I picked up Lev Grossman’s book The Magicians in 2011 and was quickly hooked. The Magicians is often called an “adult Harry Potter” but that doesn’t do Grossman’s work justice. Grossman’s books are a complete deconstruction of fantasy-tropes. The ones we’ve been taught to believe are the “good guys” are often rotten, and the story’s principal protagonist is not particularly likable. It also has some of most vivid and memorable writing I’ve ever come across.*
When it was announced that Grossman’s books were going to be turned into a weekly television show on the Syfy Network I was a bit skeptical. The books aren’t quite long enough to need the TV treatment and I feared minor plot points would be stretched to nonsensical (and boring) lengths, ruining what could have been a great movie. Initial episodes of the show went the opposite route, burning through story while failing to capture so much of what made the characters in the books interesting. Over the last six or so episodes The Magicians has finally found its footing and it’s quickly become both appointment TV (or bing watching) and the best magickal show I’ve ever seen on television.
On social media a whole lot of my friends talk endlessly about American Horror Story and more recently WGN’s Salem, but what they should be watching is The Magicians. Yeah it starts a bit slow but once it gets going you’ll be hooked. The television show has become separate from the books and the adaptation choices by the creators (John McNamara and Michael London) have been pretty much spot-on. (For book readers, bumping up Julia’s arc to the start of the show instead of waiting for it to kick later in has been the best move.)
Part of me wants to tell you that the show’s high-production values make it look like an HBO series instead of a Syfy one, but that’s only the start. The cast is also great, and the storytelling after a few initial bumps has been strong. But most of all the show is quickly becoming a very strong Pagan and magical primer, without even meaning to.
Deities are Scary
Witchcraft is about more than singing “We All Come From the Goddess” it’s about experiencing deity in all of its glory, and all of its terror. That’s right I said terror. I find drawing down the moon both exhilarating and frightening. It’s a deity, it’s stronger than me, has existed for thousands of years, and can probably read my thoughts. Damn right I’m a bit scared, and I think that’s how it should be. My goddesses and gods aren’t frightening in the Yahweh sense of “you are going to hell” but they posses real power power and they don’t always have to use that for my benefit.
Have you read ancient mythology? Pan and Dionysus are “my guys” but their stories weren’t all peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Deities are much like us in some respect, they can be jealous, spiteful, coy, and even mean if they choose to. The Magicians captures all of this and it’s glorious. In the world of The Magicians deity is loving, scary, powerful, and when it chooses to be, awe-inspiring.
Magic is Hard Work
The biggest misconception about magic amongst new Witches is that it’s easy, nothing could be further from the truth. Using magic effectively takes practice and years of work. It’s possible to stumble into a spell and obtain positive results, but for magic to really change your life you have to work at it. Magic isn’t necessarily sweat, blood, and tears, but it’s always sweat, time, and energy.
That The Magicians takes place in a school (Brakebills) and is basically only open to graduate-age students underscores this fact. (This is a deviation from the books where first year Brakebills students are more like college freshman, and I think it’s an excellent story-telling change.) Magic in the world of The Magicians isn’t for children, it’s for adults who might possibly realize the consequences of their actions.
UPDATE! January 2017
My wife and I recently re-watched the entire first season, and the series is even better with a second viewing. The characters are strong and consistent, and with the TV version of The Magicians moving far away from the books it’s based on, the things I once viewed as “boring” are full of hints as to where this different telling of the story is going.
Yes, many of the shows main characters are selfish, gluttonous, and often unlikable, but as the series progresses they all do a lot of growing up. Elliot is kind of an asshole, but by the end of first season he ends up a changed person with all the things he’s gone through.
Much of this second season is going to take place in the magical land of Fillory (much like the end of the first season) and it’s a good choice. In our current political climate I could use a bit of escape now and again. The Magicians went from “also ran show we tried watching because we loved the books so much” to “our magickal Downtown Abbey.” Give it a shot, I do think you’ll like it.
There is Magic in the Universe
As a Witch I believe there’s a world beyond what I see on a day to day basis. I’m pretty sure there are at least a few fey folk living near my lemon tree, and reality shifts and bends when I find myself in a well-cast magical circle.
The world of The Magicians also contains lands and beings beyond this one. Those places and forces are often a bit more dramatic than what my coven and I experience, but I think they are similar. Much of Grossman’s work is built around the idea of a land named Fillory, a place much like C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, but Fillory is more than just a setting for a few books, it’s an actual place that can be visited. In my reality Olympus and even the mythic English countryside are also real places beyond the page, even if they aren’t on a map.
Now go watch The Magicians, you’ll thank me later.
*Possible Spoiler: If you’ve read the books you’ll know why there are no statues of Reynard the Fox in our house. Yeah, the books have influenced our own magickal practice they are just that good.
All images from The Magicains which airs on the SyFy Network.