, obfuscated just like the school itself. Finally there is Embers Tomb a wealth of Fillory related information. The Fillory and Plover sites come across as very genuine and will probably snag a reader or two into some level of confusion. The Brakebills site is a bit too over the top to be taken seriously but then again, with real news sites quoting The Onion and the occasional uproar I see over humor sites like Objective Ministries there probably will be some who think it is a real school.

You can purchase The Magicians from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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The Magicians

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  • Frosty weather (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Hognoxious (631665)
    Harry Potter is a clumsy metaphor for Jesus, and ... anything else?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      No, Harry Potter books are chock full of thinly-veiled homosexual metaphor. C.S. Lewis is chock full of thinly-veiled Christian metaphor.

      My guess is that the protagonists will stick the magic wooden staff of GapenHolen up their asses and then self-flagellate themselves to death before the evil Crusaders of Cok beat them to it. Larry Craig will make a guest appearance as the Scoutmaster.
    • by jandersen (462034)

      Harry Potter is a clumsy metaphor for Jesus, and ... anything else?

      If that is all you have found in the stories, perhaps you should read them again with a bit more care and attention. In my view the clumsy Jesus metaphor is the Narnia books; they are nothing more than a shallow retelling of that theme, whereas the Potter books tell with real psychological insight about what goes on in the mind of a young person who is landed with far too heavy a burden; Rowling's portrayal of the delusional state of mind of Tom Riddle is not bad either. She is a very clever lady.

      I don't se

      • If that is all you have found in the stories, perhaps you should read them again with a bit more care and attention.

        But then I wouldn't have time to get a first post, would I?

  • Interesting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by scribblej (195445) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @01:21PM (#29354507)

    But what I really want to know is... what kind of sex am I going to find in it? This review is lousy at covering the important points. If I buy the book, am I going to get Narina-furry sex? Hogwarts-magic sex? These are the things I need to know.

  • Fine, fine (Score:3, Funny)

    by oodaloop (1229816) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @01:28PM (#29354611)
    So it blends. But does it run Linux?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @01:33PM (#29354711)

    It is a well written story about a magical world, a fairly detailed world of rules and exceptions. The story, at one point, had a very poignant concept of what magic may be: That if the universe was a house that God made for everyone, that Magic was the tools he left behind, possibly by accident, in the garage. That perhaps using Magic was as dangerous as kids finding these power tools and such, and using them without direction or precaution.

    The characters in the story are fairly fleshed out, in that you have a good sense of what drives them, what makes them tick, you can see the dynamics between them. The description of the magic school Brakebills is very well done, filled with things that people don't understand about and that has a life of its own. And while at the very end there's something that can lead to a sequel, there's definitely an ending to this book, no gimmick cliffhanger that requires you to wait for the next book.

    Definitely, the book had the makings of a great story. Yet, I was left numb at the end, not happy, not sad, not scared. I read fiction to be entertained. This entertainment can be in the form of humor, feeling good, scared, excited, titillated, insightful, or some combination thereof. Instead, when I read this book, I saw through the eyes of a fairly apathetic protagonist, who messes things up and blames everyone else, who had chances to become a hero and fails each time. I read about a person who wanted something, got it, didn't like it, and became apathetic. I read about the antagonist being defeated, the protagonist winning in the end, and no one feeling ... well, happy for having accomplished anything. Perhaps this is what real life can be. But come on, that's not entertainment. And that's what's sad about this, that this book had the potential to be a GREAT story, but misses the mark significantly.

    • Instead, when I read this book, I saw through the eyes of a fairly apathetic protagonist, who messes things up and blames everyone else, who had chances to become a hero and fails each time.

      Would you say there's a similarity between this character and Donaldson's Thomas Covenant?

      While Covenant doesn't fail *every* time, it was the extreme unlikeability of the character that put me off and made finishing the novel a chore. I didn't even care all that much whether he learned to overcome that character, and at

      • I hadn't thought of that - but you are right, there are some similarities. I guess the biggest difference is that in The Magicians the reader might not like the protagonist but he likes himself for the most part. The thing that really kicked my butt with Covenant was how much he hated himself. He couldn't do anything substantial without being crushed under a new wave of self loathing. As the parent says- Quentin is more apathetic than anything.

        • by argent (18001)

          Thanks, you're right... that's a good summary of the problem with Lord Foul's Bane. I don't know whether the other faults I remember are real or just a side effect of the complete lack of a sympathetic character.

