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Lev Grossman on finding his true genre
August 19, 2014 12:57 PM   Subscribe

You have demons in your subconscious? In a fantasy world those demons can get out, where you can grapple with them face to face. The story I was telling was impossible, and I believed in it more than I believed in the 10,000 entirely reasonable, plausible things I’d written before. Lev Grossman, author of the Magicians series of books, on how he found his voice as a fantasy novelist.
posted by shivohum (66 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Both of his parents and his two siblings are all notable enough to have individual Wikipedia pages. I find that fascinating for some reason.
posted by miyabo at 1:02 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


I'm confused by the conspicuous absence of foxes in the third book.
posted by leotrotsky at 1:08 PM on August 19 [3 favorites]


"Stories about special schools for magicians seemed to be popular, so I did that. But darker. And grittier."
posted by logicpunk at 1:11 PM on August 19


I'm a little bit unsure about Grossman. I read and mostly enjoyed the first two Magicians books, but I did distinctly get the impression that he was putting some of his interests (the aforementioned foxes) into the story for no particularly good purpose, and the revelation about the origin of Martin's trauma felt both unnecessary and contrary to the theme of the first book.

Still, I'm glad he's writing and glad that it's working for him.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 1:15 PM on August 19


The third book is the best of the series. Very much enjoyed it, and it all came full circle.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:20 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]




I'll need another evening or two to finish the third book. Really enjoying it so far, and I'll circle back to this thread later.

But I like Earth parts better than the Fillory parts in all of them, and I don't know that I'm supposed to....
posted by tyllwin at 1:24 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


I'm really looking forward to reading the third book. And I've written about the magical school thing before.
posted by 256 at 1:27 PM on August 19


For real I had to ask my wife about fox-related matters in the third book before I was willing to read it. By the second book I was pretty convinced the guy was some kind of furry.
posted by Sternmeyer at 1:28 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


With the news that SyFy (!) is going to adapt The Magicians (!!), I'm looking at some dream castings.

One has Avery Brooks in v.o. for Ember, which would be wonderful.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:30 PM on August 19 [3 favorites]


But I like Earth parts better than the Fillory parts in all of them, and I don't know that I'm supposed to....

Same here. The school, Brakebills, is a fleshed-out setting with clear characters, rules and lore, and it's delightful in the way it constantly winks at Hogwarts. The other parts taking place on Earth are great too, because the way magic and realistic elements intersect is often nicely thought out. Fillory has always felt vague and "anything goes" - it's just a magical fantasy world where Grossman can throw anything out there, and it doesn't feel like he has his heart set on really laying out the world-building for it.

That said, I love this series and the third book is excellent so far.
posted by naju at 1:30 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


I thought that the first two books were darkly hilarious takes on precisely the kind of alienated, smart, self-absorbed reader of fantasy that I was as a child. To my recollection nothing particularly funny happens in the books themselves, but I laughed all the way through them anyway.

Until, of course, that bit in the second book. You know the bit I'm talking about. That was really hard to read, and I'd caught wind of it from somewhere so I knew what to expect. Still really difficult and I don't know how I feel about it.
posted by gauche at 1:36 PM on August 19 [5 favorites]


leotrotsky: I'm confused by the conspicuous absence of foxes in the third book.

I've heard there was something of a hunt, without going into spoilers.
posted by dr_dank at 1:39 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


Great essay
posted by subdee at 1:39 PM on August 19


I really liked these books but I read someone on Making Light formulating a hypothesis that some authors assume that women get their power from being broken, and someone else mention Grossman in that context, and that's taken some of the fun out of it. I think there's some truth to that accusation.

I did like the third book, though, including (rot 13)Whyvn'f erfbyhgvba, naq Nyvpr'f, naq jung unccrarq jvgu Erlaneq(/rot13).
posted by johnofjack at 1:47 PM on August 19 [4 favorites]


Yeah, the fact that not one but both major female characters in the first two books get their power through trauma is disappointing. And gross. I feel like I'm learning more about Grossman's psyche than I want to.

Haven't read the third book yet but I'm hoping there's not a third woman who will teach Quentin maturity through her pain.
posted by tofu_crouton at 1:51 PM on August 19 [3 favorites]


it's just a magical fantasy world where Grossman can throw anything out there, and it doesn't feel like he has his heart set on really laying out the world-building for it.

