Friday, August 21, 2009

"The Magicians"

Lev Grossman is Time magazine's book critic as well as one of its lead technology writers. The New York Times says he's “among this country's smartest and most reliable critics.”

He published his first novel, Warp, in 1997. His second novel, Codex, came out in 2004 and became an international bestseller.

Grossman applied the “Page 69 Test” to his new novel, The Magicians, and reported the following:
Page 69 finds us in Chapter 5 of The Magicians, which is called “Snow.” So far the following things have happened. Our hero Quentin, who is 17 and very unhappy, has been invited to take the entrance exam at a very secret, very exclusive college for magicians -- real magicians, the kind who cast real spells. Being an exceptionally intelligent young man, he passes the exam and matriculates at the Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy.

He soon finds that the other 20 students in his class are, like him, very bright and rather eccentric. He also begins to realize that magic works a bit differently from how he expected. It’s a lot harder to do, and its purpose is a lot less clear. There’s no Voldemort to fight. So what’s magic for?

Now, towards the end of his first semester, he’s studying and practicing for his first final exam at Brakebills. It’s the night before the test, and he’s been up for days cramming with two other students, one of whom is a terribly shy girl named Alice. Quentin goes to take a midnight walk in the snow (it’s November, and Brakebills is in upstate New York) to clear his head. To his surprise, Alice asks if she can come with him.

They have an interesting conversation. Quentin discovers, among other things, that Alice wasn’t invited to Brakebills the way he was. She had to find her way in by herself, which you’re not supposed to be able to do -- the school is magically concealed from outsiders:

“They couldn’t believe it,” Alice says. “Nobody’s supposed to be able to find the House by themselves. They thought it was just an accident, but it’s so obvious there’s old magic here, tons of it. This whole place is wild with it -- if you look at it through the right spells, it lights up like a forest fire.

“They must have thought I was a homeless person. I had twigs in my hair. I’d been crying all night. Professor Van der Weghe felt sorry for me. She gave me coffee and let me take the entrance Exam all by myself. Fogg didn’t want to let me, but she made him.”

In some ways this is an atypical page -- it’s a quiet moment in the plot, of which there aren’t all that many. But in other ways it’s actually a very appropriate one to pull out. It’s one of Quentin’s growing-up moments, when he realizes that he’s not the only one who has problems, and that his problems are actually pretty insignificant compared to a lot of other people’s. He changes -- his world suddenly expands, in that way that only happens when you’ve been acting like kind of a self-centered asshole, and you suddenly realizes it, and you know all at once that you’re not going to do that anymore in the future, ever.
Read an excerpt from The Magicians, and learn more about the book and author at Lev Grossman's website and The Magicians website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue