Friday, August 5, 2011

The Brilliance of Lev Grossman's The Magicians: The World Outside the Novel

The MagiciansFor those of you who haven't already, read Lev Grossman's novel The Magicians.  It's wonderful.  It's a novel that is both a familiar coming-of-age story, as well as a novel that plays with the comfortable conventions of fantasy literature.   And in many cases, it does more than play--as Elizabeth Simons wrote for us a few months ago, it challenges the reader in ways that are distinctly un-comfortable, but that open up new and exciting ways for thinking about fantasy literature.

So, in other words, read this novel.  Read it this weekend.  Why this weekend?  Because that will give you enough time to enjoy the whole thing before the sequel--The Magician King--is released on Tuesday.

And as much as I'm excited about finding out what happens next to Quentin Coldwater and his friends, the thing about The Magician King that I think I'm most looking forward to is seeing the ways in which it continues what I consider to be the most brilliant part of the first novel--the blurring of the line between the world of the novel and our real world.

Brakebills T-ShirtWhile the novel itself does much to blur this boundary, I'm most interested in the extra-textual ways in which Grossman sets up a fluid boundary between fiction and reality.  Some of these ways seem straightforward on the surface, such as this T-shirt for Brakebills (the school for magic that Quentin attends).  Sure, it can be seen as simply wearing something connected to a book you enjoyed.  But the way in which it's designed--along the lines of a college T-shirt, with no references to the novel itself--points to a blurring of the line between reality and the novel.  This shirt suggests the possibility that Brakebills really does exist within our world, since, hey, there are T-shirts for it!  (Interestingly enough, this shirt wasn't designed by Grossman, but rather by a fan of The Magicians.  To me, this demonstrates how successfully Grossman has conveyed this fluid mindset in his novel, since it is now perpetuated by people other than himself.)

The idea that Brakebills is real becomes an even stronger possibility when you search for Brakebills on the Internet.  Google "Brakebills," and the very first search result is not a link to The Magicians, and not even a link to Grossman's own webpage, but a link to the school's own website.  Visitors can learn about student life, admissions, and even the athletics programs at Brakebills (there are none--they distract from magic), just as they would learn about any college or preparatory school.  The only glimpse behind the curtain is the "contact" tab on the webpage, which redirects visitors to the website for The Magicians and now, The Magician King.

Along similar lines, there is also a Fillory fansite (in The Magicians, Quentin is obsessed with a series of books set in the magical world of Fillory--a series similar to The Chronicles of Narnia), as well as a homepage for the author of the Fillory series, Christopher Plover.  Again, these websites look for all the world like those you would fine for actual books and authors, albeit a little simpler and with less information on them.  Even so, the attention to detail in these books is amazing--there are maps of Fillory, fan drawings of scenes from the Fillory books, and blurbs promoting the series.  You can even read the first chapter of The World in the Walls--the first book in The Fillory and Further series.

These websites are clever and a lot of fun, but even more importantly, they reinforce the metafictional themes that are everpresent in The Magicians.  They not only draw the reader into the world of the novel, but they make her aware of the ways in which she plays a role in the creation of the fictional worlds that she reads about.  Things such as the fable of The Seven Golden Keys, which was uploaded by "KingQuentin" to Flickr, suggest that Grossman will continue to use extra-textual media to blur the boundary between fiction and reality, and I look forward to seeing how this plays out in The Magician King and its associated material.