          Apathetic, I can handle. I'll just pretend it's Wodehouse. :)

      • by pregister (443318)

        Donaldson's series is probably the only series I've read where on almost every page I was hoping the main character would get hit by a truck and choke on his own blood.

        That and Watership Down. Freaking rabbits.

        • by argent (18001)

          /me ties pregister down in a chair (Clockwork-Orange style) and plays "Bright Eyes" at him until his ears bleed. Freaking rabbits indeed.

      • i have to say covenant was the first ever fictional character i hated, i don't just mean hated but despised for breathing. i got through foul's bane and gave up on ever reading illearth war, covenant being so self-loathing ruined any magic in that series
      • The thing about Covenant is that it's his very unlikeableness that makes it a more rewarding read, at least for me. Definitely harder to get through and slower than I usually read, but worth it for all that - and perhaps because of it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jollyreaper (513215)

      It is a well written story about a magical world, a fairly detailed world of rules and exceptions. The story, at one point, had a very poignant concept of what magic may be: That if the universe was a house that God made for everyone, that Magic was the tools he left behind, possibly by accident, in the garage. That perhaps using Magic was as dangerous as kids finding these power tools and such, and using them without direction or precaution.

      That's almost like the conclusion I came up with as a kid. I wish I could say drugs were involved but alas it was simply lack of sleep, too much caffeine, and way too much video gaming. Magic is God's cheat codes! So you've got the natural rules for the way things work and then God suddenly pops open a console and edits the memory stack on the fly and suddenly all the water turns to blood. And the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Like when you talk about messing with a database, everyone scr

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The witch of Endor really could summon forth the spirits of the dead but was taken aback when she really called forth Elijah for King Saul.

        It was Samuel, not Elijah. Elijah wasn't even born yet when Saul was king.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by jollyreaper (513215)

          The witch of Endor really could summon forth the spirits of the dead but was taken aback when she really called forth Elijah for King Saul.

          It was Samuel, not Elijah. Elijah wasn't even born yet when Saul was king.

          The real question is why either of them would be living on a moon with a bunch of Ewoks.

          • by eleuthero (812560)
            The real question for me was always, "why did Lucas name the planet after a region in Palestine?" but I guess we all have our own questions.
      • by AP31R0N (723649)

        The magic theory i've always liked is that will/intelligence/life is different or special, as compared to energy/matter. Life can make matter and energy behave in ways they don't on their own. Plants, animals and microbes work a sort of minor magic in the form of biochemistry. In some cases through intent/desire they can move and change things deliberately. Sticks don't naturally stack themselves into shelter. Life can. Enter sapience.

        Intelligent beings can make matter do things to other matter (scien

        • by eleuthero (812560)
          So what are your thoughts on the Earthsea type of magic where the words themselves are important?
          • by AP31R0N (723649)

            Hmm. i never read the books and the movie didn't seem to make a big deal of the words. i never gave much thought to the words. It wouldn't be something i'd go for because it just doesn't match my way of thinking. Like the parent's post about magic being a god's tool left behind. i wouldn't go that way because i'm atheist.

            i could work on it though. Perhaps the words are the language of superpowered beings who could shape the world with their voices. Or the words resonate with an element. Tchugath Nit

            • by eleuthero (812560)
              Interesting that you are an atheist and posit "superpowered beings who could shape the world with their voices" - this sounds remarkably similar to the judeo-christian claim. ;)
    • by Palidase (566673)

      I read this a few weeks ago. While I actually enjoyed the writing and the basis for the storyline, I am still not sure how I felt about reading the book.

      It may be a bad comparison, but I liken it to watching Schindler's List for the first time. It was an excellent film, but I didn't know how to describe my emotion when I was done watching.

      For me, The Magicians was very similar to that. I also enjoy reading to revel in the escape. Despite the content and genre, you don't really get to escape in this book. In

    • wait so its just like the last HP book? where i didn't give a shit about if harry and company won or not? where there was very little in the way of connection to the other books or the whole jesus thing that made me want to go to scotland and smack the author for making the worst ending to a mostly good series? yeah if its anything like that i'll skip it and read a series that wasn't a complete mess at the end.
  • Will it Blend? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Microlith (54737)

    I don't think it's indicative of people wanting to mash things together, so much as finding it amusing when someone sticks every day objects (and sometimes expensive ones) into a blender and records the destruction that ensues.

