The Magicians (Grossman novel)

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The Magicians
Cover of The Magicians
AuthorLev Grossman
CountryUnited States
Publication date
Media typePrint
Pages402 pp (first edition)
LC ClassPS3557.R6725 M34
Followed byThe Magician King 

The Magicians is a new adult fantasy novel by the American author Lev Grossman, published in 2009 by Viking Press. It tells the story of Quentin Coldwater, a young man who discovers and attends a secret college of magic in New York. The novel received critical acclaim and was followed by a sequel, The Magician King, in 2011[1][2] and a third novel, The Magician's Land, in 2014.

A television series adaptation of the novels premiered on Syfy in 2015. Grossman has also worked on two comic books stories based on his novels.[3]


Quentin Coldwater is a high school student from Brooklyn who, along with best friends James and Julia, attends an advanced school. He loves a series of books called "Fillory and Further," which involve the children of the Chatwin family discovering a Narnia-esque land called Fillory. On the day of his Princeton interview, Quentin instead interviews at Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, the only school for magic in North America, and is accepted as one of the twenty new students. Julia also takes the exam but fails. As per protocol, Julia's memory is wiped to prevent her from remembering magic's existence or the school itself.

After beginning his studies at Brakebills, it soon becomes apparent to Quentin that magic is difficult and tedious to learn, as each spell must be varied in dozens of ways, depending on factors such as the phase of the moon and the closest body of water. The curriculum involves learning many old and lost languages, and innumerable hand positions. Despite this, Quentin and his classmates Penny and Alice are allowed to move up a year by compressing their first year of studies. Penny fails the special exam and stays behind, then later fistfights Quentin out of jealousy. One day during class, a bored Quentin tampers with a spell and an otherworldly horror referred to as "the Beast" enters Brakebills. It eats a student before the rest of the faculty are able to drive it away.

Third year students are assigned a Discipline. Although Quentin's Discipline does not manifest itself to the teachers, he and Alice are sorted into the Physical magic group. The Physical Kids also include Eliot, Josh, and Janet, who are a year above them. During the spring semester of their fourth year, they are all sent to Brakebills South in Antarctica where they practice in silence and isolation. There, Quentin and Alice begin a relationship. During a summer vacation in Massachusetts, Quentin is confronted by Julia about the school. The memory erasure did not work correctly and she has become deranged and obsessed with learning magic. Quentin tells her the school's location, hoping she will have her memory properly erased.

Upon graduation, Quentin and the other Physical Kids spend their days and nights in hedonistic pursuits. While still looking for a purpose, his erstwhile classmate Penny arrives with news about travel between worlds: Fillory is real.

The group finds magical wonders in Fillory and meet The Beast, who is revealed to be Martin Chatwin, the lost eldest child from the "Fillory and Further" books, who has sacrificed his humanity in order to stay in the magical world forever. After a brutal fight, Alice sacrifices herself to kill Martin, Penny loses both of his hands and chooses to remain in the Neitherlands, a realm between the worlds, and a gravely injured Quentin is left in the care of a group of centaurs while the others fear that he will never awaken from his coma.

Upon awakening many months later, Quentin becomes depressed and disillusioned, especially when Jane, the youngest Chatwin, reveals herself to have been pulling the strings throughout her siblings' and Quentin's stories. By using a magical time-traveling device, she finally succeeded in killing Martin by leading Quentin and his friends to the confrontation.

Back on Earth, Quentin takes a high-paying non-magical job where he spends his time playing video games. One day, Eliot and Janet show up with Julia, who has learned magic, to return as Kings and Queens to Fillory.

Major characters[edit]

  • Quentin Makepeace Coldwater – A high school student strongly attached to a series of children's books about a magical land called Fillory, Quentin discovers and attends a college of magic before discovering Fillory is real and traveling there.
  • Alice Quinn – A talented and natural magician whom Quentin meets while attending Brakebills. She is initially extremely reserved, but opens up when she is placed with Quentin in the Physical Magic group. She and Quentin eventually develop a relationship.
  • Eliot Waugh – A talented magician, and close friend of Quentin's. He is two years older than Quentin and Alice, and in the same year as Josh and Janet.
  • Josh Hoberman – The jokester-slacker of the Physical Magic group, Josh offers much of the novel's comic relief.
  • Janet – Another student in the Physical Magic group. Janet is portrayed as both deeply insecure and surprisingly strong. She is called "Janet Way" by another student in the first book, but "Janet Pluchinsky" by Dean Fogg in the second.
  • Penny (William) – A student who enters Brakebills with Alice and Quentin. He proves the existence of Fillory and finds passage to it.
  • Julia Wicker – A brilliant and driven self-taught magician. After failing the entrance exam at Brakebills, she learns magic through the gritty underground scene.


