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The Magicians

samzenpus posted more than 5 years ago | from the potter-by-any-other-name dept.

Book Reviews 122

stoolpigeon writes "The popularity of web site Will It Blend? is indicative of how people enjoy mashing things together. Of course this kind of sharing and combining has been going on in the arts for quite some time. The new Lev Grossman novel, The Magicians asks 'will it blend?' of two rather popular fantasy series, J.K. Rowling's world of Harry Potter and the tales of Narnia from C.S. Lewis. Grossman's thoughts on both are tossed on top and then the author begins to play a symphony across the full range of buttons from stir to liquefy. What comes out is not children's fantasy but at times a rather bitter mix." Keep reading for the rest of JR's review.Grossman is an author and critic for Time and has written for a number of high-profile magazines. He is a talented writer and handles his story telling with skill. His characters have depth and this story takes on a very gritty sense of reality, something that is not often found in fantasy. I was impressed with his writing, yet at the same time I was torn with how I felt about the book. I found it to be compelling and at the same time difficult. It took me a few weeks to process the whole thing and get an idea of why the book impacted me the way that it did. I'm going to lay that all out now, but I have to say that when reviewing fiction I work very hard to avoid discussing plot. In this case, it will be impossible to some extent. I don't think I'm going to give away anything that the promotional material doesn't make pretty obvious, but anyone who wants to go into this book knowing as little as possible should stop reading now.

The protagonist, Quentin Coldwater, is a nerd. He's an academic over-achiever living a life of privilege, set on a path of success. He's also extremely unhappy, feeling disconnected from the rest of the world. He struggles with his inability to connect with others and the meaninglessness of life. He has sought out and found some respite in the fantasy world of Fillory, a magical land created and explored in the books of an American author that lived in England. At the start of The Magicians Quentin in on his way to an interview as part of the admissions process for Princeton. But this does not end up as another normal day for Quentin. Rather than his ultimate destination, Princeton, Quentin ends up at Brakebills. Brakebills is a university in upstate New York where students learn magic.

While Hogwarts was not the first literary school of magic, it is the model Grossman has in mind and he is very up front about that fact. The students take part in a magical game called Welters. At one point a team member of Quentin's, Josh, is absent at the start of a match. Quentin hunts him down and the following interaction takes place between the two of them.

Josh stood up. He saluted smartly. "Send me an owl."

"Come on, they're waiting for us. Fogg is freezing his ass off."

"Good for him. Too much ass on that man anyway."

Quentin got Josh out of the library and heading toward the rear of the House, though he was moving slowly with a worrying tendency to lurch into door frames and occasionally into Quentin.

He did an abrupt about-face.

"Hang on," he said. "Gotta get my quidditch costume. I mean uniform. I mean welters."

"We don't have uniforms."

"I know that, " Josh snapped. "I'm drunk, I'm not delusional. I still need my winter coat."

This sliver does a lot to reveal the similarities and differences. Brakebills is very much like Hogwarts in external ways, and completely different in substance. The school is for adults, not children and the life that Grossman portrays is much more in line with reality than fantasy. This is not a book to pick up for a young child. This story contains profanity, sexual content, graphic violence, as well as alcohol and drug abuse. This is where I ran into my first issue with The Magicians. I'll get to that shortly, but first I'd like to finish laying out what the book involves.

Not all of Brakebills is lifted straight from Hogwarts, though I don't think the reader with much experience in reading fantasy will find anything that could really be called new. What there is, as I have mentioned, is very well done. Grossman builds up to moments of palpable tension. He pulls the reader into the life of Quentin and shows real finesse at times. His characters very much come alive, in their brief moments of joy and in their many moments of pain, frustration and loss. Anyone who has felt the hurt of being outside, dealing with the cruelty of others or a general questioning of meaning will be able to relate well to the protagonist.

Eventually school is over and the students graduate. And here is the turn that I think the promotional material makes obvious but some may not want to know about going into reading the book. The second section of the story begins as Quentin and his fellow Brakebills alumni find out that Fillory is real. They immediately prepare to set out on an expedition to the land they've loved since childhood. That Fillory is better spelled N-a-r-n-i-a is just as obvious as the connection to Rowling's work. Quentin and company enter Fillory using magic buttons that take them to an intermediary world of fountains. Jumping into each fountain takes a person to a different world. They have to take care to jump into the correct pool at the base of the fountain that will take them to Fillory. Fillory is a land of talking beasts and magical creatures.

So what sets The Magicians apart from lesser books that lift heavily from other works? Why is The Magicians a strong story while something like Eragon is a weak rip-off? I think it boils down to two elements. First is Grossman's strong writing. Even if this were just a big piece of fan fiction, it would be well written fan fiction. Secondly, this isn't just an homage to the work of others. While Grossman has lifted the settings and externals, the substance is completely different often to the point of taking a position that is completely antithetical to the original work.

My first problem, which I tie to the very adult content is wrapped up in why I read fantasy. I read fantasy on many levels as a form of escape, much like Grossman's character Quentin did. Much of the fantasy I've read is not only fantasy but it is written for children. At the bottom of it all there is no real risk or fear. I read with anticipation, not of an outcome but rather how that outcome will be worked out by the author. There is often death or treachery but it takes on a fairy tale like quality. It does not feel real or cruel but rather cartoonish. Grossman completely jettisons any of this kind of approach. He tackles the safety of these children's tales and eviscerates it. The violence in The Magicians is not cartoonish, it is often cruel even sadistic. There's not much in the way of escapism here. What Quentin finds is that magic doesn't change the basic underlying facts of life, not even traveling to another world does this. This is combined with the fact that much of Grossman's realism includes behavior and speech that isn't something that I would consider normal or appropriate. It may be for others but this isn't a book I would feel comfortable recommending to friends or family.

Then there is my second issue. I've read that Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is intended to be a type of anti-Narnia. Well Grossman doesn't just create an alternative world that is contrary to Narnia. He destroys Narnia from the inside. And this caused issues for me in both sections of the book at times. Not because of ideological difficulties with what Grossman puts forward but because it would frequently push me outside the story as it felt like Grossman would move from telling his own story to commenting on the story of another. It isn't that what he has to say about the other stories isn't interesting and that he doesn't bring up intriguing issues and criticisms of both, but rather that it jarred me out of the narrative as the story became more a work of exposition. Something like the flashbacks to History and Moral Philosophy class that fill so much of Starship Troopers. The author shows his hand, that he is more interested in making a point than telling a story.

The fact that a major component of the book is polemic in nature means much of the discussion around the book will not be about plot or setting but rather about the argument the author sets forth. I don't agree with Grossman's premise or conclusions but I do admire how well he states his case throughout the entire book, not only in those portions that might feel a bit preachy. I've read in an interview Grossman did about The Magicians that he feels that Rowling lets her characters solve their problems, rather than resting on divine intervention like the characters of Lewis's works. This is reflected in how he handles the world of each, though I would argue that this is not the case, especially in light of how Rowling's series ended. I think it does explain why he is so much rougher on Lewis.