I might have enjoyed it a bit more if it were the trope it seems to want to be: if copyright was such that he could explicitly have called it Narnia (which it so obviously is), allowing us to actually feel some of the childhood love that the characters feel, allowing him to actually subvert the things he wants to subvert.

OTOH, I know I would have loved it if starting in book two, he'd moved off to a story more focused on an Earthly collision between Brakebills-style magic and Julia's safe houses and hedge magic.

I'm terrified for what SyFy will do. And I must go before I spoiler myself here. See you in a day or two.
posted by tyllwin at 1:52 PM on August 19


I loved The Magicians and thought Fillory being magical nonsense was the point. It was a fine standalone novel with a point and an ending.

But then The Magician King came out and it acted as if I had actually been meant to care about that nonsense. And all the adventures in magical bullshitland seemed so arbitrary and the characters became less interesting when they were there. And yes there was a good real-world storyline but it led to *that scene* and the whole book left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

I was going to pass on the third book. But there's some positive-sounding comments on it here. As a person who had the above reaction to book 2, should I read book 3?

Codex (his pre-fantasy book) is pretty damn good by the way. It felt as close as you can get to magical realism without including any non-mundane elements. An otherworldy-feeling reading experience.
posted by Lorc at 2:00 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


I could not finish The Magicians, but I adored Soon I Will Be Invincible, by his brother Austin.
posted by mogget at 2:16 PM on August 19


I need to read book 3. I very much enjoyed the first book (which is on sale currently for Kindle, probably in support of book 3), but I don't remember much of book 2.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:24 PM on August 19


I've only read the first book so far, but it was enjoyable mostly. I especially liked the vaguely racist centaurs. It was most interesting when he was subverting the tropes.

Oh yeah, and the foxes were a bit. ? Hm.
posted by Doleful Creature at 2:38 PM on August 19


I love all three books - reread the first two last weekend and then, finally, the third and I actually got damn close to sitting down and then reading them all again, immediately, but I decided I wasn't 12 anymore - and I think the second is the strongest. Yes, there's trauma and a certain amount of brutality but you know, they're not YA. Trauma happens. And they're way, way, way lighter than, say, Mieville or Banks or Bacigalupi or Richard K. Morgan, to pull up a few of who I would think of as his more or less peers. While I really do love them all, as in I'm going to reread them, probably more than once, I own them in hardcover and I gave them five stars each on Goodreads, I will say that I felt the third book was the weakest, that it was too violent and that the violence had that cartoony quality I don't much like. One of the things I liked the most about the first two is that they have, to me, a realistic response to violence and trauma - people really are traumatized, they really do take time to get over it. I'm not sure if people realize what a new development that is in fantasy and just how long most fantasy novels were all, "And then I knifed him, wiped his guts off on my shirt, threw his head into the gutter and strolled off for ale and stew. No big!"

To get back to the subject of the FPP, though, I think it's kind of sad that he still feels he has to apologize for writing fantasy. Yeah, there is a lot of heinous genre hackwork fantasy but there is just about as much masquerading under the guise of literary fiction. Good writing is good writing and bad is bad and honestly, when are we going to get past the eternal ghettoization? Yes, he's playing with fantasy tropes and mixing up fantasy references more than, say, Murakami - a bit - but I don't think that that means he now has to go climb into the fantasy cage and never escape again. 100 Years of Solitude is a fantasy novel. Borges was a fantasy author. And Lev Grossman shouldn't feel he has to apologize because he hasn't written a "real" book any more than Margaret Atwood should feel she has to try and deny her science fiction cred.

Still! They are the best things I've read in a long time and if you liked them too you might also like The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic, which I found scratched the same sort of itch for good writing, intelligent thought and depression.
posted by mygothlaundry at 3:09 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


One: I think the treatment of women in Land is much much better than in the previous books.

Two: Quentin is not nearly as much of a knob as in the first two.

Three: I loved how much the book was about closure while introducing some new, tantalizing loose ends.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:20 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


I have a lot more to say on Grossman when I have the time, but for now I'll say that I read book three with an infatuated abandon no book has stirred in me in quite the same way since I was a teenager. So that was pretty neat.
posted by Tevin at 3:29 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


The thing about Lev Grossman is that I think he has truly exceptional abilities at prose styling, is adequate at plot (he mostly does fanfictionny plots, this time stealing a lot from Buffy), and is completely incompetent at characterization.

