The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman is in the fortunate and unfortunate situation of being labelled as “Harry Potter” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” for adults. On the one hand, it’s an honor to have one’s works compared to J.K. Rowling’s and C.S. Lewis’s. On the other hand, how dare fans of Lev Grossman say his works even come close to being as good as “Harry Potter” or “The Chronicles of Narnia!”
This is conflict is one of the reasons why I haven’t gotten around to reading “The Magicians,” the first book in Lev Grossman’s trilogy, yet—aside from being a really busy person, and having a never ending reading list. However, that didn’t stop me from watching the television series by Syfy. Truly, it’s much easier to watch television shows than read books.
“The Magicians” follows the story of Quentin Coldwater, who discovers that magic is real and that he is capable of doing magic. He mysteriously finds himself at Brakebills University. He aces the university’s entrance exam and is accepted into the university of magic.
The TV series also follows a young woman named Julia Wickers, who was Quentin’s childhood best friend. She also takes the Brakebills entrance exam at the same time Quentin does. Unfortunately, she fails.
Right before magic was revealed as real, Quentin and Julia were about to embark on different paths in life. Both of them loved the Fillory books, a fantasy series for children, when they were young. Julia was ready to leave her childhood fantasies behind. She was applying for Harvard, and was ready to take on the real world. Meanwhile, Quentin was stuck in a rut. He couldn’t get over the Fillory novels and was diagnosed clinically depressed as a result of this. It turns out he wasn’t crazy after all.
After taking the Brakebills exam, their situations are reversed. Quentin is no longer depressed. He is studying in the university of his dreams. Only now, his dreams are real. After a failed attempt by the Brakebills administration to erase her memory, Julia is distraught. Now that she knows magic is real, she can’t just let it go. Magic is her drug.
Before she completely goes insane from her magic additction, Julia is recruited by a group of hedge witches led by Marina Andrieski. It turns out Julia can do magic and she’s apparently a very powerful magician. That begs the question of why she wasn’t accepted into the Brakebills in the first place? So we have Quentin, learning magic the “traditional” way at university, and Julia self-learning magic along with a group of hedge witches.
And this barely even scratches the surface of everything that happens in Syfy’s adaptation of “The Magicians.”
One of the best things about “The Magicians” is its cast of characters. Every person is Quentin’s and Julia’s story seems interesting in his or her own way. Quentin’s friends include Alice Quinn, an intelligent book-sexy magician obsessed with figuring out how her brother died. Penny Adyoni is a badass pantie whisperer who can teleport anywhere, physically or through astral projection.
Eliot Waugh is an openly gay character. He is also a kind of student-mentor to the freshmen and an extremely powerful magician. Eliot’s best friend Margo Hanson is the most delightfully mean girly character ever. And those are just some of Quentin’s closest companions at Brakebills.
Julia’s mentor Marina Andrieski was kicked out of Brakebills months shy of graduating. Her memories were successfully erased. She is an extremely powerful magician with no qualms about killing anyone who gets in her way.
Syfy’s “The Magicians” is definitely for adults. Firstly, it has booze, drugs, sex, and violence aplenty. When things get violent in is show, they get really violent. And it’s these moments of physical and magical bone breaking, eyeball gouging, blood vomiting, and face popping (among other things) violence that are the most shocking and sometimes disturbing moments of the show.
The TV series’s ability to unveil completely surprising yet entirely plausible twists and surprises when you least expect it to is one of the reasons why it’s so exciting to watch. There’s no hand-holding for the characters in and viewers of this show. Brakebills is no safe haven where you can learn magic safely under the tutelage of expert magicians. I mean the Brakebills equivalent of Dumbledore got his wrists snapped broken and eyes magically squished in the shows first episodes. Talk about scary!
So, if others want to say “The Magicians” is “Harry Potter” for adults because of Brakebills being a school of magic. Fine. But there are so many other fantasy books with their own schools of magic. Quentin maybe the chosen one, like Harry Potter was “the boy who lived,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if Quentin just dies at the end of season one.
Yes, Jane Chatwin from the Fillory books enters the world of Fillory through a wardrobe. Oh my gosh! What a “Chronicles of Narnia” rip-off. Unfortunately, the similarities between the two books seems to end there. Fillory isn’t some magical world filled with rainbows and unicorns.
“The Magicians” is for adults. It is serious, dark, and filled with real world magic and the real world consequences of using magic. It’s probably the grittiest and most realistic fantasy series I’ve ever watched, and I’m loving it. If the books are better than the series, I’m moving them to the top of my reading list immediately.