Anyone looking for a dark story that questions the assumptions and underlying principles of those that are not so dark should really enjoy this book. Any parent that picks it up for their young one because they hear it compared to Harry Potter is in for a rude surprise. Those looking for a fun little escape from the real world wont find it here, though things are so grim at times they may find the real world a bit of a relief after the weight of Grossman's. The Magicians held my attention and I was impressed with Grossman's ability, unfortunately at the same time I was a bit disappointed with how he used that ability. With something this subjective your mileage may vary, and since release The Magicians has hit number nine on the New York Times best sellers list.

Viking set up a number of web sites to support the release of The Magicians. This is not so much about the book itself but will be of interest to readers and I think is an interesting development for book lovers in general. There are four sites TheMagiciansBook.com is a normal promotional site with information on the book. ChristopherPlover.com brings to life the fictional author of the Fillory books. Brakebills of course has a site, obfuscated just like the school itself. Finally there is Embers Tomb a wealth of Fillory related information. The Fillory and Plover sites come across as very genuine and will probably snag a reader or two into some level of confusion. The Brakebills site is a bit too over the top to be taken seriously but then again, with real news sites quoting The Onion and the occasional uproar I see over humor sites like Objective Ministries there probably will be some who think it is a real school.

You can purchase The Magicians from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Frosty weather (1, Interesting)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 5 years ago | (#29354389)

Harry Potter is a clumsy metaphor for Jesus, and ... anything else?

Re:Frosty weather (5, Insightful)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 5 years ago | (#29354491)

No, Harry Potter books are chock full of thinly-veiled homosexual metaphor. C.S. Lewis is chock full of thinly-veiled Christian metaphor.

My guess is that the protagonists will stick the magic wooden staff of GapenHolen up their asses and then self-flagellate themselves to death before the evil Crusaders of Cok beat them to it. Larry Craig will make a guest appearance as the Scoutmaster.

Re:Frosty weather (3, Funny)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 5 years ago | (#29354581)

No, Harry Potter books are chock full of thinly-veiled homosexual metaphor.

http://www.bash.org/?111338 [bash.org]

Nuff said.

Re:Frosty weather (2, Funny)

pdboddy (620164) | more than 5 years ago | (#29354853)

I hurt myself laughing at that. You bastard.

Re:Frosty weather (1)

An ominous Cow art (320322) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355303)

I nearly suffocated, the first time I read that.

Re:Frosty weather (1)

jandersen (462034) | more than 5 years ago | (#29362923)

Harry Potter is a clumsy metaphor for Jesus, and ... anything else?

If that is all you have found in the stories, perhaps you should read them again with a bit more care and attention. In my view the clumsy Jesus metaphor is the Narnia books; they are nothing more than a shallow retelling of that theme, whereas the Potter books tell with real psychological insight about what goes on in the mind of a young person who is landed with far too heavy a burden; Rowling's portrayal of the delusional state of mind of Tom Riddle is not bad either. She is a very clever lady.

I don't see how Narnia and Harry Potter could blend in a meaningful way, but we'll see.

Interesting (2, Interesting)

scribblej (195445) | more than 5 years ago | (#29354507)

But what I really want to know is... what kind of sex am I going to find in it? This review is lousy at covering the important points. If I buy the book, am I going to get Narina-furry sex? Hogwarts-magic sex? These are the things I need to know.

Re:Interesting (1)

Saija (1114681) | more than 5 years ago | (#29354627)

Be careful with what you desire, it might come true, like some voldemort-esque character having sex with some kind of satyr in a closet...
btw, what would you call that new pr0n "genre" ??

Re:Interesting (1)

pdboddy (620164) | more than 5 years ago | (#29354875)

Well, once you've thought of something... there's a webpage for it.

Re:Interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29355775)

Rule 34. Look it up.

Re:Interesting (1)

ta bu shi da yu (687699) | more than 5 years ago | (#29364759)

Rule 33: ignore rule 34.

Re:Interesting (2, Funny)

Doches (761288) | more than 5 years ago | (#29354655)

Mostly angsty college-student sex, I'm afraid. Of the kind you probably weren't getting 20 years ago...

Re:Interesting (3, Informative)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 5 years ago | (#29354687)

There is a section that would probably appeal to the furry crowd. Some is nice, some is mean spirited and cruel. It's graphic - but not in the salacious sense.

Re:Interesting (1)

scribblej (195445) | more than 5 years ago | (#29354777)

Sorry, I didn't mean to make light of your very thoughtful review.

Well, okay, actually I did.

Re:Interesting (5, Informative)

Nathrael (1251426) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355163)

I put on my robe and wizard hat.

Re:Interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29355449)

Gets me EVERY time.

Re:Interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29358363)

I put on my robe and wizard hat.

To whomever moderated this "Informative", I salute you.

Re:Interesting (1)

ReverendDG (1627147) | more than 5 years ago | (#29362407)

Lawlz i don't know whether to find the modded parent informative strange or awesome. i think.. awesome

Fine, fine (2, Funny)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 5 years ago | (#29354611)

So it blends. But does it run Linux?

In Soviet Amerika: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29354679)

Magician blendS YOU!

Yours In Akademgorodok,
K. Trout

Well written book, but it left me disappointed (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29354711)

It is a well written story about a magical world, a fairly detailed world of rules and exceptions. The story, at one point, had a very poignant concept of what magic may be: That if the universe was a house that God made for everyone, that Magic was the tools he left behind, possibly by accident, in the garage. That perhaps using Magic was as dangerous as kids finding these power tools and such, and using them without direction or precaution.

The characters in the story are fairly fleshed out, in that you have a good sense of what drives them, what makes them tick, you can see the dynamics between them. The description of the magic school Brakebills is very well done, filled with things that people don't understand about and that has a life of its own. And while at the very end there's something that can lead to a sequel, there's definitely an ending to this book, no gimmick cliffhanger that requires you to wait for the next book.

Definitely, the book had the makings of a great story. Yet, I was left numb at the end, not happy, not sad, not scared. I read fiction to be entertained. This entertainment can be in the form of humor, feeling good, scared, excited, titillated, insightful, or some combination thereof. Instead, when I read this book, I saw through the eyes of a fairly apathetic protagonist, who messes things up and blames everyone else, who had chances to become a hero and fails each time. I read about a person who wanted something, got it, didn't like it, and became apathetic. I read about the antagonist being defeated, the protagonist winning in the end, and no one feeling ... well, happy for having accomplished anything. Perhaps this is what real life can be. But come on, that's not entertainment. And that's what's sad about this, that this book had the potential to be a GREAT story, but misses the mark significantly.

Like the Unbeliever series? (2, Interesting)

argent (18001) | more than 5 years ago | (#29354939)

Instead, when I read this book, I saw through the eyes of a fairly apathetic protagonist, who messes things up and blames everyone else, who had chances to become a hero and fails each time.

Would you say there's a similarity between this character and Donaldson's Thomas Covenant?

