No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, November 02, 2014

2014/38: The Magician's Land -- Lev Grossman

This was a double game: he was trying to save his childhood, to preserve it and trap it in amber, but to do that he was calling on things that partook of the world beyond childhood, whose touch would leave him even less innocent than he already was.

Two months after the US publication of Lev Grossman's eagerly-awaited The Magician's Land, third in the 'Magicians' trilogy, a legitimate UK Kindle edition finally became available. I wish I hadn't had to wait …

At the end of The Magician King, Quentin Coldwater was expelled from Fillory for taking responsibility for Julia's actions. The first chapter of The Magician's Land shows us Quentin six months later, embarking on a magical heist of dubious morality in order to accrue personal wealth. Only when we discover what's happened to him in the intervening period does his motivation become clear -- and, because nothing in these novels is straightforward, the heist acquires considerably more significance when he discovers that the item he and his con-conspirators are to steal is a suitcase that formerly belonged to Rupert Chatwin, one of the children who originally discovered Fillory.

Quentin, slumming it in mundane contemporary America, suffers bereavement and betrayal, and finds himself revisiting past failures. The things he gains – a Discipline, a job, a page of arcanum – seem at first small recompense for what he's lost: but he's learning to accept responsibility, and he finds meaningful work that enables him to make a positive difference.

Meanwhile, back in Fillory, Eliot is being High King as hard as he can ("At times like this he wanted to look as much as possible like Elrond, Lord of Rivendell, from The Lord of the Rings, and he didn’t think he was a million miles off base") but he, and his fellow monarchs Janet, Josh and Poppy, can't deny that something is amiss in Fillory. There's an endless summer, an army invading despite magical barriers, and a series of doomy pronouncements from the ram-god Ember.

Perhaps there's something in Rupert Chatwin's suitcase that can help ...

The Magician's Land examines the dark underside of the Narnia Fillory stories, and how they've torn apart the Chatwin family. We learn more about Martin Chatwin and his loss of innocence, and about what became of the other Chatwin children (though, oddly, there's no mention of their parents' return or fate). There's more magical theory, theological debate and cosmological description. There's plenty more of the kind of black humour you get when hip young things from New York City encounter the fantastic. And, from time to time, we get to see Quentin as others see him, which is in a considerably more positive light than his own narrative suggests. (Apparently he is even good-looking.)

Most of the primary characters from the previous two novels appear, and most achieve some kind of resolution or closure. There's even a kind of closure -- or at least a change of state -- for the world (land?) of Fillory.

I found this a thoroughly satisfactory finale to the trilogy, and though I'm sad that there (probably) won't be more about these characters -- especially Janet, who really came into her own here -- I'm pleased that Lev Grossman has concluded the story he set out to tell.

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