    Sames as the guys on youtube who stick shit in microwaves for extended periods of time to see what happens. It's purely the destructive impulse being satisfied.

    • by steelfood (895457)

      I'm not sure it can be considered a blend of Tolkien and Lewis anyway. I mean, both the Lord of the Rings and Narnia series are completely romantic. In fact, most books in the fantasy genre are romantic, and I'm not sure there's any series that's not.

      I'd say, it's more of a Harry Potter meets Rule of the Bone.

  • Gritty realism? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Aladrin (926209) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @01:45PM (#29354859)

    Who reads fantasy for 'gritty realism'? Sounds like it'd just be a major drag, to me. And deliberately basing your school on another magic school in a recent book? Isn't that just a cop-out?

    • Like I said, I don't think it's a cop-out. I think it is a way for Grossman to look at this stuff from his point of view. From his skill in writing to the stuff that is more his own, it's obvious that he could have done the whole thing with 'original' stuff if he had wanted. He's using the similarities for a reason, I think.

      If it were not for the intentional nod to Rowling I'd say the tone made me think more of "A Wizard of Earthsea".

      • by PCM2 (4486)

        I'm skeptical. I see Lev Grossman basically as an opportunist. He wrote Codex when mystery-thrillers about musty old books were popular (sort of a side effect of the Da Vinci Code craze, I think) and the result was a pretty average novel that broke little ground. Based on this latest effort, breaking ground doesn't seem to be one of his interests.

        • Sometimes, it's better not to break ground, but explore what's already been cracked open. You might just find something unexpected, be it grim or beautiful, and finding the unexpected leads to both entertainment and learning.

          • by steelfood (895457)

            That doesn't necessarily imply that it's good by any measure. Exploring existing ground can also lead to boring and unentertaining. I'm sure a literary scholar would disagree, but for the rest of us who read for our own sense of pleasure, I'm sure something that's not generic would be more appealing than something that is.

      • by jmorris42 (1458) *

        > I think it is a way for Grossman to look at this stuff from his point of view.

        Exactly. He obviously hated Narnia, just from reading the review, and probably disliked Potter and instead of just writing a snarky review he set out to 'deconstruct' them. And face it, the whole field of literary criticism is esssentially the process of 'deconstructing' everything valuable in the corpus of Western Civilization and showing how corrupt and wicked it all is. Pointy headed academics do it in the form of nasty

    • Who reads fantasy for 'gritty realism'?

      Me. Indeed, it's one of my favourite genres. See Hugh Cook's novels for a great example of this sort of thing.

    • by Spittoon (64395)
      I didn't think the references to other works was a cop-out-- I liked that stuff. But I sure did think the book was a major f-ing drag. It seemed like the whole point of the book was that negative people inevitably ruin everything and there's nothing anybody can do about it. I had similar issues with his brother's book "Soon I Will Be Invincible"-- nobody learned anything or changed through the whole book. They share a kind of cynical, depressive mindset and it permeates the worlds they've created in their
    • by Omestes (471991)

      Who reads fantasy for 'gritty realism'? Sounds like it'd just be a major drag, to me.

      I do. I can't stand most fantasy. Most fantasy is formulaic and boring, with flawless Mary Sue protagonists, evil empires, and powerful artifacts. Every time I try to read modern fantasy, I give up and read Tolkien instead. That and the stupid 400 book trilogies, which require you to go read them all in order, all of which are nothing but a cliche cross between Lord of the Rings and DnD.

      Michael Swanwick's The Iron Drag

      • by Aladrin (926209)

        Yes, but you can avoid 'gritty realism' without going formulaic.

        BTW, are you holding up LotR as an example of 'gritty realism'? Because if that's the case, then it isn't very gritty or realistic... It's still pretty straight-up fantasy with very little real consequence to anything they do, and very little negative actually happens to them. Almost none, if you count things that are reversed later, like Gandolf's death.

        I agree that there has to be some negative to balance the positive... I sometimes even

        • by Omestes (471991)

          Wasn't holding up LotR as "gritty realism", though that would be rather silly. I was holding it up as what most modern fantasy tries to shamelessly copy. I'm okay with some copying (it is rather hard to do something new), but a lot of it is nothing but rehashes of the theme, and not written nearly so well. So generally about 100 pages into a fantasy book, I throw it aside and reread LotR.

