What is the youngest age a person should be able to learn magic? I asked a friend this, and he told me that 17 would be a reasonable age. I disagree of course. Not just because it's so much fun to argue with him, but because the age I came up with was 12.
Not a big difference, but in the case of Lev Grossman's The Magicians, it's
a pretty large gap.
I first read The Magicians back when it first came out in 2009. I've always
been a geek when it comes to fantasy, and magic has always been a big part of
my creative process. I read the book in three days, like just about every book
I've ever read in the last decade or so. I liked it, in its own fashion, but it
wasn't a book I would re-read. I even used the book on a paper I wrote in my
first semester about sadism in literature.
But recently I decided to go back and take a second glance at the book, to
give it a more clinical, college viewpoint to it, and the first thing I have to
say is this: there is a certain age that people should no longer be able to learn
they can do magic.
It's cute having kids run around waving twigs, casting magic spells at their
friends and pets. To imagine that they can actually do magic, to make their
wildest dreams come true. Well, that's the thing that makes imaginative fantasies
about wizards so much fun. Watching a bunch of chronically depressed 17 year olds
do the same, well it's a little creepy, and quite possibly deranged.
Grossman's magicians in his tales have all learned to do magic at that
special age right before the birdies have been kicked out of the nest. 17 is
the age where people start, or are in the middle of, finding out that they are
going to have to be grown-ups full-time in a year or so. They start applying to
colleges, they have jobs to help support their families, some are even in
relationships planning on marriage.
Magic is supposed to be that special loophole that lets kids be kids for
just a little longer. When you introduce magic to people getting ready to be
adults, you are just making them regress back to children, stunting their
emotional and moral growth.
This is extremely telling in The Magicians. The back cover clearly states it
"Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable". It pretty much covers
the entire book. You start with a character who is flawed as being almost an
adult, and you give him magic, where he can solve all of his problems without
having to grow up, and he never grows up at all.
The Magicians is brilliant in that it is so telling about people who refuse
to grow up. The book has a part halfway through that explains that wizards are
aimless because when you can do anything, you end up not wanting to do anything
That being said, the worst part about the book is the aimless feeling that
it has. I didn't recognize it the first time I read through it, but there
really is no plot. The back cover talks about the main characters obsession
with the magical land of Fillory (a knock off of Narnia, if a bit darker, if
I've ever seen one), but this doesn't actually come up until the back half of
the book. The part about magic school is more interesting, but in the five
years that Quentin is actually there, only about two years worth of schooling
is actually described. The last two years he's there they don't even talk about
the classes, they just go over Quentin's love life and time with his friends.
Even when they do get to Fillory, the time they spend there is more like a
corridor someone walks down to get to another corridor.
The book's back cover talks a lot about different aspects of the book, but
in the end, there was really no plot. Even the antagonist is so random in the
end that you would imagine that he ran out of ideas at the last minute. It all
had the feeling that there was a plot from another side, one not explained, involved
in the writing that the main character (and indeed, even the reader) wasn't
All in all, the book was a wonderful example from a psychological viewpoint
of age regression in early adulthood, but as far as an adventure fantasy/urban
fantasy, The Magicians was definitely worth a second glance, but probably not
worth a third. Now The Magician King...