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 book 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", in which the five Chatwin children visit a Narnia-esque magical land called Fillory.

On the day of his Princeton interview, Quentin is instead transported to Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, the only school for magic in North America. He passes the tests and interviews and is accepted as one of twenty new students.

Quentin soon finds that the study of magic is difficult and tedious, requiring him to learn 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 does not pass and stays behind, to his dismay. One day during class, a bored Quentin tampers with a spell. An otherworldly horror referred to as "the Beast" then enters Brakebills, eating a student before the faculty are able to drive it away.

Third year students are assigned a Discipline. Although Quentin's Discipline does not manifest itself, he and Alice are sorted into the Physical magic group, which includes Eliot, Josh, and Janet, a year above them. For a semester of their fourth year, they are all sent to Brakebills South in Antarctica where they practice in silence and isolation. Quentin and Alice begin a relationship.

During a summer vacation, Quentin is confronted by Julia. She reveals that she took the Brakebills entrance exam at the same time as Quentin, but failed. Failed applicants' memories of the school and of the existence of magic are wiped, but on Julia the erasure was imperfect; she has become 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 live in Manhattan and spend their days and nights in hedonistic pursuits, still looking for a purpose. Quentin drunkenly sleeps with Janet, abruptly ending his relationship with Alice. Penny arrives with news that he has left Brakebills early after his specialized study of the Neitherlands, a realm between many worlds that leads to many other realms. Fillory is real; Penny has come into possession of a button that will allow others to go there with him.

The magicians enter Fillory and search for a quest, finding it more dangerous and divided than the books indicated. Eventually, they set out for Ember's tomb to retrieve the crown of Martin Chatwin, the eldest child from the "Fillory and Further" books, to establish themselves as the new Kings and Queens of Fillory. They are disturbed by the violent trials they endure before meeting Ember, the ram god of Fillory, in the tomb. However, they learn that Ember has been weakened and is being kept prisoner while his brother, Umber, is dead. Against Ember's instructions, Quentin blows a mysterious horn, which summons the Beast; he is revealed to be Martin Chatwin, who sacrificed his humanity in order to stay in Fillory forever and has taken over. He intends to destroy the button so he can never be banished. In a brutal battle, Martin eats Penny's hands, and Alice sacrifices herself to kill Martin.

Six months later, Quentin awakes from a coma in the care of Fillorian centaurs. The other magicians returned to Earth, fearing that Quentin would never awaken. Penny chose to remain in the Neitherlands, entering a mysterious library. Quentin becomes depressed and disillusioned, especially when Jane, the youngest Chatwin, visits and reveals herself to be the Watcherwoman, previously thought to be a villain. By using a time-traveling device, Jane pulled the strings throughout her siblings' and Quentin's stories, finally succeeded in killing Martin by leading Quentin and his friends to the confrontation. Quentin then travels to Fillory to hunt down the Questing Beast, but it is unable to grant his wishes to bring back Alice and heal Penny's hands. Quentin wishes to return to Earth.

Quentin chooses to renounce magic, feeling that power and his search for purpose have only caused problems. Brakebills sets him up in a high-paying office job, where he remains depressed. One day, Eliot and Janet show up with Julia, who has learned magic, asking Quentin to return to Fillory with them to become its Kings and Queens. They encourage him to accept that everyone, including Alice, was responsible for their own choices on the quest. Quentin joins them.

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 was not invited to Brakebills, but tracked it down herself after her brother previously attended but died. 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's 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]

The first comic adaptation is the graphic novel entitled The Magicians: Alice's Story.[20] The story in the comic is fairly similar to that of the original novel, but told from Alice's perspective. The comic ends with the death of Alice and shows a bit more insight into her thoughts and life as a Niffin. It also expands on parts of Alice's life as well as events that were mentioned in the novel as well as the television show.

The Magicians: The New Class is the second comic book adaptation of the series. This story is different from the previous comic book adaptation as it focuses on a different cohort of students at Brakebills.[21]


  1. ^ Deahl, Rachel (January 11, 2010). "Viking Re-ups Grossman". Publishers 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". The Hollywood Reporter. August 15, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e Herstik, Lauren (August 7, 2014). "Lev Grossman on The Magicians' Land". Nerdist. Legendary Entertainment. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e Dobbins, Amanda (August 6, 2014). "Les Grossman Explains His Cultural Influences". Vulture. New York Media. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  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 (August 11, 2011). "A Brief Guide to the Allusions in The Magicians". Macmillan. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  8. ^ Heller, Jason (August 4, 2014). "Lev Grossman lists his 5 favorite portals in fantasy fiction". The A.V. Club. Univision Communications. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  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.
  20. ^ "Comic Review: The Magicians: Alice's Story". Geeks of Doom. August 5, 2019. Retrieved April 13, 2021.
  21. ^ "Lev Grossman's 'The Magicians' Starts Over as New Comic Book Series". The Hollywood Reporter. August 15, 2019. Retrieved April 13, 2021.

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