          I agree that there has to be some negative to balance the positive... I sometimes even like books that are more negati

  • What I find distressing is not the book itself (I haven't read it), but the hype emerging from the publishing industry about it. After the stunning and unexpected success of Harry Potter, the publishers had two choices -- either keep a look out for books that might have the same appeal, or only look for books that revolve around the exact same formula of young people in a boarding school with fantasy trappings. It seems that they've chosen the latter. Harry Potter may spawn a raft of imitators, and altho

    • I wonder if 'fantasy boarding school fiction' will soon become a genre of its own?

      This genre already exists. I would point you to a link, but I am at work and it might violate company policy.

  • by kenp2002 (545495) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @02:19PM (#29355307) Homepage Journal

    C.S. Lewis was out to make a point and tell a story. So was Tolkien. In contrast Potter seems to be "just a story" without an underlying point. This has no bearing on the merits but rather the structure and origin.

    It struck me that Both Lewis and Tolkien (as well as Herbert for you Sci-Fi fans) sat down and said, "What message do I want to send... okay.. now how about a good story to communicate that..."

    Potter struck me as, "Ok here is the overall story. Let's see if we can work a bigger message into it."

    As the review pointed out sometimes the story can get overshadowed by the message\point the author is trying to make.

    People, for some odd reason alawsys have an axe to grind with Lewis. Be it Christan bigotry or the exact opposite, alas the "Jesus isn't an animal!" rabid foaming at the mouth fundamentalists I find it almost ironic that Rowling, Tolkien, and Lewis now form this weird "Fantasy Trinity" of core writers.

    Interestingly enough though I hear little of Ann Mcaffrey, Margret Weis and Tracy Hickman; and albiet biased, Terry Brooks.

    It goes back to world crafting which is difficult to do, for authors even more so do to limited space.

    Perhaps the success of those three was their ability, intentional or otherwise, was to draw the reader into the world with little effort.

    Perhaps we should measure this work against that standard on how easily "we can step through the wardrobe", or quickly "we can make the journey to the undying lands", or how siftly we can "catch a train to Hogwarts"

    • by PCM2 (4486) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @02:34PM (#29355513) Homepage

      C.S. Lewis was out to make a point and tell a story. So was Tolkien. In contrast Potter seems to be "just a story" without an underlying point.

      I'll concede Lewis, but what was the "point" that you perceive Tolkien set out to make? That invented languages are fun? If I may quote from Tolkien's "Forward to the Second Edition" (page 6 in the Houghton Mifflin hardcover edition):

      As for any inner meaning or 'message', it has in the intention of the author none.

      Of course, there will always be those people who read a statement like that from an author and instantly start looking for inner meanings and messages, but those people are silly.

      As for the Harry Potter series, I'd say there's as little or as much "point" to it as you want to read into it. If nothing else, Rowling's characterizations are much more nuanced and "modern" than those of either Lewis or Tolkien. Dumbledore, Rowling's analogue to Gandalf, is shown to be flawed and fallible, and even Rowling's take on the archetypal Dark Lord can be read as just some poor guy who had a rotten life and went sour because of it. Maybe that was her point -- that for all the wizardry and wonder we would have in a world where magic was real, human beings would still have to muddle through the way they always do, and that children in such a world would no more be able to rely on the infallibility and immortality of their elders than children in our own world do? I don't care enough about the series to formulate a hard opinion one way or the other, but to suggest that it "has no point" seems to say more about the critic than about Rowling herself.

      • by ShakaUVM (157947)

        >>As for the Harry Potter series, I'd say there's as little or as much "point" to it as you want to read into it

        The only real point was a sort of ham-handed, 40-years-behind-the-times message about racism. Bad people (Draco) judge good people (Hermoine) solely based on the circumstances of their birth ("Pureblood", "Halfblood" or "Mudblood"). Good people (Harry) don't care, and don't hang out with the racists (Voldemorte and his crew).

        There's also the standard story tropes about hope and coming-of-age

        • by PCM2 (4486)

          Bad people (Draco) judge good people (Hermoine) solely based on the circumstances of their birth ("Pureblood", "Halfblood" or "Mudblood"). Good people (Harry) don't care, and don't hang out with the racists (Voldemorte and his crew).

          But if everything in Rowling's world is as black-and-white as you say, why didn't the wizards just do the obvious, and get rid of Slytherin House? It was explicitly stated that most of the rotten wizards in the world came from Slytherin. So why not simply disband it, and stop emphasizing the character traits it represents? Why tolerate it? I'm not a particular fan of the Potter series, but I think Rowling's worldview is perhaps broader than you suggest.