While Covenant doesn't fail *every* time, it was the extreme unlikeability of the character that put me off and made finishing the novel a chore. I didn't even care all that much whether he learned to overcome that character, and at most I was vaguely worried about whether he was going to die in the real world or not.

Re:Like the Unbeliever series? (1)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355171)

I hadn't thought of that - but you are right, there are some similarities. I guess the biggest difference is that in The Magicians the reader might not like the protagonist but he likes himself for the most part. The thing that really kicked my butt with Covenant was how much he hated himself. He couldn't do anything substantial without being crushed under a new wave of self loathing. As the parent says- Quentin is more apathetic than anything.

Re:Like the Unbeliever series? (1)

argent (18001) | more than 5 years ago | (#29357239)

Thanks, you're right... that's a good summary of the problem with Lord Foul's Bane. I don't know whether the other faults I remember are real or just a side effect of the complete lack of a sympathetic character.

Apathetic, I can handle. I'll just pretend it's Wodehouse. :)

Re:Like the Unbeliever series? (1)

pregister (443318) | more than 5 years ago | (#29356169)

Donaldson's series is probably the only series I've read where on almost every page I was hoping the main character would get hit by a truck and choke on his own blood.

That and Watership Down. Freaking rabbits.

Re:Like the Unbeliever series? (1)

argent (18001) | more than 5 years ago | (#29357295)

/me ties pregister down in a chair (Clockwork-Orange style) and plays "Bright Eyes" at him until his ears bleed. Freaking rabbits indeed.

Re:Like the Unbeliever series? (1)

ReverendDG (1627147) | more than 5 years ago | (#29362457)

i have to say covenant was the first ever fictional character i hated, i don't just mean hated but despised for breathing. i got through foul's bane and gave up on ever reading illearth war, covenant being so self-loathing ruined any magic in that series

Re:Well written book, but it left me disappointed (2, Interesting)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 5 years ago | (#29354989)

It is a well written story about a magical world, a fairly detailed world of rules and exceptions. The story, at one point, had a very poignant concept of what magic may be: That if the universe was a house that God made for everyone, that Magic was the tools he left behind, possibly by accident, in the garage. That perhaps using Magic was as dangerous as kids finding these power tools and such, and using them without direction or precaution.

That's almost like the conclusion I came up with as a kid. I wish I could say drugs were involved but alas it was simply lack of sleep, too much caffeine, and way too much video gaming. Magic is God's cheat codes! So you've got the natural rules for the way things work and then God suddenly pops open a console and edits the memory stack on the fly and suddenly all the water turns to blood. And the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Like when you talk about messing with a database, everyone screams about using the interfaces provided by the publisher, never edit the tables directly. I mean yes, you can do direct edits but you run the risk of breaking something important through sheer ignorance. May as well be juggling chainsaws. So why is it that we have God ordering his people not to consort with magicians and suffer not witches to live? Same reason why dad tells you not to even think of messing with his gun, you'll hurt yourself. But for those God blessed, here's the cheat codes. Go and heal the sick and lame and all that shit. Made sense since, if you take a literal interpretation of the bible, the magic used by the heathens did work. The Egyptian magicians were able to replicate the tricks pulled by Moses and Aaron, even turning their staffs into snakes. The witch of Endor really could summon forth the spirits of the dead but was taken aback when she really called forth Elijah for King Saul.

When the Matrix came out I smiled because it seemed like the Wachowski brothers kind of used the same line of thinking I did to back into that world. Ok, they want to do a wire-fu movie which is obviously impossible in real life. Ok, so how would you explain something that clearly seems to be breaking the rules of reality? Oh, you hack the rules! But how do you hack them? It's not like we're talking about a video game here. But wait, what if we were? Oh, so all of life is a computer simulation and the rules can be bent with the clickity-clack of a keyboard? Why is everyone stuck in a simulation? Bad computers put them there. Why? Let's borrow the premise of Terminator. And there we go!

Re:Well written book, but it left me disappointed (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29355463)

The witch of Endor really could summon forth the spirits of the dead but was taken aback when she really called forth Elijah for King Saul.

It was Samuel, not Elijah. Elijah wasn't even born yet when Saul was king.

Re:Well written book, but it left me disappointed (2, Funny)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355601)

The witch of Endor really could summon forth the spirits of the dead but was taken aback when she really called forth Elijah for King Saul.

It was Samuel, not Elijah. Elijah wasn't even born yet when Saul was king.

The real question is why either of them would be living on a moon with a bunch of Ewoks.

Re:Well written book, but it left me disappointed (1)

AP31R0N (723649) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355759)

The magic theory i've always liked is that will/intelligence/life is different or special, as compared to energy/matter. Life can make matter and energy behave in ways they don't on their own. Plants, animals and microbes work a sort of minor magic in the form of biochemistry. In some cases through intent/desire they can move and change things deliberately. Sticks don't naturally stack themselves into shelter. Life can. Enter sapience.

Intelligent beings can make matter do things to other matter (science/technology). In the case of a magic setting, intelligence can also will things to behave unnaturally. Will can summon a massive amount of heat to appear in one place and cause a ball of fire to appear. Or it can be subtle.

Investment Magic - Emotion/time/understanding can alter reality in small ways, like making food taste better. Three cooks make you the same meal, following the same recipe. One is a stranger, just following steps, making a product for another stranger. The second is a master chef who has studied for years and made this meal a thousand times. The last is your mother, making your favorite meal. If you try all three, the first would be palatable. The second would be delicious, but the third, even if it doesn't taste as good as the second feeds your heart. The chefs knowledge and practice charges the food to be better. Your mother's love does the same, even if she's only a so-so cook. Flowers from the local store might impress a girl, but flowers from the top of the mountain would knock her socks off (and perhaps petticoats). Hatred could also hold sway over reality just as easily.

Wizards are like chefs. They "know" the underlying rules. Bippity boppity boo is just as potent as abracadabra. The power doesn't come from the words, but from the investment behind them. The mage studied for years under the harsh tutelage of cranky wizards with stinging wands. The investment doesn't come from the just the moment of casting, but from all the time, effort and emotion behind it.

i had a bit in a D&D game where a wizard sent the party to retrieve the dust of a Lich his adventuring party kill ages before. On the way out of the dungeon a wraith killed one of the PCs. Had the next session occurred, the wizard would have examined the dust and found them to be much more than he asked for and offered them a bigger reward. He would have explained that the death of the comrade would have charged the dust to be even more potent. He could have teleported to the lich and got it himself but he wanted primo shit, not just dust.

Mod down, this is a cut-and-paste (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29356401)

Credit where it's due: This post was originally written for Amazon.com by Mitchell M. Tse of Antioch, CA.

Re:Well written book, but it left me disappointed (1)

Palidase (566673) | more than 5 years ago | (#29359007)

I read this a few weeks ago. While I actually enjoyed the writing and the basis for the storyline, I am still not sure how I felt about reading the book.

It may be a bad comparison, but I liken it to watching Schindler's List for the first time. It was an excellent film, but I didn't know how to describe my emotion when I was done watching.