Quentin is less annoying in this book -- hard to be more -- but he's given lots of extra power for no reason. The female characters are less given plot-via-trauma -- I'll pretend it's because he took the complaints to heart last time, not knowing the timeline for writing this one -- but the book is still very very weird about women (people call each other "pussy" all the time). And he does this thing -- not unlike Atwood, actually -- where he writes But No One Thought About This Trope In Fantasy stories, when actually, a lot of people have thought about them and written about them already. (Though he admits he is writing fantasy.)

I read the book very quickly, because as I said, his writing style is fantastic, but I think he needs to meet more actual human women and figure out how they act so they aren't all Truly Exceptional But Also Sort Of Broken.
posted by jeather at 3:36 PM on August 19


I read these books and enjoyed them a lot. I see where people are coming from with how badly the plot beats up Alice and Julia. I sorta disagree with the assertion that their power comes from their trauma. It's been a while since I have read the first two books, but my impression was that both Alice and Julia achieve power initially through their unrelenting determination to overcome the paternalistic/patriarchal biases of Brakebills. I don't know if that counts as trauma. Also both of them have already surpassed Quentin's magical talents, even before the later traumatic stuff happens to them. It's not really like they could only get on his level after they have been "broken".

Also, are there any characters in this series that are not at least a little broken?
posted by rustcrumb at 3:43 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


So, spoilers for ALL THREE books.

my impression was that both Alice and Julia achieve power initially through their unrelenting determination to overcome the paternalistic/patriarchal biases of Brakebills.

Yes, sure. So Alice is determined and smarter than all the others and powerful and hot -- Quentin spends a lot of time on breasts in these books -- and she stays with Quentin for no discernable reason except that he is the protagonist, then he cheats on her and in return she sacrifices herself to save him. Finally he forces her to return from her semi-demonic form and immediately insists she get over being a burning demon for a few years and get back together with him, which she does because apparently her entire life demonic or otherwise revolves around Quentin.

Julia is determined and goes around secretly finding power, then calls a goddess to do something or other, and is tricked and gets raped but ALSO loses something like her soul. Then she gets kicked out of the magic otherworld for this. She eventually does get back there thanks to something Quentin does, not her own actions, and gives her power to Quentin for a bit in return, so he does all the important stuff even though Alice and Julia are much more powerful.
posted by jeather at 3:54 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


Totally agree with you that Alice and Julia are far more forgiving of Quentin than he deserves. Didn't want to suggest otherwise. In fact that is a major theme of these books, Quentin is a pretty shitty dude for most of the story, who gets everything he wants and more, and is still not satisfied.
posted by rustcrumb at 4:06 PM on August 19


I liked the first book for the reasons people have mentioned, and then found the second off-putting also for the reasons mentioned. I'm undecided whether or not to read the third. Either way, it's too bad he feels even slightly apologetic about writing in this genre -- even acknowledging the flaws, his books are good and often intelligently written, and I wish we were past the easy embarrassment about genre fiction.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:20 PM on August 19


I have a sort of literary theory about the last decade.
If you are a male author who is even vaguely politically conscious, it's not hard to see that men are terrible. We are, we are just awful - preening and petty and thin-skinned and malicious. And so you write your protagonist as a preening and petty etc. man-child.
BUT! They're still your protagonist, so you don't want them to end up snarking on some MRA messageboard - you have to have good things happen to them, or at least THINGS happen to them, and they have to go through a narrative arc, etc. So you acknowledge that they are terrible in all of the ways that men are terrible, you have them acknowledge it, and you treat this acknowledgement as a means of absolution. I'm so terrible that I deserve bad things, but - because I know it - I deserve good things.
This isn't just for men, by the way - this is pretty much every white-upper-middle-class literary novel out there.
posted by 235w103 at 4:23 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


Whose' Story is The Magicians telling? My Mefi's Own

I had no idea that was MeFi's own! I absolutely loved this essay when I read it a few weeks ago and it puts The Magicians into excellent context. I loved the first book, was very disappointed in the second one, and haven't worked up the energy to start on the third, but Choire's essay makes a compelling case for Grossman maybe pulling it off after all.
posted by Phire at 5:16 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


I loathed The Magicians, (Quentin was an odious human being who never grows in the whole book, the sexism was irritating as fuck) but now I'm wondering if I should give the sequels a chance. Shall I just skip over to the third book do you think?
posted by small_ruminant at 5:26 PM on August 19


Quentin was an odious human being who never grows in the whole book, the sexism was irritating as fuck) but now I'm wondering if I should give the sequels a chance. Shall I just skip over to the third book do you think?

