Book Review: The Magicians, by Lev Grossman

'The Magicians,' by Lev Grossman (cover)I don’t know the process whereby Lev Grossman came to write the first of his trilogy, but I can imagine its developing something like this…

The germ of the story would be a what-if question an author might ask of himself, a rather involved question along these lines:

Stories centered around magic and fantasy lands are all so damned full of wonder: of the characters’ (sometimes just the reader’s) slack-jawed omigosh-so-utterly-amazing appreciation of the miraculous. Suppose such a book, with such a subject and setting, was populated instead by realistic, no, by out-and-out cynical characters: characters bored of magic, characters who sneer at the course of their lives which has led them to magic, characters — no matter how magically talented — who often out-and-out hate magic and refuse to use it? What would such a book be like? Hmm. Let me see…

The most direct route to an answer would start with the age of cynicism, “age” in the sense of both an historical era and a time of individual human lifespan. It would start, in short, with 21st-century American teenagers — even better, perhaps, teenagers from New York City (and specifically, best of all, from finger-snapping nasal-voweled Brooklyn).

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We Always Knew This

'Flossis' sculptures, by rosalie, in Dusseldorf, Germany

[Image: The caption of this photo as it appears on Flickr, in English translation, is “I always knew they would come sometime! Now they are here!” The photograph is by Heribert Pohl. (Used under a Creative Commons license.) For more about these “Flossis,” sculpted by the artist known as Rosalie, see this page at Inthralld.com. Click the photo to enlarge it (it’s big: almost 6MB).]

From whiskey river:

Questions About Angels

Of all the questions you might want to ask
about angels, the only one you ever hear
is how many can dance on the head of a pin.

No curiosity about how they pass the eternal time
besides circling the Throne chanting in Latin
or delivering a crust of bread to a hermit on earth
or guiding a boy and girl across a rickety wooden bridge.

Do they fly through God’s body and come out singing?
Do they swing like children from the hinges
of the spirit world saying their names backwards and forwards?
Do they sit alone in little gardens changing colors?

What about their sleeping habits, the fabric of their robes,
their diet of unfiltered divine light?
What goes on inside their luminous heads? Is there a wall
these tall presences can look over and see hell?

If an angel fell off a cloud, would he leave a hole
in a river and would the hole float along endlessly
filled with the silent letters of every angelic word?

If an angel delivered the mail, would he arrive
in a blinding rush of wings or would he just assume
the appearance of the regular mailman and
whistle up the driveway reading the postcards?

No, the medieval theologians control the court.
The only question you ever hear is about
the little dance floor on the head of a pin
where halos are meant to converge and drift invisibly.

It is designed to make us think in millions,
billions, to make us run out of numbers and collapse
into infinity, but perhaps the answer is simply one:
one female angel dancing alone in her stocking feet,
a small jazz combo working in the background.

She sways like a branch in the wind, her beautiful
eyes closed, and the tall thin bassist leans over
to glance at his watch because she has been dancing
forever, and now it is very late, even for musicians.

(Billy Collins [source])

and:

It was one of those days when you can see the ghosts of all the other lovely days. You drink a bit and watch the ghosts of all the lovely days that have ever been from behind a glass.

(Jean Rhys [source])

and:

I don’t like when precious things slip through people’s fingers — especially things that seem defenseless or undercelebrated, but also unheralded people who may have said sensible things at a certain time in history, but who were completely drowned out by other people. Or minor poets whose lives were instructive. Sometimes I’m astounded by the absence of sentimentality in other people. How can you not become attached to the poignant scraps that flow through life?

(Nicholson Baker [source])

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