For me, The Magicians was very similar to that. I also enjoy reading to revel in the escape. Despite the content and genre, you don't really get to escape in this book. Instead, reality is right... there...

Re:Well written book, but it left me disappointed (1)

ReverendDG (1627147) | more than 5 years ago | (#29362441)

wait so its just like the last HP book? where i didn't give a shit about if harry and company won or not? where there was very little in the way of connection to the other books or the whole jesus thing that made me want to go to scotland and smack the author for making the worst ending to a mostly good series? yeah if its anything like that i'll skip it and read a series that wasn't a complete mess at the end.

Wondrous -- but you still want to smack that idjit (1, Troll)

Smidge207 (1278042) | more than 5 years ago | (#29354717)

Stop thinking this is a fantasy book. I know, I know, it's called "The Magicians," the plot synopsis references all three of the most famous fantasy series and describes a handful of familiar fantasy tropes, including the school of magic and the fairy tale land come to actual life. But forget all of that. I have read more fantasy books than I can remember -- I'm named for a character in perhaps the most famous fantasy series of all time -- and I'm telling you: "The Magicians" is not a fantasy.

It has fantastic elements, yes. There is magic; there is a school for magic, where the characters learn to cast spells, using hand gestures and arcane language and strange mystical components -- Ziploc bag full of mutton fat, anyone? -- and there is a voyage from this world to another, a land of naiads and fauns and magical speaking animals, gods and demons, kings and queens, quests and wishes. But this book is something very different from the usual fantasy novel. In "The Magicians," Lev Grossman has done something unusual, and remarkable, perhaps even unique: this is a grown-up fantasy. This book is to fantasy what "The Grapes of Wrath" is to travel books, what "The Metamorphosis" is to self-help: so much more depressing and visceral and funny and horrifying, and genuine, and fascinating, and hard to read and therefore valuable, that it doesn't belong in the same category despite sharing some central traits. The setting is imagined, and there are supernatural things that happen, but make no mistake: this is a serious novel.

Where the characters in most fantasy books are heroic, larger than life, the sort of people we wish we could be, these magicians are not: the characters are too close to plain old humanity, flawed, contradictory, foolish and foolhardy, to stand in as idealized versions of ourselves. Where most fantasy books provide an escape from our reality, this book does not. In point of fact, the moral of this book is that escape is not only impossible, but dangerous and harmful to attempt. The hero, Quentin Coldwater, attempts to escape every serious situation he faces, and every time, he ends up worse off than he would have been if he had just been able to deal with it, honestly and sincerely. But his response to his worsened circumstances is to try to escape again -- with predictable results. Every step Quentin takes is the wrong one, and every step sinks him deeper and deeper into a quagmire. The book gets hard to read: not because the writing is anything less than excellent, as it is top notch from first page to last, but because the urge to reach into the page and slap, shake, and eventually throttle the main character becomes overwhelming. But that desire, that feeling, should be familiar to every adult who has thought back on his or her life, and shook his or her head, thinking, "Why did I do that? How could I be that stupid?" That desire to smack Quentin is no different from the desire to smack our younger selves, and sometimes, that's a terribly annoying feeling to have, which makes this a somewhat annoying book to read.

The real triumph of this book, however, is that it is not only a serious novel, despite what I have been saying. Grossman is able to describe a world of wonder and imagination, and populate it with characters who are utterly unworthy of the magic all around them, who appreciate nothing, who completely flub their great chance -- just like I would have done if I lived through this experience, just as most of us do with our great chances in our real, mundane, unfantastic lives, which are also as full of wonder as any dreamed by a teller of tales. And because the characters are so real, so easy to relate to, it makes the fantasy seem just as real (which, of course, makes the real world just as fantastic). Brakebills reminded me of my own college experience, and yet it is a magical place. Fillory is indeed a fairy tale land come to life in this book, and I found myself wishing that I could believe I would have handled Fillory better than Quentin does -- but knowing that I would have done almost precisely the same things, made the same choices and the same mistakes. And the ending is glorious: the climactic action scene is thrilling and impossible to put down; the revealed secrets are both surprising and satisfying; the final resolution is, if not completely happy, at least hopeful.

I won't say that this is a great book, on par with "Of Mice and Men" and "Catcher in the Rye" and "To Kill a Mockingbird," but I will say that it is closer to those than it is to "The Hobbit" or the Xanth books. If you are a fan of literature, of thinking about your reading, then you must get this book, especially if you enjoy fantasy. If you are just looking for an escape, look elsewhere -- because this is not a fantasy. Or at least, it isn't only a fantasy. It's a wonder.

Re:Wondrous -- but you still want to smack that id (1, Redundant)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 5 years ago | (#29354951)

Unless someone knows something I don't about this post it shouldn't be modded down. This is pretty insightful and the author obviously has read and given thought to the content of the book.

Re:Wondrous -- but you still want to smack that id (4, Informative)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355157)

Unless someone knows something I don't about this post it shouldn't be modded down. This is pretty insightful and the author obviously has read and given thought to the content of the book.

Because it's a copy/paste from Amazon's reviews [amazon.com] and this "Smidge" character is not only a well known troll but he has done this before [slashdot.org] ? In the course of his lies, he continues to claim to be multiple different reviewers on Amazon. Frankly, he is stealing other reviewer's credit and should be modded down, not up.

Re:Wondrous -- but you still want to smack that id (1)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355305)

Ah - so there we have it. Thanks for the info.

Re:Wondrous -- but you still want to smack that id (1)

Radish03 (248960) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355459)

Thanks for pointing that out. I should have read this before I moderated. Ah well, this comment will fix it.

Re:Wondrous -- but you still want to smack that id (1)

ghostlibrary (450718) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355091)

>Where the characters in most fantasy books are heroic, larger than life, the sort of people we wish we could be, these magicians are not: the characters are too close to plain old humanity, flawed, contradictory, foolish and foolhardy, to stand in as idealized versions of ourselves.

Reminds me of "District 9", which several friends panned due to the main character being too 'unsympathetic'. If they wanted an action movie, they could track supporting character Christopher's arc. Whereas the point of '9' seemed to be that the main character was an ordinary, flawed person stuck in an action scenario.

That kind of thing may ruin the escapism value, but it makes for a great story.

Re:Wondrous -- but you still want to smack that id (1)

Jedi Alec (258881) | more than 5 years ago | (#29363223)

Whereas the point of '9' seemed to be that the main character was an ordinary, flawed person stuck in an action scenario.

Really? I thought the whole point was to send a clear message that it's a bad idea to allow disgruntled nerdy civil servants to get their hands on a fully operational battlemech.

In other news, in Japan you can now rent exoskeletons [slashdot.org] .

I wonder what the civil servants in Japan are like...

Re:Wondrous -- but you still want to smack that id (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29355789)

I would really like to moderate this "-1, stupid and self-contradicting," but that's not an option, so I'll post anonymously and gripe about it.

It is a fantasy. Look the damn word up in a dictionary.

