Review of “The Magician’s Land,” by Lev Grossman & Giveaway Details


Custom Crowdsourced “Magician’s Land,” trailer, produced and filmed by Viking Books

Giveaway Details: Below this blurb of text, you’ll be able to follow a link (acessed by clicking one of two relevant, magic-themed images below), which should take you directly to a separate page, where you will be prompted to accomplishing different activities to earn entries for this contest.

The prize is of course an enviable one, for it consists of a complimentary hardcover edition of The Magician’s Land, a review of which is featured below these Giveaway details.

*****This contest is open only to entrants, residing the United States only. Please understand that this geographical restriction has more to do with exorbitant mailing costs above all. Thank you! Any winner, who happens not to live in the US, will be disqualified without question. *********

Contest Ends August 11, 2014!!!    Now, click either the Harry Potter related GIF image below, or the GIF image of the fierce so-called “evil queen” Regina, from Once Upon a Time, to be taken to the Rafflecopter AP, relevant to this contest!!

Review:

Amazon (Kindle/Print Edition)/Barnes & Nobles (Nook/ Print Edition)/
Books-A-Million (Autographed Copy)/ Goodreads (All other formats)

We all know that  Jane Austen’s iconic beginning line Pride and Prejudice,  with a few inventive tweaks, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single bibliophile in possession of a good book, must be in want of a satisfying ending,” would end up encapsulating the universal expectation all readers have for a final volume in a long-standing, epic fantasy series. Most often do end, with just offering patently shallow satisfying endings, without really weaving something that affects the reader in a very deep psychological way.   One of the hallmark, definitive features of a good ending rests not with just the ability for the writer to adeptly tie up all the loose ends in a very satisfying way. Conversely, an ending that is not just technically competent, but emotionally accomplished, must show dramatic character growth and have an ending that is not just minorly poignant, but is both deeply edifying and cathartic to the reader.

When it comes to endings for series, It is very rare for an ending book to seamlessly tie up many loose ends, while also granting sufficient catharsis for the struggle of the characters, whom our hearts and souls have become intertwined, someway and somehow, throughout all three books of the Magicians Trilogy, but it always reach a emotionally culminative close in Lev Grossman’s emotionally-deep, resonant, beautiful ending to The Magician’s Trilogy, with The Magician’s Land.  This book is  a rich accomplishment of fertile imagination and nuanced psychoanalysis and construction of the characters.Moreover, it is the curious sort of book that is never ponderous in any way, even when it is describing the various technical facets of a certain magic spell, and how the technical elements of that spell tie in somehow with the rules, governing modern science, and the properties of material matter.  These are things the writer can write about in a very detailed way, without bogging the reader down in boring technicalities of things we’d otherwise wouldn’t care about. And, that is the most glaring mark of true artistic aplomb, when it comes to Lev Grossman’s writing ability. He can take things that could have made for  an interminable read, and interweave them with just enough character depth, in such a way that the reader finds themselves excitingly poring over all the otherwise pedantic details of the way certain complex spells work.

When it comes to fantasy novels, Lev Grossman is the Michio Kaku of making the most tedious explanation of the mechanics of magic or physics, not just wholly interesting to the reader, but something we can clearly visualize, because authors like either Lev or Michio actually are constantly aware of their audience, and they never try to write in a way that blithely just goes over the heads of most readers. In The Magician’s Land, this is the one standout element that might help many other struggling or otherwise aspiring fantasy writers to remember, to always be mindful of the audience, when waxing eloquent about the intrinsic complexities of a certain magic system.

There were times that the first novel, The Magicians, felt like it was stagnant, and still within the formative stages of development, The Magician’s King naturally took things further, by really juggling the ironic and non-ironic features of the various parallel universes. All these things were then fused together with much deeper analysis of all the characters, and there were less predictable battle sequences and ironically boring magic classes. All of this was done intentionally, as the magical elements become progressively more substantive, more meaningful throughout the series , echoing Quentin’s own rapidly-changing facile, naive grasp of magic, to a richer, more intellectual view that is more at peace with  multitudinous philosophical layers and questions about magic and its strange existence in the world that seem more perplexing, and even abstruse, to the point where it  even  easily become absurd and purposeless. In my last two reviews, I did observe the way that the classical fantasy tropes in this novel are written in a derisive way, as it revealing them to be both nonsensical and absurdist. Yet, the sheer multiplicity of the many types of elements of the Fillory world, are seen by these characters as nothing but nonessential, hollow objects of whimsy, until the third book really cumulatively allows the characters to see their fates and the meaning of their lives, somehow connected with these seemingly nonsensical, even ephemeral features of their world.  In a post-modern fantasy novel, the literal construction of the fantasy elements is not ever as paramount, as how these things metaphorically reveal a much deeper subconscious level to either the character or the events of the text itself.