Grossman has publicly discussed his literary influences and has referred to T.H. White as his "literary mentor", particularly to the influence that The Once and Future King has had on his work.[4] The novel and its sequels are also greatly indebted to C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia.[4][5] Other literary influences include Harry Potter,[5] A Wizard of Earthsea,[4] Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell,[5][4] Watchmen,[5] Larry Niven's Warlock stories,[5] and Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories,[4] while the film Highlander helped influence the feel of the novel's world.[6] He had originally wanted to provide a direct connection to Lewis' novels and include The Wood between the Worlds, however his publishing house's lawyers objected. He consequently replaced its appearance with the similarly themed Neitherlands instead.[7][8] Grossman has stated that the plot itself began as a dream about a beast invading a magical classroom.[9]


The review by The A.V. Club gave the novel an "A", calling it "the best urban fantasy in years, a sad dream of what it means to want something badly and never fully reach it."[10] The New York Times review said the book "could crudely be labeled a Harry Potter for adults", injecting "mature themes" into fantasy literature.[11]

The Magicians won the 2010 Alex Award, given to ten adult books that are appealing to young adults, and its author won the 2011 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.[12]



In 2011, Fox optioned but eventually declined to order a television adaptation of The Magicians. In July 2014, Syfy greenlit the production of a pilot episode,[13] and ordered a 12-episode first season which aired in January 2016.[14] The series was renewed for a second season consisting of 13 episodes, which aired in 2017.[15]

The Syfy series is written by John McNamara and Sera Gamble, and produced by Michael London and Janice Williams.[13] The pilot episode was directed by Mike Cahill, and the cast includes Jason Ralph as Quentin,[16] Olivia Taylor Dudley as Alice, Hale Appleman as Eliot, Summer Bishil as Margo Hanson (renamed from Janet in the novel),[17] Arjun Gupta as Penny, Stella Maeve as Julia, and Rick Worthy as Henry Fogg.[14][18]

The series ages the characters up to graduate school students and compresses the Brakebills degree to three years. Most of the events detailed in the novel, the Antarctic trip for instance, appear to happen in Quentin's first year at Brakebills with years in the novel being roughly condensed into semesters in the TV show. Jane Chatwin is involved earlier and more heavily, and Quentin is more formally diagnosed with depression.[19]

Comic books[edit]

Grossman contributed to two comic book adaptations of his novel in 2019, published by Boom! Studios: The Magicians: Alice's Story and The Magicians.[3]


  1. ^ Deahl, Rachel (January 11, 2010). "Viking Re-ups Grossman". Publisher's Weekly. Archived from the original on March 17, 2012. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  2. ^ The Magician King at Lev Grossman's website
  3. ^ a b "Lev Grossman's The Magicians Starts Over as Comic Book Series". Hollywood Reporter.
  4. ^ a b c d e Herstik, Lauren (2014-08-07). "Lev Grossman on The Magicians' Land". Nerdist. Legendary Entertainment. Retrieved 2017-05-19.
  5. ^ a b c d e Dobbins, Amanda (2014-08-06). "Les Grossman Explains His Cultural Influences". Vulture. New York Media. Retrieved 2017-05-19.
  6. ^ Stanley, Caroline (August 17, 2009). "Exclusive: Time Magazine's Lev Grossman on His New Book, The Magicians". Flavorwire. Retrieved November 20, 2016.
  7. ^ Grossman, Lev (2011-08-11). "A Brief Guide to the Allusions in The Magicians". Macmillan. Retrieved 2017-05-19.
  8. ^ Heller, Jason (2014-08-04). "Lev Grossman lists his 5 favorite portals in fantasy fiction". The A.V. Club. Univision Communications. Retrieved 2017-05-19.
  9. ^ Simons, Seth (January 26, 2016). "Author Lev Grossman on Magicians Trilogy: 'It All Started With a Dream'". Van Winkle's. Retrieved November 20, 2016.
  10. ^ VanDerWerff, Emily (August 8, 2009). "The Magicians". The A.V. Club. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  11. ^ Agger, Michael (September 8, 2009). "Abracadabra Angst". The New York Times. Retrieved May 16, 2010.
  12. ^ "2011 Hugo Awards". The Hugo Awards. 2011. Retrieved September 15, 2012.
  13. ^ a b Agard, Chancellor (July 10, 2014). "Syfy greenlights pilot based on Lev Grossman's The Magicians". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  14. ^ a b Bell, Crystal (May 5, 2015). "The Magicians Is The Grown-Up Harry Potter You've Always Wanted". MTV. Retrieved May 13, 2015.
  15. ^ Prudom, Laura (February 8, 2016). "The Magicians Renewed for Season 2 on Syfy". Variety. Retrieved February 9, 2016.
  16. ^ Prudom, Laura (December 3, 2014). "Syfy's Magicians Adaptation Casts Jason Ralph and Sosie Bacon in Lead Roles". Variety. Retrieved November 20, 2016.
  17. ^ Noonan, Kevin (December 8, 2014). "Syfy's The Magicians adds Towelhead star Summer Bishil". Variety. Retrieved December 8, 2014.
  18. ^ Zuckerman, Esther (November 6, 2014). "Syfy's The Magicians series casts three roles". Retrieved November 6, 2014.
  19. ^ "Unauthorized Magic". The Magicians. SyFy. December 16, 2015.

External links[edit]