No.
posted by jeather at 5:37 PM on August 19


You'd be missing out on a lot of crucial stuff if you skipped from one to three. I imagine it would be incomprehensible. I've even had to go back and read earlier stuff because I'd forgotten some details.

Book Two was not as good as book one, and that scene is as uncomfortable as people say, but the whole thing wasn't a disaster either. Grossman knows what he's doing and there are plenty of enjoyable moments.

I'm also positive that Quentin is supposed to be insufferable and that's the point, so that has helped.
posted by naju at 5:41 PM on August 19


Finally he forces her to return from her semi-demonic form and immediately insists she get over being a burning demon for a few years and get back together with him, which she does because apparently her entire life demonic or otherwise revolves around Quentin.

This is...not what happens in this segment of the book. Or at least pretty hard to reconcile with what I thought I read yesterday.
posted by advil at 5:51 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


Oh, absolutely Quentin is insufferable. That's the whole point of a personality like that, that can't help but always dream that he was made for a world better than our own, where people will TRULY UNDERSTAND his SOOOOUUULLLL.

I'm echoing other folks here; I thought book 1 was pretty rad and didn't see how it would get a sequel; book 2 was a bit muddled and I sort of forgot it (although I really did appreciate seeing the outside magic stuff; what it meant to be someone who wasn't at Brakebills), and then I picked up book 3 and was impressed at how quickly I fell back into everything. There were some surprisingly poignant moments (those giants!) , and for someone who was always fascinated with Lewis' The Last Battle, I 'm continually interested in the way Grossman twists and turns some of those themes and settings.
posted by redsparkler at 6:23 PM on August 19


Quentin was an odious human being who never grows in the whole book, the sexism was irritating as fuck) but now I'm wondering if I should give the sequels a chance. Shall I just skip over to the third book do you think?

Absolutely not. Quentin is a useless lump of learned helplessness and ennui. The sexism is, if anything, worse, and That Scene makes me uncomfortable with Grossman as a person, which doesn't happen often. I disliked the first book, loathed the second, and why on earth would I put myself through the third?
posted by restless_nomad at 6:30 PM on August 19 [3 favorites]


The night after reading the third book I had this dream in which Aslan gathered together everyone who had been to Narnia and also the characters from The Magicians and the characters from Harry Potter because he needed everyone to cast some elaborate spell to save Narnia. Lucy had to weave a particular kind of rug, Eustace had become a contemporary composer as an adult and had to compose a complex piece of music, somebody had to cut shapes out of paper that became animated when they were finished - I can't remember the rest. The happiest part of the dream was a scene where Aslan welcomed Susan back to Narnia. I was so disappointed when I woke up and realized this wasn't a real book that I could reread.
posted by Daily Alice at 7:18 PM on August 19 [3 favorites]


Absolutely not. Quentin is a useless lump of learned helplessness and ennui. The sexism is, if anything, worse, and That Scene makes me uncomfortable with Grossman as a person, which doesn't happen often.

I had a brief flicker of curiosity like small ruminant. I am so grateful to be saved from it, because I hated the first book.
posted by gladly at 7:24 PM on August 19


the whole Magicians series is this weird Seinfeld/Harry Potter mashup... you realize by the end of the first book that all of the main characters are totally self-absorbed and somewhat heartless park slope jerkoffs... the main character especially.

and then in the last book, if you think about the sort-of climax, has all of the main character completely unconcerned about mass-death in Fillory, because they can all escape. So, they crack their usual lamely self-conscious jokes and carry on along the rails of the plot while casually observing death after death... the idea of saving anyone seems completely beyond them.

and then there's the author's weirdly immature ideas about relationships with women...

and then there's the author's weird hostility to anyone punk or goth...

what i don't understand is, while everyone is some horrible ivy league jerk-off, magic school is completely Bard College in terms of physical details. it's of uncanny even if the social life of the school itself is some horrible combination of oxbridge and yale.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:16 PM on August 19


The thing is, the school stuff was my favorite part cause I loved the metaphor that going to an elite school was like going to a literal magic school cause you form these insular little networks and odd traditions and then you can just get a job at some front organization and never have to worry about money ever again.