Saying "it can't be a fantasy because it's written for grown-ups" is a non-sequiter.

(and saying it's not a fantasy--in the first paragraph--and "this is a grown-up fantasy" in the second is rather a contradiction.)

Will it Blend? (2, Insightful)

Microlith (54737) | more than 5 years ago | (#29354771)

I don't think it's indicative of people wanting to mash things together, so much as finding it amusing when someone sticks every day objects (and sometimes expensive ones) into a blender and records the destruction that ensues.

Sames as the guys on youtube who stick shit in microwaves for extended periods of time to see what happens. It's purely the destructive impulse being satisfied.

Re:Will it Blend? (1)

steelfood (895457) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355955)

I'm not sure it can be considered a blend of Tolkien and Lewis anyway. I mean, both the Lord of the Rings and Narnia series are completely romantic. In fact, most books in the fantasy genre are romantic, and I'm not sure there's any series that's not.

I'd say, it's more of a Harry Potter meets Rule of the Bone.

Gritty realism? (2, Insightful)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 5 years ago | (#29354859)

Who reads fantasy for 'gritty realism'? Sounds like it'd just be a major drag, to me. And deliberately basing your school on another magic school in a recent book? Isn't that just a cop-out?

Re:Gritty realism? (1)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355031)

Like I said, I don't think it's a cop-out. I think it is a way for Grossman to look at this stuff from his point of view. From his skill in writing to the stuff that is more his own, it's obvious that he could have done the whole thing with 'original' stuff if he had wanted. He's using the similarities for a reason, I think.

If it were not for the intentional nod to Rowling I'd say the tone made me think more of "A Wizard of Earthsea".

Re:Gritty realism? (1)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355623)

I'm skeptical. I see Lev Grossman basically as an opportunist. He wrote Codex when mystery-thrillers about musty old books were popular (sort of a side effect of the Da Vinci Code craze, I think) and the result was a pretty average novel that broke little ground. Based on this latest effort, breaking ground doesn't seem to be one of his interests.

Re:Gritty realism? (1)

BobisOnlyBob (1438553) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355833)

Sometimes, it's better not to break ground, but explore what's already been cracked open. You might just find something unexpected, be it grim or beautiful, and finding the unexpected leads to both entertainment and learning.

Re:Gritty realism? (1)

steelfood (895457) | more than 5 years ago | (#29356321)

That doesn't necessarily imply that it's good by any measure. Exploring existing ground can also lead to boring and unentertaining. I'm sure a literary scholar would disagree, but for the rest of us who read for our own sense of pleasure, I'm sure something that's not generic would be more appealing than something that is.

Re:Gritty realism? (1)

EludingLight (1633443) | more than 5 years ago | (#29364593)

I doubt it would be boring and unentertaining, because what I gather from this is that it's a mesh of two stories, but from a different, dark angle, and it causes you to look at things differently, as Bob said, be it grim or beautiful. It may not be for everyone, but I doubt it would be considered dull.

Re:Gritty realism? (1)

jmorris42 (1458) | more than 5 years ago | (#29357549)

> I think it is a way for Grossman to look at this stuff from his point of view.

Exactly. He obviously hated Narnia, just from reading the review, and probably disliked Potter and instead of just writing a snarky review he set out to 'deconstruct' them. And face it, the whole field of literary criticism is esssentially the process of 'deconstructing' everything valuable in the corpus of Western Civilization and showing how corrupt and wicked it all is. Pointy headed academics do it in the form of nasty yet inscrutable papers no sane person would read, this guy does it in the novel format instead so that more people will be impacted.

And at least it appears he understands WHY both of his targets were popular by how he attacks them so he isn't a fool, just playing for the dark side's team.

Re:Gritty realism? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29356753)

Gritty realism causes you to actually fear for the hero, which can be incredibly engrossing. In every other fantasy series I've read it's not a matter of _if_ the hero will survive, but _how_. In a fantasy series that has gritty realism ( like George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire ) you really don't know if the hero will escape, or be killed, and THAT kind of story will keep you reading into the wee hours.

Re:Gritty realism? (1)

tholomyes (610627) | more than 5 years ago | (#29358457)

GRRM is what came to mind for me, as well. I would be curious to read a review of this in light of someone who's familiar with A Song of Ice and Fire.

Re:Gritty realism? (1)

blancolioni (147353) | more than 5 years ago | (#29357253)

Who reads fantasy for 'gritty realism'?

Me. Indeed, it's one of my favourite genres. See Hugh Cook's novels for a great example of this sort of thing.

Re:Gritty realism? (1)

Spittoon (64395) | more than 5 years ago | (#29358533)

I didn't think the references to other works was a cop-out-- I liked that stuff. But I sure did think the book was a major f-ing drag. It seemed like the whole point of the book was that negative people inevitably ruin everything and there's nothing anybody can do about it. I had similar issues with his brother's book "Soon I Will Be Invincible"-- nobody learned anything or changed through the whole book. They share a kind of cynical, depressive mindset and it permeates the worlds they've created in their novels. Ugh. I would have loved this book if it had any balance to it. You can't have things all one way or the other, and have a really great novel. Everything needs a ray of hope. Now, if Grossman comes back with a sequel and the second act starts a climb back out of the abyss, then that would be really cool.

Re:Gritty realism? (1)

Omestes (471991) | more than 5 years ago | (#29359973)

Who reads fantasy for 'gritty realism'? Sounds like it'd just be a major drag, to me.

I do. I can't stand most fantasy. Most fantasy is formulaic and boring, with flawless Mary Sue protagonists, evil empires, and powerful artifacts. Every time I try to read modern fantasy, I give up and read Tolkien instead. That and the stupid 400 book trilogies, which require you to go read them all in order, all of which are nothing but a cliche cross between Lord of the Rings and DnD.

Michael Swanwick's The Iron Dragon's Daughter was a good exception (its sequal less so), it was dark, it was adult, it was strange mash between "fairy oriented" fantasy, steampunk, and punk rock. Very unique. I suppose I look for something different in fiction than most people though, I don't want escapism, I want a puzzle, something interesting and novel. I want something that makes me think at the end, something that I might learn something from. yes, I mostly read nonfiction, and more "philosophical" fiction, like Camus, Kafka, and Dostoevsky, or books that are actually written well, with phrases that make me pause and smile at the word selection (like Cormac McCarthy).

I suppose it all is a matter of personal choice, but this review actually made me want to read the book, in spite of the negative tone. I'm turned off a bit by selecting Harry Potter (which is synonymous with meaningless escapism), and Narnia (which is nothing but a way of selling religion to children), but I'm guessing from the review that this is more in the spirit of irony, than fan service/marketing. This is hopeful, since the author might actually be clever.

Re:Gritty realism? (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 5 years ago | (#29363735)

Yes, but you can avoid 'gritty realism' without going formulaic.

BTW, are you holding up LotR as an example of 'gritty realism'? Because if that's the case, then it isn't very gritty or realistic... It's still pretty straight-up fantasy with very little real consequence to anything they do, and very little negative actually happens to them. Almost none, if you count things that are reversed later, like Gandolf's death.