          • Note that the existence of Slytherin is not inconsistent with the idea of Rowling being ham-handed. After all, there are many, many things in her novels that really were poorly thought out. If you ask me, the whole series is a fluke that reached critical mass, helped along by some celebrity preachers pulling a corollary of the Streisand Effect (the whole "Harry Potter books promote devil worship!" brouhaha).

          • by ShakaUVM (157947)

            >>But if everything in Rowling's world is as black-and-white as you say, why didn't the wizards just do the obvious, and get rid of Slytherin House?

            She took pains to show that Slytherin wasn't necessarily evil, just preoccupied with power and status, not unlike a lot of people.

            But as for why Rowling did a lot of things, I think because she just sort of wrote whatever came into her head... the rules for Quiddich are ridiculous, for example.

        • by mvdwege (243851)

          Bad people [...] judge good people [...] solely based on the circumstances of their birth

          And why is this 40 years behind the times? Are you really saying what you seem to be implying, that it is not a good thing to condemn this attitude?

          Mart

          • by ShakaUVM (157947)

            >>And why is this 40 years behind the times? Are you really saying what you seem to be implying, that it is not a good thing to condemn this attitude?

            MLK Jr., died in 1968. Since then, the notion that racism is acceptable has entirely evaporated in popular society. She's fighting a fight that has already been won, essentially.

            • by mvdwege (243851)

              Riiight. In case you hadn't noticed, in countries like the UK, it still is a liability to be Pakistani. Sure, the racists will try to hide their racism behind their 'critique' on your faith, because religion nicely correlates with skin colour in this case, but since it is the same BNP types attacking people, I tend to be skeptical of their stated motives.

              And outright racism still exists. In fact, thanks to phenomena as described above, it is in fact becoming more accepted, not less.

              Mart

              • by ShakaUVM (157947)

                >>And outright racism still exists. In fact, thanks to phenomena as described above, it is in fact becoming more accepted, not less.

                Go back and read what I said; I phrased it carefully. The battle over racism in the public arena has been won. You'll no longer see a mainstream senator like Byrd join the KKK, or a Strom Thurmond vote against various civil rights, or people blockading a school to stop black people from coming in. Socially, it was a complete revolution, with societal norms essentially bei

                • by mvdwege (243851)

                  Riiight. A single column in a mainstream paper means the BNP has no support, suuure. And the fact that an outright Neo-Nazi party even gets a few percent of the vote means that there is still plenty of racism around. And it is not just Britain? Ever hear of Geert Wilders? Jean-Marie le Pen? Philip de Winter? Racism is alive and well, at least in Europe.

                  And the problems with Islam are overblown. If you start looking at the actual numbers, and if you analyze every incident that gets bandied about the blogosph

                  • by ShakaUVM (157947)

                    >>Riiight. A single column in a mainstream paper means the BNP has no support, suuure. And the fact that an outright Neo-Nazi party even gets a few percent of the vote

                    Not a few percent. Less than 1%. And, as I said, I'm actually surprised it isn't higher, given the fact that they're a single-issue party with a strong draw right now.

                    >>you will find that most (note emphasis) 'problems' with Islam are various racists

                    As I said, talk to a Lebanese Christian some time. They allowed Palestinians to imm

                    • by mvdwege (243851)

                      The problem is that I never said the things you say. Your vehement defensiveness, and the way you use the closet racists' common misstatement of the actual nature of the Muslim arbitration panels makes it quite clear where you stand.

                      And don't whine about political correctness. If you use the terminology of the racists, don't be a pussy if you get called a racist yourself.

                      Mart

                    • by ShakaUVM (157947)

                      >>The problem is that I never said the things you say.

                      What, you didn't say the things I quoted? Lol. I don't think I attributed to you anything else.

                      >>Your vehement defensiveness

                      I'm not defensive in the slightest, I simply consider it an interesting issue.

                      >>If you use the terminology of the racists, don't be a pussy if you get called a racist yourself.

                      Since when have I ever been called a racist? Does the claim that racism has been defeated in the public arena make one a racist? Your argume

                    • by mvdwege (243851)

                      What, you didn't say the things I quoted?