Upon receiving the portentous news that Fillory- a world suffused with such whimsy- is about to end, we get a beautiful sequence towards the beginning of The Magician’s Land, which is just one of many innumerable sequences, where the elements of fantastical whimsy and nuanced psychoanalysis of the characters are so deeply interwove together, that they have a mutually dependent relationship upon each other in the fabric of The Magician’s World profoundly multifarious, artistic world. The scene involves two of my favorite characters, Janet and Elliot, who once inhabited the world, where life was more about revelries and lascivious parties of all sorts, and that magic was just a dramatic, empty embellishment to their otherwise drab, meaningless existence. In the scene, after years of being King and Queen of the rather nonsensical world of Fillory, they begin to realize how much they’ve grown and really become more fully themselves, as their dormant selves become much more self-actualized and accentuated, in a world that you would think would have suppressed such things.   Yet, they learn to appreciate that the colorful, and often silly features of this parallel world, while magical, is not devoid of meaning, conflict, polarization, or paradox. As they nostalgically explore the terrain of Fillory in search of any signs of its portended deterioration and apocalyptic doom, they revisit certain familiar places in the world, just as we might re-experience the Narnia books in a very different, very revelation-filled way, as mature adults. To their more mature, experience senses,  the world of Fillory becomes just as complex, as the Earth they once inhabited, yet the experience of inhabiting the fantasy, allows them to realize the paradigmatic shift that their perception of the world has undergone, ever since first journeying into the world, and facing down all new types of challenges, enemies, and other things that could have readily dismantled any such complexities of characters. As one of the new characters Plum (a very spunky, smart character, for that matter) says sometime later in the book, magic is not some type of expedient resource to solve all the mysteries of the world existence; rather, like any other feature of this complex world, these things are intricate and clearly presents a new slew of challenges in our lives beyond the ones in a more mundane existence.

As much as the rich technicalities of the magic system  and many whimsical features of the magical parallel universe of Fillory are both endlessly interesting to the reader, the real mark of genius in this novecontinues to be the way Lev Grossman can continuously reveal deeper layers of the characters; things of which we never would have foreseen otherwise being a major part of a certain character’s own psychological story. There is a lot of continued attention, being paid, of course, to the focus on the dynamical growth of the novel’s protagonist Quentin, from a frivolous, flippant youth, to a mature, self-assured, prudent hero character, who really begins to come into his own in this novel. Some novels may have entirely lost focus on the journeys of the other characters, while being intensely and myopically fixated on the journey of only the main character of the book. But, almost all the other characters, including Elliot, Janet, and some new personalities, are always given their chance to undergo some kind of paradigmatic shift of some kind.

This novel takes time to soberly reflect on the concept of change or alchemical growth of character. But, this change is more subjective, and less focused on other people’s responsibility or influence over this ultimate change. This is where this novel takes a much more humanistic approach, rather than older works of fantasy like CS Lewis’ Narnia series, or even JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring series. While impressive and ingenious in their own right, the limitations of these novels has always been this unswerving belief that larger forces, beyond just ourselves, like self-aggrandizing demi-god figures, or infallibly good, wizened elders are truly the ones responsible for manipulating enough unseen factors and forces in the fantasy world to contrive change in these characters. Following a well-paved course first traced by Phillip Pullman in the His Dark Material’s series, Lev Grossman’s The Magician’s Land seems to take the overarching themes of that series, and go to even deeper conclusions, than that series, as the series meditates over age-old philosophical questions of fate, determinism, and existentialism, in a world where the Gods of this world, are really only superior, by means of power, and that these Gods are demigods, in the sense that they do not have complete control over the whole cosmos itself, but really, they have a certain semblance of control over a certain part of the land.

The demigods of this story have no true influence over the decisions these characters make, or the trajectory of their own journey. They are usurped in a sense, and The Magician’s Land, furthers the philosophical and ideological scope of fantasy series, beyond the theoretical atheistic grounds, arbitrated first by Philip Pullman. We continue to have a very deep importance placed on the fact that magic, like dust from the His Dark Materials, series mysteriously exists, and that the way magic  is used, does not depend on holy precepts from a self-ordained demigod of any one specific world, but it entirely depends upon the changes affected in each character’s own subjective psychological perception of events, playing out in the world. Even with this more post-modern angle of the series, the series still will always respect the tragic flaw that is at the core of all human beings; something that was first articulated and explore by the Greek tragic writers. This is the flaw of hubris, but The Magician’s Land shows that there is a healthy form of “hubris,” which is  your journey of self-actualization  isn’t inherently bad, as long as you are respectful to the ethical barriers of the world that we have evolved to accept, and see that having them be abolished or overlooked as something that would be  inimical to growth and progression of humanity.

Philip Pullman may have masterfully written a tale that both  sharpens and lauds a child’s ability  to discern their imaginative faculties as not being internally corrupt, and borne out of some antiquated notion like the Augustian concept of original sin.  But, The Magician’s Land, as mentioned above, takes this tale farther and makes it very relevant to my generation, who were raised with Harry Potter, a series that also champions the humanist, enlightenment concepts of  respect for the dignity and worth of all human life; the acceptance that none of us have powers that are either divined or rendered infallible; that we really are “just a small mote of dust, in a large multiverse” who must accept the limitations for our quest for knowledge.  In a world where the imaginative, idyllic features of the world of Narnia and Harry Potter are practically nonexistent in our polarized, mundane Muggle World, the most outstanding accomplishment of Lev Grossman’s the Magician’s Land, and all three books of The Magicians Trilogy, is a very coherent commentary about what does the generation that was bred on the virtues and values of Harry Potter, Narnia, and Lord of the Rings do in a world, where everything about the world around them sees less than perfect, or there does not seem to be any clear and ultimate manifestations of evil. The Magician’s Trilogy  never offers clear answers to our generation in the form of a polemic, because this book would not interest many people, if the writer lost his artistic focus on first and foremost, writing a wildly engrossing tale.

Rather,The Magician’s Land is a meditative, deeply psychoanalytic work that offers the clearest exploration of the profound disenchantment that has accompanied the maturation of everyone, raised with the stories of Harry Potter.  For myself, I could completely understand the torpid, up-and-down, unpredictable mood swings of Quentin, who is faced with a less desirable world, where magic seems to hold no higher, nobler purpose, as framed in the Fillory books he was raised in. With the recent economic recession,many people of our generation can understand the encumbering alienation of Quentin, when he can never find a stable foothold towards any type of journey towards a job that could make his life and magic feel like it has some deeper purpose in the world. Many of us leaving college, including myself, feel like profligate wanderers, who have completely used up all their reserves of feigned optimism for the countless resumes and cover letters, which their parents had glibly told them “will someday turn up a viable job opportunity for you.”A fair percentage of us,wishing we could have a more fulfilling character arc like Harry Potter and his compatriots, feel our endlessly tedious endeavors to make ourselves stand-out in an overcrowded, drab, even amoral job world makes us feel that all the dreams we were raised with, in the form of the seemingly innocuous,though ridiculously deceptive American dream felt that if we just “worked hard enough,” then we will magically be handed everything on the American Dream silver platter.

For many members of our disillusioned generation, raised on Harry Potter, and struggling sometimes, in vain, for a stable, rewarding job, the struggling, psychologically dissolute characters of this series are very realistic, paradoxical images of ourselves in a world where all the classical tropes and archetypes we thought were true are not entirely true.We thought that we are somehow entitled to certain opportunities, because we were just like the magicians in this story, that learning magic would linearly mean that the road to prosperity and internal gratification and peace with ourselves is a guaranteed, almost inevitable part of any hero story. We don’t see that our perspective, thinking we deserve  things or that only true happiness is found somehow in some blissfully stupid, illusory thing like the American Dream has made us concerned, foolhardy, and out-of-touch with reality.

By the end of The Magician’s Land, we learn that the road to happiness and fulfillment is not somehow embedded in some artificial track to the “manifest destiny,” a”city on the hill,” but a deeper acceptance that the world and cosmos are larger than ourselves, shrouded in paradoxical mystery, and that our journey, in a sense, has no real tangible satisfying end. And, this ending is not just satisfying in the superficial sense,instead The Magician’s Land goes beyond easy solutions and a false sense of idealized security, for the story leaves us with a deeper reflection of ourselves and our place in the universe, as only the very rare type of truly effective fantasy novel can dispose us to a cathartic journey that mirrors the same type of internal transformations of the characters themselves. The Magician’s Land is our own sobering psychological tale, about a generation raised with idyllic hopes and promises, and how to deal with the bewildering harshness of reality without fatalistically  entrenching our minds into a cynical, nihilistic frame of reference. And, if we read Narnia,Lord of the Rings   in a less idealized frame of mind, we’d see  that these stories are instructional, not just in the sense of “helping us escape reality,” or “giving us satisfying happy endings,” but deeply edifying and enlightening in the way they encourage us to deeply reflect on our selves and our enigmatic place in a large, colossal, often amoral multiverse.

Without divulging the end, the ending really is muted and ends with a soft, pensive, and ineffably beautiful meditation on the cyclical nature of birth and death; creation and destruction, entropy and symmetry.  It goes beyond the pale of fantasy novels that often stay far away from deeper vexations of the human condition, and the probing, almost agonizing conundrums of existentialism.  It is an ending that will, hopefully, grant the reader a deep sense of solace, and as I closed the last page of The Magician’s Land,there was a deep sense of frisson going through my cranial gunk of a brain, and into the unknown areas where my soul.  As a whole, the series bridged the seemingly oxymoron concepts of the tangible and intangible, of the world of “stark reality,” and “dreamlike fantasy.”

In terms of being a post-modern novel, structured as a pastiche of so many classic and revolutionary concepts of magic and science, the book sheds light on the underlying logic- the psychological numinous richness- of reading a fantasy tale. Hearkening back to Prospero’s penultimate line from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, reading The Magician’s Land does seem to be aptly summed up by Prospero’s thoughtful, chilling words about the dreamlike layer of our lives:”We are such stuff,As dreams are made on, and our little life,Is rounded with a sleep.”   At the end of such a heart-rending, cerebral tale of magic  and its continually strong, mystical existence in the hearts and minds of readers of any fantasy tale, we are reminded that it is stories like The Magician’s Land that offers us ways of  creating meaning and verve, from a life that we could otherwise see as a lifeless, slumbering void, where magic and an appreciation of mystery are nowhere to be seen. When we wake from this mesmerizing dreamworld created by Lev Grossman, let us never forget the lessons and insights into our own psyche, gleaned from traveling “further up starting with The Magicians,” and “further in and beyond to the lingering wanderlust we’ll feeling in our minds,” after the final page of The Magician’s Land is lamentably and reluctantly flipped, bringing the whole odyssey to an intensely satisfying end.

 

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. NeoCleo says:

    Thank you. This is just lovely, definitely one of the best reviews I’ve read and I’ve read at least a couple dozen. I’ve already read the book (devoured in 2 evenings) and came looking for more meat in the words of others. I am ending my 6th decade and my personal arc obviously gives me a perspective that most twenty-somethings won’t have. So I was a bit dismayed by some of the comments of the same regarding Quentin being anything other than a loser destroys Quentin’s essential character. It says a lot about you that you can see beyond your own years and appreciate the truth: grow, or stagnate and die.

    Like

    1. Thank you NeoCleo, for your encouraging response to this review. It took me upwards of three to four hours to write and revise. I just remember, on the day of writing the review, venturing back to my blog to either add an additional paragraph, clarify a certain sentence, or generally spruce things up.

      This book series was phenomenal, very thought-provoking, very layered, and all the characters, including Quentin were remarkably fascinating!! His struggle over the meaning of his life- in the midst of the postmodern era where the meaning and purpose of magic in their lives seems to be waning- really resonated with me. It strongly reflected my own life, feeling like everything I was striving to accomplish on my own in the blogsphere, or with my independent publicity/editorial services was futile. My job search has been fruitless, so Quentin’s melodrama and own torpid psychological feelings really seem more than familiar to me, or anyone of my generation.

      Lev Grossman is a very smart writer, and this series proves that he obviously knows how to craft original fantasy fiction that has a substantial psychological dimension. I’m glad you enjoyed this review, because it was one I am still scrutinizing and looking for ways to improve it.

      Like

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