I agree that there has to be some negative to balance the positive... I sometimes even like books that are more negative than positive. But they have to -have- the positive.

I loved Potter and hated Narnia, but I can't see how 'gritty realism' would help either of them.

I love books that make you think and explore concepts, too. Harry Potter had some of that... Ayn Rand's stuff had a lot of it. But of course, her stuff wasn't 'fantasy', just fiction.

Publishers have run out of ideas. (1)

Remus Shepherd (32833) | more than 5 years ago | (#29354965)

What I find distressing is not the book itself (I haven't read it), but the hype emerging from the publishing industry about it. After the stunning and unexpected success of Harry Potter, the publishers had two choices -- either keep a look out for books that might have the same appeal, or only look for books that revolve around the exact same formula of young people in a boarding school with fantasy trappings. It seems that they've chosen the latter. Harry Potter may spawn a raft of imitators, and although each may put their own spin on the formula (like The Magicians has), they're still going to be different cookies from the same cutter.

I wonder if 'fantasy boarding school fiction' will soon become a genre of its own?

Re:Publishers have run out of ideas. (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355043)

I wonder if 'fantasy boarding school fiction' will soon become a genre of its own?

This genre already exists. I would point you to a link, but I am at work and it might violate company policy.

shi7? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29355207)

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The Improbability of Improbability (2, Insightful)

kenp2002 (545495) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355307)

C.S. Lewis was out to make a point and tell a story. So was Tolkien. In contrast Potter seems to be "just a story" without an underlying point. This has no bearing on the merits but rather the structure and origin.

It struck me that Both Lewis and Tolkien (as well as Herbert for you Sci-Fi fans) sat down and said, "What message do I want to send... okay.. now how about a good story to communicate that..."

Potter struck me as, "Ok here is the overall story. Let's see if we can work a bigger message into it."

As the review pointed out sometimes the story can get overshadowed by the message\point the author is trying to make.

People, for some odd reason alawsys have an axe to grind with Lewis. Be it Christan bigotry or the exact opposite, alas the "Jesus isn't an animal!" rabid foaming at the mouth fundamentalists I find it almost ironic that Rowling, Tolkien, and Lewis now form this weird "Fantasy Trinity" of core writers.

Interestingly enough though I hear little of Ann Mcaffrey, Margret Weis and Tracy Hickman; and albiet biased, Terry Brooks.

It goes back to world crafting which is difficult to do, for authors even more so do to limited space.

Perhaps the success of those three was their ability, intentional or otherwise, was to draw the reader into the world with little effort.

Perhaps we should measure this work against that standard on how easily "we can step through the wardrobe", or quickly "we can make the journey to the undying lands", or how siftly we can "catch a train to Hogwarts"

Re:The Improbability of Improbability (4, Insightful)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355513)

C.S. Lewis was out to make a point and tell a story. So was Tolkien. In contrast Potter seems to be "just a story" without an underlying point.

I'll concede Lewis, but what was the "point" that you perceive Tolkien set out to make? That invented languages are fun? If I may quote from Tolkien's "Forward to the Second Edition" (page 6 in the Houghton Mifflin hardcover edition):

As for any inner meaning or 'message', it has in the intention of the author none.

Of course, there will always be those people who read a statement like that from an author and instantly start looking for inner meanings and messages, but those people are silly.

As for the Harry Potter series, I'd say there's as little or as much "point" to it as you want to read into it. If nothing else, Rowling's characterizations are much more nuanced and "modern" than those of either Lewis or Tolkien. Dumbledore, Rowling's analogue to Gandalf, is shown to be flawed and fallible, and even Rowling's take on the archetypal Dark Lord can be read as just some poor guy who had a rotten life and went sour because of it. Maybe that was her point -- that for all the wizardry and wonder we would have in a world where magic was real, human beings would still have to muddle through the way they always do, and that children in such a world would no more be able to rely on the infallibility and immortality of their elders than children in our own world do? I don't care enough about the series to formulate a hard opinion one way or the other, but to suggest that it "has no point" seems to say more about the critic than about Rowling herself.

Re:The Improbability of Improbability (1)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355885)

>>As for the Harry Potter series, I'd say there's as little or as much "point" to it as you want to read into it

The only real point was a sort of ham-handed, 40-years-behind-the-times message about racism. Bad people (Draco) judge good people (Hermoine) solely based on the circumstances of their birth ("Pureblood", "Halfblood" or "Mudblood"). Good people (Harry) don't care, and don't hang out with the racists (Voldemorte and his crew).

There's also the standard story tropes about hope and coming-of-age, neither of which JK Rowling does especially well. Her treatment of Harry's adolescence revealed she doesn't really know how to write teenagers at all.

Re:The Improbability of Improbability (1)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 5 years ago | (#29356319)

Bad people (Draco) judge good people (Hermoine) solely based on the circumstances of their birth ("Pureblood", "Halfblood" or "Mudblood"). Good people (Harry) don't care, and don't hang out with the racists (Voldemorte and his crew).

But if everything in Rowling's world is as black-and-white as you say, why didn't the wizards just do the obvious, and get rid of Slytherin House? It was explicitly stated that most of the rotten wizards in the world came from Slytherin. So why not simply disband it, and stop emphasizing the character traits it represents? Why tolerate it? I'm not a particular fan of the Potter series, but I think Rowling's worldview is perhaps broader than you suggest.

Re:The Improbability of Improbability (1)

Saint Fnordius (456567) | more than 5 years ago | (#29363335)

Note that the existence of Slytherin is not inconsistent with the idea of Rowling being ham-handed. After all, there are many, many things in her novels that really were poorly thought out. If you ask me, the whole series is a fluke that reached critical mass, helped along by some celebrity preachers pulling a corollary of the Streisand Effect (the whole "Harry Potter books promote devil worship!" brouhaha).

Re:The Improbability of Improbability (1)

Rhaban (987410) | more than 5 years ago | (#29363357)

Because Rowling's characters act to move the plot to the point where she wants it to be, and not for their own motivations?

Making a character actions depend on what he wants and not what a author want is what make a story believable.
Making what a character wants be what the author wants for him is the first step for writing a great story.

Re:The Improbability of Improbability (1)

mvdwege (243851) | more than 5 years ago | (#29362215)

Bad people [...] judge good people [...] solely based on the circumstances of their birth

And why is this 40 years behind the times? Are you really saying what you seem to be implying, that it is not a good thing to condemn this attitude?

Mart

Re:The Improbability of Improbability (1)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355923)

IIRC Tolkien was pretty adamant about there not being any meaning or message beyond the story.

Lewis - well it's obvious what he was doing, I think he did it pretty well.

Rowling has some problems and I go back and forth with the Potter stuff. One theme that she pushes through all the books is the idea of doing what is right whether it is pragmatic or not. I see this in my favorite stuff by Stephen King as well. And that alone was enough for me with the HP books - because the bottom line is that I had a blast reading through all of them and loved them.

