Suppose you could do anything

by Wolf Pascoe on January 30, 2012

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An aged man is but a paltry thing
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing.

— W.B. Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium

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Something has been haunting me lately and I suppose I may as well tell you about it, for all the good it will do. I’ve been reading a book about people who can do anything.

The Magicians is not a book you’ll read to your kid. Lev Grossman’s literary novel (and the sequel, The Magician King) combine two familiar themes: a secret school for magic and an enchanted world. But the story, about living with unlimited possibility, is strictly for adults. Let’s just say that things don’t go well.

Here are a couple of Amazon reviews:

Ever wonder what Harry Potter and Narnia would be like if instead of any remotely likable characters, they featured a bunch of selfish whiny alcoholic jerks? Wonder no more!

The Magicians is the best fantasy book I have ever read. Lev Grossman celebrates the classics like Lewis and Rowling while turning the genre on its head and giving it a dose of realism.

I can confidently say this is a book you’ll either love or loathe. As for me, I can’t get it out of my head.

THE GARDEN OF FORKING PATHS

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The enchanted world of The Magicians is a place called Fillory. As a child, the hero/anti-hero of The Magicians, Quentin Coldwater, fell in love with the Fillory books, which tell the story of the five Chatwin children. During World War I, the Chatwins were sent to an old, country house in Cornwall where they discovered Fillory behind an upstairs grandfather clock.

Christopher Plover, who lived in the house next door to the Chatwins, wrote down their adventures, which were published in the 1930s.

The Fillory books don’t exist. Christopher Plover doesn’t exist. Which makes the world of Fillory not just a fantasy world, but a fantasy fantasy world. So powerful is its spell that people keep searching for Plover and his books on Amazon anyway.

CLOSER AND REALER

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Like George R. R. Martin, who wrote Game of Thrones, Lev Grossman had the hair-brained idea of penning a fantasy novel for literate adults. Unlike Martin, who populated his story with larger-than-life heroes, Grossman opted for postmodern heroes with feet of silly putty. Which makes for a disquieting contrast between his characters and the world they inhabit. It’s a world they’re not worthy of when they stumble on it.

In Game of Thrones you lose yourself in the adventure. In The Magicians you lose yourself, period. I suppose this is the point of meta-fiction, and I suppose that is what The Magicians is. I’ve always disliked the headiness of meta-fiction. But The Magicians, by some alchemy, is not heady. It’s visceral.

Here is Quentin as he encounters the Chatwin house in Cornwall, the actual house, in present time:

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Whoever lived here now didn’t use the top floor at all, and it had gone un-restored. Another piece of luck. They hadn’t even refinished the floors. The varnish had worn off them and the walls were old wallpaper with even older wallpaper showing through in places. The ceilings were low. The rooms were full of mismatched and broken furniture, under sheets. The quieter it got, the realer Fillory began to feel. It loomed in the shadows, under beds, behind the wallpaper, in the corner of his eye, just out of view.

Ten minutes from now they could be back . . . . This was the place. This was where the children played, where Martin vanished, where Jane watched, where the whole, terrible fantasy began. And there in the hallway, the back hallway, as it had been written, as the prophesy foretold, stood a grandfather clock.

I don’t want to go to Fillory. I want to go to Cornwall and find that house. I want all that possibility.

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CEREMONY

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As is the fate of parents everywhere, we’ve consumed a steady diet of children’s fantasy in our house for years. Neverland. Oz. Middle Earth. Summerland. Narnia. Redwall. Harry Potter. The Warriors. The Ranger’s Apprentice. Dungeons and Dragons. To say nothing of Superman, Batman and the rest.

It does something to you, the gravitational pull of childhood.

Nick shows no signs of an appetite sated. Because he still believes in limitless possibility. He’s still a child, and the stories are real to him—they could be true.

It’s no longer possible for me to have that experience. The books I read as a child, filled with magic, are not the same when I read them now. Something shimmery is gone.

I know, like all adults, that I must learn to live with my losses. Age, the poet Donald Hall said, is a ceremony of losses. Isn’t that lovely? He really said it about old age, but close enough. Age is a ceremony of losses.

Isn’t it a great seduction of parenthood, to see, again, with the unlimited eyes of a child? I suppose it’s what drove me to The Magicians.

I keep wanting to tell Nick about Fillory, but of course I can’t. This experience is adults only, a parallel trip to all of Nick’s. The peculiar gift of The Magicians is that, while the characters, infinite in their potential, keep crashing and burning, I am somehow clapping my hands and singing. Because I am limited.

Something keeps tapping me on the shoulder.

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RELATED POST:

Lost Horizon

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YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:

Welcome to Fillory

Christopher Plover

Image Credit: Map of Middle Earth photo by Kevan Emmott

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EXPRESS YOURSELF!

What’s tapping your shoulder? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Chopperpapa January 30, 2012 at 11:02 am

Wolf, I often find that I need to prepare myself to read some of your posts.

