Books & Bars video chatted with Lev Grossman about The Magicians on July 13, 2010. See our three part video series from our event on youtube.com: (spoiler alert!)
Lev Grossman is the book critic for Time magazine and used to prefer Marvel Comics over DC, but now reads them both. He’s written the novels Warp, Codex and The Magicians. And is enjoying our pop culture rebirth and acceptance of fantasy into the mainstream. After our book club video chat with Lev, I asked him a few more questions:
Qs /Jeff Kamin: How much of Prospero did you put into Quentin? Both are magicians, both have a love of books, of stories. The Magicians opens with a quote from The Tempest, Prospero’s declaration that he is finished with magic, lines that foreshadow Quentin’s actions later in The Magicians. One way (my favorite) to read The Tempest is to view Prospero as Shakespeare and the magic as his playwriting or storytelling.
Lev Grossman: The (unsatisifying) answer is, some. Prospero is of course a lot older than Quentin. He’s a father. He’s approaching the final phase of his life. His mood is elegiac. Quentin isn’t even a man yet. He’s young and raw. But they do have in common that they’re both trying to come to terms with the personal consequences of practicing magic in the world, which aren’t entirely good or uncomplicated.
Q: So much of what Quentin wanted out of magic was to make real the stories he loved so much. What sort of connection do you see between The Tempest and The Magicians, especially in regard to storytelling as magic?
A: Prospero lives on a kind of fantasy island, into which his real life intrudes in the form of his usurping brothers. Quentin is in the opposite position, of leaving his ‘real’ life and pushing into fantasy. But they’re both thinking about the difference between your life and the story you tell yourself about your life. They resemble each other, but they’re not the same thing.
Q: Why was Plover “diddling” Martin? Was that a reference or allusion to any children author scandals? Was it to make Martin somewhat sympathetic? You can skip this if it’s too weird.
A: It’s not too weird. But it’s not an allusion to anything. I just liked the idea that you can never really exhaust the explanation for why something happened, and why a person is a certain way. Just when Quentin thinks it’s all over, that he knows everything about Martin Chatwin and the disaster that has befallen him and his friends, he realizes that there’s more to it. There’s a first cause beyond the first cause. And he gets a glimpse of the fact that you never get to the bottom of anything. And why did Plover diddle Martin? We don’t know. As Russell would say (or Professor March) It’s turtles all the way down.
Q: You’ve said there is no big baddie or ultimate evil like a Voldemort or Sauron but what about the all powerful Questing Beast as an ultimate good force? Is the Questing Beast an easy way out, an answer all? Just a device to get Quentin back to the real world?
A: The Questing Beast definitely isn’t a force for good. He’s the servant of whoever captures him. He’s a nonaligned power, a mercenary, basically, for whoever can catch him. (Thank god Martin didn’t.)
He is of course also an allusion to the White Stag at the end of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. The Pevensies never catch the White Stag, so by having Quentin catch it I felt (in my small, petty way) that I was one-upping C.S. Lewis.
Q: “In different ways they had both discovered the same truth: that to live out childhood fantasies as a grown-up was to court and wed and bed disaster.” Re: Emily Greenstreet and Quentin, near the end of the story. — Do you think this is always the case? Can you think of times when childhood fantasies become realized as an adult and actually work out okay? Aren’t any of your childhood fantasies being realized for you now as a creator or words and worlds for others? Or, Lev, are you currently courting disaster now?
A: Keep in mind that this is depressed Quentin speaking, the Quentin who has given up magic. It’s not the narrator, or even Quentin at his best. My true feeling is that fantasies are never what you think they’re going to be, they’re never that simple or that purely good, but honestly if you don’t try to live out your fantasies, what’s the point of anything?
Q: Did you realize at some point while writing this one that Quentin was not going to find what he was looking for (i.e., grow up), and that the story would have to continue? At what age do you think someone “grows-up” these days? Are we all just faking it?
A: The truth is, I think Quentin did grow up. Which meant, to a certain extent, learning to be satisfied with not ever finding out exactly what he was looking for. Though that doesn’t mean his story’s over.
I do believe growing up is a real thing, by the way, and not just pop-psychological junk. I don’t know when most people grow up, but I’d say it happened for me at about 37.
Q: Do you hope to see a film version of The Magicians? Do you have any ideal casting ideas or creative people you’d like to collaborate with on it?
A: I’ve talked to some people about a TV version. A lot of people, actually. The stars haven’t quite aligned yet, but I can imagine something very cool. Like Buffy maybe, but with a bit of a harder edge to it.
Q: Have you ever been in a book club? What’s your take on them? Good and bad.
A: Oh sure. I’m currently in a book club. The rule is, we only read YA novels. It’s great — we just read the Hunger Games novels. The only times it sucks are when I don’t read the books and drink too much chardonnay in order to conceal that fact.