Re:The Improbability of Improbability (1)

Vintermann (400722) | more than 5 years ago | (#29356757)

"IIRC Tolkien was pretty adamant about there not being any meaning or message beyond the story."

Well, this may have had something to do with a wish to say "I am not C.S Lewis!". Kind of like Brahms' adamant rejection of "programme music", insisting that his music had no content whatsoever besides what it was in itself... yeah, you can sort of see why he says it, but when you look at what he did, it's not really clear it was all that simple.

Now don't get me wrong. LotR is no allegory, far from it. But still, Tolkien's characters are very different - and way more sympathetic - than the characters in the myths and legends that inspired him. He couldn't have told a story where the hero was a complete bastard, or even a hero according to old germanic ideals. Instead, his heroes are noble, but with flaws: Frodo is weak-willed and gives up in the end (should I have put a spoiler warning here? Nah, this is slashdot, if people don't know, they deserve it). Sam is in many ways more reliable, but he lacks forgiveness (has no pity for Gollum). In the end, they win despite their flaws, but not in such a way that anyone can take credit - they all failed.
That's no coincidence, is all I'm saying. He may not have set out to preach a message, but there is a message nonetheless, and it's very much coloured by the author's beliefs.

Re:The Improbability of Improbability (1)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 5 years ago | (#29357215)

Tolkien's characters are very different - and way more sympathetic - than the characters in the myths and legends that inspired him.

By which you mean the characters in The Hobbit (a children's book) and The Lord of the Rings (a mainstream novel, and one that was written at the request of The Hobbit's publisher, who wanted a sequel). It was not true of the characters he invented in The Silmarillion, however. Despite the fact that Tolkien considered The Silmarillion to be his most "important" work, it was never published in his lifetime, and one reason was surely because its characters were far less sympathetic and accessible than the ones in his more mainstream works.

As for the "message" you cite, I don't really see much of a message there. You're more talking about the themes of the novel. Any good book is going to feature some kind of themes; in fact, it's hard to avoid it. That doesn't mean Tolkien was sitting there, coming up with scenes and saying to himself, "But how does this scene fit into my theme? The readers must be able to grasp my theme!" I don't think he was that kind of author at all.

Re:The Improbability of Improbability (1)

Saint Fnordius (456567) | more than 5 years ago | (#29363415)

I think Professor Tolkein considered The Silmarillion his greatest work because it was a foundation to be built upon and not really seen. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings stand so well because the foundation provided is solid and deep enough to support them. His academic background meant he was acutely aware of how many layers were involved in the old tales (indeed, I recall Prof. Tolkein once wrote in a letter that LOTR was an anti-Ring der Nibelungen due to his anger at Wagner mangling the message of how power corrupts!).

The difference is between storytelling and myth-building. One emphasises how much the hero is "one of us", the other emphasises how distant the hero is.

Re:The Improbability of Improbability (1)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 5 years ago | (#29357273)

I don't disagree - but I would say that I think Harry Potter is similar on that front. (on that front - I'm not saying Potter is in the same league as LoTR)

Re:The Improbability of Improbability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29358975)

If Tolkein wrote that, my bet would be that it's because he was hoping that God would reflect his own wonders through the work, and had the philosophy that if he had a message, it would crush God's wonders.

The work is deeply religious; Read the beginning of the world in the Silmarilion for the basic backdrop.

Re:The Improbability of Improbability (1)

Draek (916851) | more than 5 years ago | (#29359045)

I'll concede Lewis, but what was the "point" that you perceive Tolkien set out to make? That invented languages are fun?

Y'know, I always thought that was precisely the point. That Tolkien had created this inmense, incredibly developed language, set out to write some 'cultural elements' in it (tales, legends, poems, songs, etc), then wrote LotR to have an use for all that stuff.

Not that I don't *like* it, mind you, Tolkien's "world building" is second to none and the fact that not all those tales and songs (in fact, practically none of them) have much bearing to the plot in question really helps with the suspension of disbelief, but 'putting his invented languages out there for some use' did seem to be the prime motivation behind the books.

Re:The Improbability of Improbability (1)

Eli Gottlieb (917758) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355891)

It struck me that Both Lewis and Tolkien (as well as Herbert for you Sci-Fi fans) sat down and said, "What message do I want to send... okay.. now how about a good story to communicate that..."

Herbert was just trying to layer as many things into a single story as possible.

That being said, all hail the Tyrant, the Great Rav Leto II for freeing humanity!

Re:The Improbability of Improbability (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 5 years ago | (#29359655)

I saw the entirety of the Dune series as a big thought experiment on what happens when somebody knows everything. It wasn't just layering a bunch of stuff in a single story, he built an incredibly complicated political scenario and then threw a seemingly small monkey wrench into the mix, with huge consequences.

The result? It screwed things up, big time, doomed the species big, and it took a near-omniscient tyrant with a multi-thousand year life span to see the repair job to its conclusion.

I liked Brian Herbert's books as well (particularly the Butlerian Jihad), but they just didn't have the same depth and complexity that Frank's books did.

Re:The Improbability of Improbability (1)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 5 years ago | (#29356071)

I've been a big fan of McCaffrey ever since I read The White Dragon as a kid. I think she built a great world and writes strong dialogue. I haven't read any of it in some time though, and didn't keep up with all the later Pern stuff that came out. I really enjoyed that what I thought was fantasy was really sci-fi. I've been working on stories for my kids that use the same device. I think it's a clever way to bring magic into a story.

Re:The Improbability of Improbability (1)

MikeBabcock (65886) | more than 5 years ago | (#29356205)

While I would never debate C.S. Lewis' intentions (nor would he I doubt), Tolkien is a much deeper writer than you give credit for. When you start to see the level of background work that he did in order to make a self-sufficient mythology in which to spin his tale, the hundreds of notes just on character backgrounds and languages and stories that are alluded to but never told by characters in his stories, you realize that his books are the life's work of a master story teller, and not an attempt to get any specific message across.

The side effect of being a particularly powerful author of course, is that people find many compelling messages and derive strong conclusions from the results of characters' behaviours and may therefore believe that was the intent of said author when in my opinion, and in his own pen, it was not.

Of course, Rowling isn't anywhere near that level, sorry to burst your trinity bubble. Rowling's writing is at a much lower level, the background of her characters much shallower and the world's consistency and lore much less well established than Tolkien's.

Personally I've always wished I could listen in on the conversations he and C.S.Lewis had while sitting at their favourite pub, several of which are discussed by one or both men in their journals, but many of which I'm sure were highly enlightening and now lost.

Re:The Improbability of Improbability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29359309)

As a great author that I can't remember once wrote,

If you have a message, send a telegram. If you have a story, write a book.

Re:The Improbability of Improbability (1)

fessor eli (977181) | more than 5 years ago | (#29360031)

I'd have to add Ursula K LeGuin to the list of master's of crafting a world. The Wizard of Earthsea books are the standard for me, equal to Tolkein, of creating a world that was capable of changing over time realistically (even with all the magic). Even the three books she wrote decades after the original trilogy move that world's story forward.

