Friday, August 12, 2011

The Witch-Queen of Fillory

The Magician KingLet's begin by taking note of the parameters - the circumstances, if you will - under which we are working. The first is that I can make absolutely no claim to objectivity here. Not only did I beta-read The Magician King, but Lev is a very dear friend. I have no critical distance from either text or from author.

The second circumstance of note is, there are going to be spoilers for The Magician King in this post. I am quite serious about this.

I assume that anyone still reading at this point is thoroughly cognizant of what they are getting into.

The first thing I asked when I found out there was going to be a sequel to The Magicians was, "Is there going to be more Julia in the next book?" I can't quite explain why I loved Julia as much as I did. She was a minor character in The Magicians, hardly any screen time at all. But whenever she was on the page, she was impossible to ignore. She burned so very brightly - she meant something to me in a way few characters do. "And she had those things that one likes about magicians: she was disgustingly bright and rather sad and slightly askew." (This description of Julia, as are all quotations that will appear in this essay, is from The Magician King.)

When The Magician King opens, we learn that Julia has become very strange. She behaves as if she has forgotten not only how to use contractions, but how to be human. One of the things we learn in the course of the book is the series of events that has brought her to this pass.

Julia's path to magic, to reigning in Fillory is a completely different path than Quentin's was. As Julia points out, magic and Brakebills was something Quentin had been waiting for his whole life: "He practically expected that shit." Whereas Julia's own plan was to "make special things happen." This division between the characters - do you expect magic to be given to you, or do you make your own - is played out in the parallel narratives of The Magician King. Both sides of the story are quest narratives, but it is Julia who through sheer ambitious force of will, chooses her quest, and makes the pieces of it happen.

Learning the pieces of Julia's story, the fractured beauty of her life since the day she failed the Brakebills exam, the way she not only learned magic but became extraordinary at it, leveling up through the system of safe houses and spellbinders, through Free Trader Beowulf, through needing magic so much that she devoted her life to its study, helped me crystalize why it is that she speaks to me so much as a character, why I love her so. Julia recognizes her flaws, and refuses to be held back by them. She understands that the nature of the quest has nothing to do with the magical MacGuffin at its end, but the way the search reshapes the questor. She understands the nature of sacrifice, that the hero is not the one who gets the reward, but the one who pays the price.

And perhaps most importantly, Julia understands that paying the price is not where the hero's journey ends. After Julia makes a tremendous sacrifice to save a friend from a violent god, she continues to live. She has a next chapter: "I had to take what was done to me and use it to make myself into what I wanted to be." She is translated into something glorious.

Julia is one of my favorite characters in literature. And Lev, I have just one question: Is there going to be more Julia in the next book?