The Magus (novel)
First UK edition
|Cover artist||Tom Adams|
|Publisher||Little, Brown and Company (US)
Jonathan Cape (UK)
|Publication date||1966 (revised version 1977)|
|Media type||Print (hardback and paperback)|
The Magus (1966) is a novel by British author John Fowles, the first book he wrote, but his third to be published. It tells the story of Nicholas Urfe, a teacher on a small Greek island. Urfe finds himself embroiled in psychological illusions of a master trickster that become increasingly dark and serious. In 1999 The Magus was awarded a place on both lists of Modern Library 100 Best Novels, reaching number 93 on the editor's list, and 71 on the reader's list. In 2003, the novel was listed at number 67 on the BBC's survey The Big Read.
The Magus was the first novel John Fowles wrote but his third to be published after The Collector (1963) and The Aristos (1964). He started writing it in the 1950s, under the original title of The Godgame. He based it partly on his experiences on the Greek island of Spetses, where he taught English for two years at the Anargyrios School. He wrote and rewrote it for twelve years before its publication in 1966, and despite critical and commercial success, continued to rework it until publishing a final revision in 1977.
Plot summary 
The story is written from the perspective of young Oxford graduate and aspiring poet Nicholas Urfe. After graduation, he briefly works as a teacher at a small school, but quickly becomes bored and decides to leave England. While looking for another job, Nicholas takes up with Alison Kelly, an Australian girl he meets at a party in London. The relationship fails to prevent him from accepting a post teaching English at the Lord Byron School on the Greek island of Phraxos. The relocation, however does not bring him joy - bored, depressed, disillusioned, and overwhelmed by the Mediterranean island, Nicholas struggles with loneliness and contemplates suicide. Finding himself habitually wandering around the island, he stumbles upon the estate, and soon its owner, a wealthy Greek recluse Maurice Conchis. They develop a sort of a friendship, and Conchis slowly reveals that he may or may not have collaborated with the Nazis during World War II.
Nicholas is gradually drawn into Conchis's psychological games, his paradoxical views on life, his mysterious persona, and his eccentric masques. At first, these various aspects of what the novel terms the "godgame" seem to Nicholas to be a joke, but, as they grow more elaborate and intense, Nicholas's ability to determine what is real and what is artifice vanishes. Against his will and knowledge, he becomes a performer in the godgame. Eventually, Nicholas realizes that the reenactments of the Nazi occupation, the absurd playlets after de Sade, and the obscene parodies of Greek myths are not about Conchis's life, but his own.
- Nicholas Urfe – The main protagonist, 25-year-old Englishman who goes to Greece to teach English and one day stumbles upon the waiting room.
- Alison Kelly – Nicholas's girlfriend whom he abandons to go to Greece.
- Maurice Conchis – Wealthy intellectual who is a main player in the masques.
- Lily de Seitas – Young woman who is involved in the masques and with whom Nicholas falls in love.
- Joe – young black man, involved in the masques.
- Maria – Conchis's maid.
- Demetriades – Fellow teacher at the school.
- Lily de Seitas (older) – Lily's mother.
- Rose de Seitas – Lily's identical twin sister
- Benji de Seitas – the older Lily de Seitas's young son.
- Kemp – Unmarried woman who rents Nicholas a room in London.
- Jojo – Young girl whom Nicholas pays to accompany him.
Story characters 
- de Deukans
- Gustav Nygaard
- Henrik Nygaard
The book ends indeterminately. Fowles received many letters from readers wanting to know which of the two apparently possible outcomes occur; but he refused to answer the question conclusively, sometimes changing his answer to suit the reader. The novel ends quoting the refrain of the Pervigilium Veneris, an anonymous work of fourth century Latin poetry, which has been taken as indicating the possible preferred resolution of the ending's ambiguity.
Literary precedents 
John Fowles wrote an article about his experiences in the island of Spetses and their influence on the book , and he also specifically acknowledged some literary works in his foreword to the 1977 revision of The Magus. These include Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes for showing a secret hidden world to be explored, and Richard Jefferies' Bevis (1882), for projecting a very different world. Fowles also refers in the revised edition of the novel to a Miss Havisham, a likely reference to Charles Dickens's Great Expectations (1861).
Critical reception 
- 'A major work of mounting tensions in which the human mind is the guinea-pig... Mr Fowles has taken a big swing at a difficult subject and his hits...are on the bull's eye' (Sunday Telegraph)
- 'A deliciously toothsome celebration of wanton story-telling... Before one quite realises what is happenings, one finds oneself no less avid for meanings and no less starving amid a plethora of clues than is Nicholas himself' (Sunday Times)
- 'A splendidly sustained piece of mystification… such as could otherwise only have been devised by a literary team fielding the Marquis de Sade, Arthur Edward Waite, Sir James Frazer, Gurdjieff, Madame Blavatsky, C.G.Jung, Aleister Crowley, Franz Kafka' (Financial Times)
It has been recently featured on the Modern Library List of Best 20th-Century Novels, #71 and #93 on the Reader's and Critics' lists, respectively.
Film adaptation 
A film version was released in 1968, directed by Guy Green, and written by Fowles. It starred Michael Caine as Nicholas Urfe, Anthony Quinn as Maurice Conchis, Anna Karina as Alison, Candice Bergen as Lily/Julie, and Julian Glover as Anton, and was filmed in the island of Majorca. The adaptation, however, was greeted as a failure. Michael Caine himself has said that it was one of the worst films he had been involved in, along with The Swarm and Ashanti, because no one knew what it was all about. Woody Allen said "If I had to live my life again, I'd do everything the same, except that I wouldn't see The Magus." Despite the failure, the film was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography. In recent years, it has gained a cult following, which resulted in The Magus being commercially released on DVD in the US on October 17, 2006.
- "100 Best Novels". Modern Library. Retrieved 28 October 2012
- "BBC - The Big Read". BBC. April 2003, Retrieved 26 October 2012
- John Ezard, "Obituary: John Fowles", The Guardian, 8 November 2005
- "Translating the Last Lines of The Magus." John Fowles the Website. Accessed Nov. 6, 2008.
- Peter Guttridge, "Obituary: John Fowles", The Independent, 8 November 2005
- FowlesBooks.com – The Official John Fowles web site