Gee... (1)

sbeckstead (555647) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355345)

Wow, how original, a mishmash of two very tired metaphors er I mean stories er I mean allegories er well doesn't anyone actually want to do something original?

Re:Gee... (1)

Naznarreb (1274908) | more than 5 years ago | (#29361983)

Because there are only four stories: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Himself, Man vs. God/the supernatural.

The Magicians (1)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 5 years ago | (#29355389)

I met Lev at Comicon this year, and talked with him briefly. He led a panel which covered, among other topics, Harry Potter and the impact it had on the fantasy genre. The Magicians is pretty upfront about borrowing from Harry Potter, with the students sarcastically saying, "Let's go put on our Quidditch Robes" when they are dragged outside to play the magical game that they all hate.

Essentially, it's a re-take on the entire notion of a magical sub-culture in our world, with a lot more "realism" (if that's the right word) instilled. There's no big bad. Wizards are by and large angsty, unmotivated (they can get anything they want with a snap of their fingers) and emotionally stunted. The main character is a depressing anti-hero (not in the cool and dangerous antihero vibe, but is just a character you end up hating by the end of the book since he's the polar opposite of a hero, though not a villain, so to speak.)

I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes Harry Potter and Narnia, but is looking for a more adult take on it. That said, I'd probably just give it a B+, since I hate angsty teens, and they never really develop past that point.

Here's my Amazon review on it:
http://www.amazon.com/review/RPCO5K5YVAQ5I/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm [amazon.com]

Why Narnia?! (1)

weav (158099) | more than 5 years ago | (#29356733)

Why did it have to be Narnia? Why couldn't it have been Discworld? Sigh...

Re:Why Narnia?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29358279)

Because Discworld was it's own form of comentary on the Fantasy genre, although more parody or satire (depending on the specific book) than deconstruction.

Re:Why Narnia?! (1)

bar-agent (698856) | more than 5 years ago | (#29361825)

Why did it have to be Narnia? Why couldn't it have been Discworld? Sigh...

A satire of Discworld would either be a) reality, or b) make the universe implode.

Re:Why Narnia?! (1)

Jedi Alec (258881) | more than 5 years ago | (#29363209)

A satire of Discworld would either be a) reality, or b) make the universe implode.

or c) both.

Another craptastic bestseller (1)

greymond (539980) | more than 5 years ago | (#29356851)

From the blurb I was expecting something different...but then nothing in this review makes me want to read the book, in fact after getting all the way through to the end and seeing "New York Times best sellers list" just shows me how much of a inflated budget failure of writing this is. It's right up with the typical mass produced best seller garbage that comes out such as Anita Blake novels, where you have people who are excellent writers of written language, yet have no real creativity of their own and as a result resort to mimic the ideas of others or fill their books with enough sex to entice all the 12 year old boys into reading.

I hate garbage like this so much.

Thank you stoolpigeon for saving me from another bad read.

Re:Another craptastic bestseller (1)

ZerMongo (1129583) | more than 5 years ago | (#29362013)

I wouldn't dismiss so readily as that. I found the book more to be a gritty, realistic re-imagining of fantasy archetypes rather than straight-out repappropriation. If you're looking for something completely original that's never been done, this isn't the book for you. If you're looking for a markedly skewed take on traditional stories, give it a shot.

My take on it can be found here [ophono.us] .

frisT ps0t (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29357853)

Will It Blend? (1)

YourExperiment (1081089) | more than 5 years ago | (#29358667)

The popularity of web site Will It Blend? is indicative of how people enjoy mashing things together

What does Will It Blend have to do with mashing things together? They destroy stuff for a laugh - always a popular pastime for geeks, but nothing whatsoever to do with so-called mash-ups.

gack (1)

genner (694963) | more than 5 years ago | (#29358823)

I felt so physically ill at the thought of combing C.S. Lewis's master piece with Rowling's ilk that I was actually relieved to find out it was a Harry Potter rip off written with the intent of bashing the Narnia series.

In addition... (1)

ThousandStars (556222) | more than 5 years ago | (#29360309)

You can see my commentary here [jseliger.com] :

The Magicians is a surprise and delight: its language is not overly showy and yet often contains an unexpected surprise, especially at the ends of sentences, as this early description shows: "Quentin was thin and tall, though he habitually hunched his shoulders in a vain attempt to brace himself against whatever blow was coming from the heavens, and which would logically hit the tall people first." Until the last clause, one could be reading any novel, fantasy or otherwise, but saying that a blow from heaven would hit the tall first gives us Quentin's personality in a single line, and yet its ideas are spun coherently across the entire novel.

See also Lev Grossman's piece in the WSJ, Good Books Don't Have to be Hard [wsj.com] :

It's not easy to put your finger on what exactly is so disgraceful about our attachment to storyline. Sure, it's something to do with high and low and genres and the canon and such. But what exactly? Part of the problem is that to find the reason you have to dig down a ways, down into the murky history of the novel. There was once a reason for turning away from plot, but that rationale has outlived its usefulness. If there's a key to what the 21st-century novel is going to look like, this is it: the ongoing exoneration and rehabilitation of plot.

Amazon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29360727)

Y'know,
Being a bestseller and all, is it obvious to no one but me that it's available at Borders, Barnes and Noble, Waldenbooks, and probably Kroger, as well as most independent bookstores in the American publishing zone?

What kind of crap is this "Available from Amazon?"
Pull your head out. It's available anywhere you buy
hardcover books. Are you paid to plug Amazon.com?

Lame-0 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29361161)

This article is hella-lame.
Visiting that Will It Bend website was a total waste of my time.
I want that time back!

Terrible (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29361471)

This is a horrible review...7/10 for a book the reviewer automatically starts to rip off and call a pathetic harry potter ripoff? How bad does a book have to be to get a 6/10? A twilight ripoff perhaps? I don't disagree this book is complete crap, but to give it a 7/10?!? Reviews like this are indecitive of how crappy slashdot has been getting lately. At least their games section has at least regained some somblance of respectability since that tool who will remain nameless stopped posting.

Just a comment (1)

fret13 (1633471) | more than 5 years ago | (#29364595)

Well I have to admit, smashing Harry Potter and Narnia together would have been really cool and at first glance of what the story was about, I thought that this book would be really cool to check out, but after reading this review over it, this doesn't seem like the book for me. I am one of those readers that usually just reads for a nice escape so since this article warns over and over again that this isn't much of an escape i guess I'll have to pass it up. I do have to admit that the story line did seem really interesting, it's too bad that it's so grim. Not to mention i would hate to have to go through another Golden Compass, I mean honestly, why in the world would you want to tarnish Lewis's masterpiece. I don't know, I might check it out.

Dodgy metaphor (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 5 years ago | (#29366041)

"Will it blend?" isn't about whether things will combine, it's about whether things will be reduced to a homogenous heap by the act of blending. Which may not be the sort of comparison the author intended.

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