This is one of them.
Chopperpapa recently posted..Marriage isn’t the problem, the people in it are.

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Wolf Pascoe January 30, 2012 at 11:35 am

Strange. I sometimes feel that way myself.

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BigLittleWolf January 30, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Wolf, What a sad and gorgeous piece of writing. And so provocative – in the best way. The gravitational pull of childhood indeed. And adulthood with its losses, which you’ve so eloquently expressed.

And yet, I find that the shimmer is alive when I write – at moments. The shimmer is fully alive when I dream – actively. In dreams, there is all that possibility, still.

I consider that access to dreaming a great gift in my life. And while the waking hours frequently rob me of my sense of possibility, the spinning hours of night, few though they may be, return it to me.
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Wolf Pascoe January 30, 2012 at 6:44 pm

Well, dreams, yes. The good ones. The mysterious ones. That is dictation from the Author.

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Mitchell January 30, 2012 at 7:08 pm

I am piqued – and will be picking up a copy of The Magicians soon, despite my lack of appetite for “fantasy” novels. And I greatly admire how you express your thoughts.

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Wolf Pascoe January 30, 2012 at 8:04 pm

It’s an acquired taste, I think. I do like Grossman as a writer.

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Jim Parkevich January 30, 2012 at 7:50 pm

Hi Wolf,
…just last week, I had dinner with my son and my grand daughter..she and I scribbled brilliant color crayons (inside the lines) on the same old paper mats.
She and I drew pictures of trains..we were on a ride on The Durango and Silverton Railroad….. I told her about mountains and seeing a moose in the stream..After dinner, she and I “chugged” out the restaurant door to the delight of patrons. Woo Woo….chug…chug….chug…!!
Many years ago, my son and I found a small pond in a beautiful campground…
thousands of little froggy eyes followed our every move. When I told Emma of this excursion, she was ready to go. Never mind she was in her jammies.
Do I want to grow old and loose these memories, the JOY, …Not on your life…Do I want to grow young again and make so many new memories…..Absolutely….And a child shall lead me……

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Wolf Pascoe January 30, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Hi Jim,

I hope somebody is reading her Narnia.

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Privilege of Parenting January 31, 2012 at 12:45 am

Perhaps I should read this… so that we can meet for tea in Cornwall. For now I see the wallpaper peeling here in the city of nets and the possibility of co-creating play and adventure, co-creating soul so that all our sticks can dance as twigs budding eternally on the tree of life.

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Wolf Pascoe January 31, 2012 at 1:54 am

And we can dance and we can sing
for we are blessed by everything
and everything we look upon is blessed.

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Sirena January 31, 2012 at 6:56 pm

I still find the children’s fantasy books fascinating, but maybe that’s because emotionally I’m still about 0 years-old. Nice to know that we adults can have our own fantasy books too. Hope the library has “The Magicians” on CD!

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Wolf Pascoe January 31, 2012 at 11:35 pm

It should. The audio version is excellent.

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Barbara S. February 1, 2012 at 8:26 pm

The Chatwin children’s adventures in Fillory sound just like the Narnia scenario, but I guess it’s supposed to be obvious that way? I’m trying to decide, based on your description, if I would like the Magicians books… I don’t think I would, unless the characters have some redeeming value. Please tell me they do! I still get that shimmery, anything is possible, feeling when I read certain books. However, something is tapping on my shoulder: Time.
Barbara S. recently posted..Loving Me Some Pooh

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Wolf Pascoe February 1, 2012 at 8:49 pm

Yes, both the Narnia and Harry Potter connections are supposed to be obvious. The author is having fun with them. I think the characters, though, are more like characters in Camus. Things happen to them. They muddle. Just like life. I think that’s the point. I think you should hold off and go with shimmery for now. Plus read Yeats. You can’t go wrong with Yeats.

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Jack@TheJackB February 3, 2012 at 3:02 am

Wolf,

One of the great tragedies of my life was when certain stories lost their magic. Fortunately there are still some (all of Tolkien) that have managed to retain that sense of magic, mystery and majesty for me.

I have heard of The Magicians but never read it. I suppose I should add it to my list of books to read sooner than later.
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Wolf Pascoe February 4, 2012 at 12:49 am

Glad to hear about Tolkien. When I read it I was already too old for magic. But majesty remains. I thought the film version was a miracle.

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Kate February 3, 2012 at 11:25 am

Books are a place where I love to let the realities fade and the shimmer expand. I think one of the greatest gifts of parenting is seeing, even if only briefly, through those untarnished eyes of our little ones. Then again, time and experience threaten the shimmer.

When I was young, I met an awesome eccentric professor who taught about created worlds. What a gift these authors have to create a world that can seem so real! But, being unlimited isn’t the best thing. And I don’t know if any of the great fantasies have truly limitless worlds.

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Wolf Pascoe February 4, 2012 at 12:50 am

Untarnished. That’s just right, Kate. Am pondering about limitlessness.

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