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Conjuring Reality out of Fantasy: Diving into ‘The Magicians’

book review

A delectably twisted infusion of reality and fantasy, Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” teleports readers into groundbreaking arenas of magical realms and their inherent complexities. This novel strips away the frosting from the usual fantasy, divesting it of its whimsy fluff, and bares the edgy undertone that stridently resonates with a contemporary world-view.


The novel spins the tale of Quentin Coldwater, an intelligent yet disillusioned teenager hailing from Brooklyn. Quentin’s aching obsession with a magical land from children’s books flips when he gains admission to ‘Brakebills’, a secret enclave that educates him in real magic. As Quentin transits from mundane high-school mathematics to spellcasting, realms from his fantasy clash into reality. Upon graduating, Quentin along with his friends decides to experiment with their new-found powers. Party-fuelled escapades, imbued with magical pizzazz, serve as a prelude to a spiral downwards. Grossman crafts a deeper truth within this crash-course of fantasy knocking reality and ultimately leads Quentin into the very realm from his childhood books – Fillory.

Notable Quotes:

“He was terribly vulnerable to that singular human frailty – distraction.”

“The difference between childishness and childlikeness is paper thin but critical.”

  1. “This isn’t how it ends! Quentin knew it couldn’t be so. It was a denial that felt right and true. Everything couldn’t just finish with a whimper, not when the story had been so beautiful and perfect and magic and grand. It wouldn’t be fair.” (The Magicians)
  2. “That didn’t happen, of course. Things never happened the way I imagined them.” (The Magicians)
  3. “I got my heart’s desire, and there my troubles began.” (The Magician King)
  4. “If you can’t be happy, do things that make you happy. Or do nothing with the people that make you happy.” (The Magician King)
  5. “The world was its own magic, a grand unending miracle that he was a part of.” (The Magician’s Land)
  6. “In general, the beautiful and clever, the powerfully magical and the frankly royal could do anything and go anywhere.” (The Magician’s Land)

Each of these quotes encapsulates Grossman’s brilliant knack for infusing words with profound meaning, deeply layered emotion, and philosophical insight.

The Series Titles of ‘The Magicians’ in Order

1. The Magicians by Lev Grossman (2009)

“Conjuring Reality out of Fantasy: Diving into ‘The Magicians’”

“The Magicians”, the opening act of Grossman’s trilogy, introduces Quentin Coldwater. A high school student from Brooklyn, Quentin finds himself in a secret college of magic, Brakebills. As he steps into the magical universe, Grossman challenges the conventions of fantasy, cold-pressed reality underpinned by a dark, gritty narrative. [link to Amazon]

2. The Magician King by Lev Grossman (2011)

“The Coronation of Reality: The Magician King”

Sequel to “The Magicians”, “The Magician King” sees Quentin and his friends living their dream as Kings and Queens of Fillory. However, an idyllic life takes a dramatic turn when Quentin embarks on a quest to the farthest reaches of the magical universe, wrestles with his existential crisis, and delves further into a darker tone. [link to Amazon]

3. The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman (2014)

“The Ultimate Mirage: The Magician’s Land”

“The Magician’s Land” concludes the magical journey of Quentin Coldwater. Banished from Fillory, Quentin returns to Brakebills as a Professor. While he grapples with reminiscence, fate throws him another magical adventure. The trilogy’s conclusion intertwines redemption with self-discovery, all shrouded in the capricious veil of magic. [link to Amazon]

My Review

Grossman’s novel is undoubtedly a reinvention of the way we perceive fantasy, striding across boundaries that were seemingly unblemished. The stark realities of human nature and existence that Grossman effortlessly weaves into layers of “The Magicians” treats readers with an acerbically novel perspective to fantasy that subverts the traditional narrative. These complexities render the characters deeply flawed and relatable, enveloping the story in a grimmer hue. One could argue that some readers might find the narrative quite bleak, but it’s this darkness that grants “The Magicians” a fresh snippet of realism amongst the saturated genre of fantasy. This novel would be a perfect pick for readers itching for a magic-filled world that doesn’t entirely eschew the bitter truths of reality, making it an essential modern-day read.

Weaving Spells & Lions: Comparing ‘The Magicians’ with ‘Narnia’ and ‘Harry Potter’

Upon reading “The Magicians”, many readers have found themselves drawing parallels with two of the most iconic series in the fantasy genre: C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” and J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter”.

‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ vs. ‘The Magicians’

Both universes share the element of stepping from an ordinary world into a fantastical realm. In “The Last Battle”, Narnia meets its end, which reflects the bleak notions of kingdom destruction in “The Magicians”. Fillory, often seen as an echo to Narnia, offers a darker and more adult outlook on fantasy kingdoms. While Lewis’ Narnia flourishes with hope and innocence, Grossman’s Fillory throbs with danger and borderline corruption, symbolizing the jarring transition from bright childhood fantasies to brutal realities.

‘Harry Potter’ vs. ‘The Magicians’

The resemblance to “Harry Potter” emerges from the premise of an ordinary teenager discovering the existence of magic and enrolling in a secret magical school (Brakebills for Quentin and Hogwarts for Harry). But “The Magicians” is a warped mirror to Harry Potter, detailing mature themes and showing the dispirited facets of retaining magic and its perils in the real world.

The teachers at Brakebills, unlike those at Hogwarts, are less nurturing and more pragmatic about their expectations from students. While Hogwarts became home for many, Brakebills is more of a steep learning curve for Quentin and his friends.

Grossman’s trilogy dismantles the charming illusion of magic by placing the distressing limitations of reality and emotional growth at the forefront. It showcases how magic, while being exhilarating, does not offer an escape from the gritty underbellies of life, diverging significantly from Harry’s experiences.

In conclusion, where “Narnia” offers a wholesome retreat and “Harry Potter” blends the ordinariness with new-found magic, “The Magicians” employs these universally recognized themes, only to deconstruct them, creating a unique masterpiece that’s undeniably intriguing.



Author Bio

Lev Grossman, a critically acclaimed American novelist and journalist, is widely recognized for his best-selling Magicians Trilogy. Known for his keenness in blending stark realities with fantastic elements, Grossman’s works have received numerous laurels.


Q1. Do you agree with the shift in portrayal of magic in Lev Grossman’s ‘The Magicians’?
Q2. How does Quentin Coldwater’s character development reflect the overall theme of the book?
Q3. Discuss the significant parallels between the real world and Fillory?

Where to Buy

Experience magic stripped to its core reality by getting yourself a copy of Lev Grossman’s ‘The Magicians’ on Amazon.

The ‘Magicians’ Trilogy’s TV Adaptation

The Magicians (2015-2020)

The Magicians trilogy transcended from the pages to the television screen when Syfy channel adopted Lev Grossman’s beloved series. Premiering in December 2015, the television series breathed life into Quentin Coldwater’s magical journey, vividly capturing the essence of Brakebills University and the mystical realm of Fillory.

The series explored the realities of adulthood within the intricate weave of the magical universe, successfully taking the flavor of the books onto the screen. It ingeniously integrated a well-structured plot with the complex characters while ensuring the essence of Grossman’s original work remained intact.

With five enthralling seasons, “The Magicians” was lauded for its character development, narrative style, and the unflinching exploration of social issues. It concluded in April 2020, ending Quentin’s magical journey on a high note, simultaneously leaving a lingering gap in the hearts of fans worldwide.

Despite deviating from the source material, the series consistently managed to deliver a compelling blend of fantasy, drama, and realism, making it a must-watch for the fans of Grossman’s trilogy. Available to stream on Netflix and Syfy.

Conjuring Characters to Life: Meet the Cast of ‘The Magicians’

Main Characters and Actors

  1. Quentin Coldwater (played by Jason Ralph): A young man from Brooklyn who discovers that magic is real and becomes a student at Brakebills University.
  2. Alice Quinn (played by Olivia Taylor Dudley): A talented magician and classmate of Quentin’s at Brakebills with a keen intellect and strong moral code.
  3. Eliot Waugh (played by Hale Appleman): A student at Brakebills and High King of Fillory with a flair for drama and a deeply hidden compassion for his circle of friends.
  4. Margo Hanson (originally Janet in the books, played by Summer Bishil): Eliot’s best friend, confidante, and fierce High Queen of Fillory.
  5. Julia Wicker (played by Stella Maeve): Quentin’s childhood friend who, denied admission to Brakebills, explores magic through darker, riskier pathways.
  6. Penny Adiyodi (played by Arjun Gupta): A student at Brakebills with psychic abilities, he often struggles with control but proves a loyal friend.
  7. Kady Orloff-Diaz (played by Jade Tailor): A tough magician with a difficult past, Kady’s strength and knack for trouble make her a force to be reckoned with.

Each actor brought a unique depth to their character, their performances often exploring and expanding upon the complexities presented in Lev Grossman’s original trilogy.

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