Friday, October 14, 2011

The Magicians: A Novel 

Lev Grossman
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From Publishers Weekly
Grossman's novel is a postadolescent Harry Potter, following apprentices in the art of magic through their time as students at an upstate New York college to their postcollegiate Manhattan misdeeds, with jaded ennui tempering the magical aura. 


Sn interesting book that I might call "Harry Potter goes to college."  It has lots of interesting details (a magical SAT test is good) and does a good job of imagining what a serious course of magical study would be like.  The main character (and others) in the book have an obsession with a set of books set in a place called "Fillory" - it's sort of an ersatz Narnia - the author is clearly very familiar with Narnia... but he clearly didn't "get" it.  Add in seamy details (sex and drugs) and when the heroes discover Fillory is real and go there... it becomes what my daughter called "a smutty Narnia."   The best thing in the story is that fact that the main character recognizes that magic doesn't make him happy the way he thought it would when he was young and reading the Fillory books for the first time - that he needs to like himself first... and he can't do that.

I also anticipated - and was disappointed to not see it happen - that there would be a plot point that the hero was an accomplished sleight-of-hand magician before learning real magic.  A fantasy novel I once read used such a detail to have a hero "do magic" when it was impossible - defeating some enemy who hadn't anticipated such a skill.

Happily, I found "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" (one of my favorite Narnian stories) available for download from my public library to get the after taste out of my imagination.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Traveling back in time, from Oxford circa 2060 into the thick of World War II, was a routine excursion for three British historians eager to study firsthand the heroism and horrors of the Dunkirk evacuation and the London Blitz. But getting marooned in war-torn 1940 England has turned Michael Davies, Merope Ward, and Polly Churchill from temporal tourists into besieged citizens struggling to survive Hitler’s devastating onslaught. And now there’s more to worry about than just getting back home: The impossibility of altering past events has always been a core belief of time-travel theory—but it may be tragically wrong. When discrepancies in the historical record begin cropping up, it suggests that one or all of the future visitors have somehow changed the past—and, ultimately, the outcome of the war. Meanwhile, in 2060 Oxford, the stranded historians’ supervisor, Mr. Dunworthy, frantically confronts the seemingly impossible task of rescuing his students—three missing needles in the haystack of history. The thrilling time-tripping adventure that began with Blackout now hurtles to its stunning resolution in All Clear. 
Again, excellent.  Breathtaking.  I think I was especially taken with how she wove St. Paul's Cathedral and "The Light of the World"  (a painting I love) into the story.

It's really a delicate weaving of a story of WWII and predestination, I think.   And I like the answers to Sir Godfrey's questions:

Do we win?  Yes.
Is it a comedy or tragedy.  Comedy