                      And that is another typical right-wing idiots' gambit. Imply something about the opponent (you were whining about political correctness to me, completely disregarding something I explicitly emphasised), and when the opponent calls you on that, hide behind 'but I didn't say that'. You do realise that this passive-aggressive bullshit makes you look even more like a pussy, don't you?

                      Does the claim that racism has been defeated in the public arena make one a racist?

                    • by ShakaUVM (157947)

                      >>And that is another typical right-wing idiots' gambit.

                      Typical ploy of someone who has lost an argument. Change the topic or attack the poster.

                      >>In the face of actual existing and growing racism in the public arena, it makes you at least a sympathiser

                      I have no sympathy for racism. In fact, I think that my posts have made that fairly clear. Racism is no longer an acceptable attitude to have in the public sphere.

                      Your claim that someone who is not for open immigration is a racist "sympathizer" is

                    • by mvdwege (243851)

                      Your claim that someone who is not for open immigration is a racist "sympathizer" is risible.

                      Since I didn't claim that, how serious should I take your protest that you're not a racist? Methinks the lady doth protest, and lie, too much.

                      Attacking the poster if the poster is a provable liar is no fallacy. It is just plain stating facts. You're a coward, a liar, and quite probably a racist.

                      Mart

                    • by ShakaUVM (157947)

                      Trying to distract an argument is an old tired trick of people who've lost arguments. I recognize it, since I have some annoying friends that do it too.

                      Of course, sure, I shouldn't have to say that I'm not a racist. But it IS important to point out that it is possible to be against immigration in the general without being against immigrants in the specific. I studied issues of culture and integration in college, and there's something to be said for neither totally isolating a country culturally, nor for all

      • IIRC Tolkien was pretty adamant about there not being any meaning or message beyond the story.

        Lewis - well it's obvious what he was doing, I think he did it pretty well.

        Rowling has some problems and I go back and forth with the Potter stuff. One theme that she pushes through all the books is the idea of doing what is right whether it is pragmatic or not. I see this in my favorite stuff by Stephen King as well. And that alone was enough for me with the HP books - because the bottom line is that I had a bl

        • "IIRC Tolkien was pretty adamant about there not being any meaning or message beyond the story."

          Well, this may have had something to do with a wish to say "I am not C.S Lewis!". Kind of like Brahms' adamant rejection of "programme music", insisting that his music had no content whatsoever besides what it was in itself... yeah, you can sort of see why he says it, but when you look at what he did, it's not really clear it was all that simple.

          Now don't get me wrong. LotR is no allegory, far from it. But still,

          • by PCM2 (4486)

            Tolkien's characters are very different - and way more sympathetic - than the characters in the myths and legends that inspired him.

            By which you mean the characters in The Hobbit (a children's book) and The Lord of the Rings (a mainstream novel, and one that was written at the request of The Hobbit's publisher, who wanted a sequel). It was not true of the characters he invented in The Silmarillion, however. Despite the fact that Tolkien considered The Silmarillion to be his most "important" work, it was never published in his lifetime, and one reason was surely because its characters were far less sympathetic and accessible than the on

            • I think Professor Tolkein considered The Silmarillion his greatest work because it was a foundation to be built upon and not really seen. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings stand so well because the foundation provided is solid and deep enough to support them. His academic background meant he was acutely aware of how many layers were involved in the old tales (indeed, I recall Prof. Tolkein once wrote in a letter that LOTR was an anti-Ring der Nibelungen due to his anger at Wagner mangling the message of

          • I don't disagree - but I would say that I think Harry Potter is similar on that front. (on that front - I'm not saying Potter is in the same league as LoTR)

      • by Draek (916851)

        I'll concede Lewis, but what was the "point" that you perceive Tolkien set out to make? That invented languages are fun?

        Y'know, I always thought that was precisely the point. That Tolkien had created this inmense, incredibly developed language, set out to write some 'cultural elements' in it (tales, legends, poems, songs, etc), then wrote LotR to have an use for all that stuff.

        Not that I don't *like* it, mind you, Tolkien's "world building" is second to none and the fact that not all those tales and songs (in fact, practically none of them) have much bearing to the plot in question really helps with the suspension of disbeli

    • It struck me that Both Lewis and Tolkien (as well as Herbert for you Sci-Fi fans) sat down and said, "What message do I want to send... okay.. now how about a good story to communicate that..."

      Herbert was just trying to layer as many things into a single story as possible.

