The other night, some friends and I wound up watching The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a flick from last year starring Nicolas Cage as a sorcerer and Jay Baruchel as his nebbish apprentice. All in all, it’s a decent movie, especially given that the seed of the idea seems to have been Cage wearing a long leather coat and doing magic.
Mostly, though, as I watched Baruchel give some of the best line readings out there, I couldn’t help but think that the movie was just a poor surrogate for what I really wanted to be consuming at that moment: Lev Grossman’s The Magician King.
The novel is a sequel to Grossman’s 2009 book The Magicians. The story is a familiar one: a seventeen year old is pulled out the world we know to study at a school of magic.
I really don’t need to list all the outside works that find their way into Grossman’s book, since he did so himself, talking about references and influences from Young Frankenstein to Dungeons and Dragons.
The world that looms largest, though, is that of Narnia. C.S. Lewis’ legendary fantasy series is clearly at the core of The Magicians.
But, as Cassandra Neace and Grossman himself talk about over at the Millions, Grossman isn’t just rewriting those books. He’s bringing them closer to the real world, imbuing protagonist Quentin and the rest of his characters with motivations that one could relate to like real people.
That no doubt comes from Grossman’s ideas towards the genres of modernism and fantasy, both of which are incorporated into his work. One book in particular that influenced him was British writer Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel, Brideshead Revisited. As he told the A.V. Club:
It’s another one of these books that looks at modernity, and what we have lost by becoming modern with this immensely profound sadness. It’s about this guy, and World War II, the death of the English country-house lifestyle and the English countryside, on which so much fantasy is based. The passing away of that, and what do you find to replace it with?
I feel that’s one of the central questions of fantasy. What did we lose when we entered the 20th and 21st century, and how can we mourn what we lost, and what can we replace it with? We’re still asking those questions in an urgent way. I think that focus is something I share with Waugh. Also, Waugh is pretty funny. So I’m always trying to bite his style, because he’s just so entertaining.
I don’t know about all of you, but that adds up to a fun and exciting read for me. which is why I’m straight up delighted that the book store I work at got some copies of The Magician King in yesterday and I can’t get the real stuff instead of turning to Nick Cage for a fix.
You might do well to get into some Lev Grossman before the summer’s over, too.