      That being said, all hail the Tyrant, the Great Rav Leto II for freeing humanity!

      • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

        I saw the entirety of the Dune series as a big thought experiment on what happens when somebody knows everything. It wasn't just layering a bunch of stuff in a single story, he built an incredibly complicated political scenario and then threw a seemingly small monkey wrench into the mix, with huge consequences.

        The result? It screwed things up, big time, doomed the species big, and it took a near-omniscient tyrant with a multi-thousand year life span to see the repair job to its conclusion.

        I liked Brian Her

    • I've been a big fan of McCaffrey ever since I read The White Dragon as a kid. I think she built a great world and writes strong dialogue. I haven't read any of it in some time though, and didn't keep up with all the later Pern stuff that came out. I really enjoyed that what I thought was fantasy was really sci-fi. I've been working on stories for my kids that use the same device. I think it's a clever way to bring magic into a story.

    • While I would never debate C.S. Lewis' intentions (nor would he I doubt), Tolkien is a much deeper writer than you give credit for. When you start to see the level of background work that he did in order to make a self-sufficient mythology in which to spin his tale, the hundreds of notes just on character backgrounds and languages and stories that are alluded to but never told by characters in his stories, you realize that his books are the life's work of a master story teller, and not an attempt to get an

    • I'd have to add Ursula K LeGuin to the list of master's of crafting a world. The Wizard of Earthsea books are the standard for me, equal to Tolkein, of creating a world that was capable of changing over time realistically (even with all the magic). Even the three books she wrote decades after the original trilogy move that world's story forward.
  • Wow, how original, a mishmash of two very tired metaphors er I mean stories er I mean allegories er well doesn't anyone actually want to do something original?
  • I met Lev at Comicon this year, and talked with him briefly. He led a panel which covered, among other topics, Harry Potter and the impact it had on the fantasy genre. The Magicians is pretty upfront about borrowing from Harry Potter, with the students sarcastically saying, "Let's go put on our Quidditch Robes" when they are dragged outside to play the magical game that they all hate.

    Essentially, it's a re-take on the entire notion of a magical sub-culture in our world, with a lot more "realism" (if that's

  • Why did it have to be Narnia? Why couldn't it have been Discworld? Sigh...

    • by bar-agent (698856)

      Why did it have to be Narnia? Why couldn't it have been Discworld? Sigh...

      A satire of Discworld would either be a) reality, or b) make the universe implode.

  • From the blurb I was expecting something different...but then nothing in this review makes me want to read the book, in fact after getting all the way through to the end and seeing "New York Times best sellers list" just shows me how much of a inflated budget failure of writing this is. It's right up with the typical mass produced best seller garbage that comes out such as Anita Blake novels, where you have people who are excellent writers of written language, yet have no real creativity of their own and as

    • by ZerMongo (1129583)
      I wouldn't dismiss so readily as that. I found the book more to be a gritty, realistic re-imagining of fantasy archetypes rather than straight-out repappropriation. If you're looking for something completely original that's never been done, this isn't the book for you. If you're looking for a markedly skewed take on traditional stories, give it a shot.

      My take on it can be found here [ophono.us].
  • The popularity of web site Will It Blend? is indicative of how people enjoy mashing things together

    What does Will It Blend have to do with mashing things together? They destroy stuff for a laugh - always a popular pastime for geeks, but nothing whatsoever to do with so-called mash-ups.

  • by genner (694963)
    I felt so physically ill at the thought of combing C.S. Lewis's master piece with Rowling's ilk that I was actually relieved to find out it was a Harry Potter rip off written with the intent of bashing the Narnia series.
  • You can see my commentary here [jseliger.com]:

    The Magicians is a surprise and delight: its language is not overly showy and yet often contains an unexpected surprise, especially at the ends of sentences, as this early description shows: "Quentin was thin and tall, though he habitually hunched his shoulders in a vain attempt to brace himself against whatever blow was coming from the heavens, and which would logically hit the tall people first." Until the last clause, one could be reading any novel, fantasy or otherwise, b

  • Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Name of the Wind, recommended this book on his blog http://www.patrickrothfuss.com/blog/2009/08/things-i-like-magicians-and-faeries-of.html [patrickrothfuss.com]
  • "Will it blend?" isn't about whether things will combine, it's about whether things will be reduced to a homogenous heap by the act of blending. Which may not be the sort of comparison the author intended.

"Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago." -- Bernard Berenson

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