I even liked the idea of post-school wizards just kinda ..floating around, full of arcane knowledge that was *completely useless* to day to day living and that magic, while impressive, was just kind of really hard and pointless and no one but a small group of people would ever appericate it.

You know, like academia.
posted by The Whelk at 8:47 PM on August 19 [8 favorites]


Spoilers for the third book:

I feel like Alice almost make's up for Julia's "power through damage" storyline. Quentin is so convinced that she needs saving, that she's come back for him, and that he can (literally) make her whole again, and then she turns out to have enjoyed being an all-powerful being and is really pissed to be human again. She had a pretty awesome existence that Quentin ruined because he had to make her story all about him, and she is not shy about calling him out on it.

Then she fucks him because he reminds her that bacon exists, and I can completely identify with that.
posted by bibliowench at 10:00 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


Every time I read anything on this series, it's all about how the hero is just awful and all the women have horrible things happen to them. Why is it supposed to be good? Because there's a fantasy land involved? The Adult Hogwarts thing? I just don't get it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:15 PM on August 19


For the same reason anything is good, really. It's decently well written and the story is interesting.
posted by Justinian at 10:26 PM on August 19 [3 favorites]


Every time I read anything on this series, it's all about how the hero is just awful and all the women have horrible things happen to them.

Generic awful, i.e. every Sword & Sorcery novel, or particularly nasty like Thomas Covenant?
posted by pseudocode at 4:05 AM on August 20


I even liked the idea of post-school wizards just kinda ..floating around, full of arcane knowledge that was *completely useless* to day to day living and that magic, while impressive, was just kind of really hard and pointless and no one but a small group of people would ever appericate it.


plus you get to hang out in a manhattan apartment not doing much of anything for awhile... whose experience is that?

see, the thing about Harry Potter is the British "public" school experience used to be important because Brittania ruled the waves. Now, what happens on the playing fields of Eton is irrelevant but what happens at Harvard actually kind of is... which is how I was able to read all three of these books. But the picture you get of a *nerdy* Harvard grad isn't very flattering and Grossman is un-selfconscious about why.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:30 AM on August 20


Both of his parents and his two siblings are all notable enough to have individual Wikipedia pages. I find that fascinating for some reason.

I have a Klein bottle opener designed and cast by his sister but I'd never made the connection until now.
posted by atrazine at 4:45 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


plus you get to hang out in a manhattan apartment not doing much of anything for awhile... whose experience is that?

I felt the closest analogy was trust fund babies. Immensely powerful, removed from normal society, given a cushy do-nothing job in finance, globetrot and have bored intoxicated sex to kill time because you're so powerful nothing is important.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:08 AM on August 20 [4 favorites]


Hogwarts Schooldays, by Holden Caulfield.
posted by bonehead at 7:32 AM on August 20


My advice, for what it's worth is that if you did not like the first book you should not bother with the other two. If you liked teh first but not the second, the third is probably worth it.

I always liked he first book, and liked it more when I realized I wasn't really supposed to like (or at least didn't have to like) Quentin all that much. That book I was not "Hero has some rough edges, but grows into himself by the end of the first volume."

Why is it supposed to be good? Because there's a fantasy land involved? The Adult Hogwarts thing?

Yeah, as Justinian says, mainly that it's an interesting story, well written. If you don't think that it is, then no, there's not much basis to call it good. The ideas are interesting, but not radical, as Grossman plays with elements of the fantasy reader's formative works. I think that's the main attraction.

People are steeped in Tolkien, and Harry Potter, and Narnia. And now, with a "grimdark" vision of that turned on its head in ASoIaF and it's many imitators. Grossman's is more of a fresh take: what if someplace like Hogwarts were populated with real college freshmen? What if the professors there were much less sure of their craft than those in Harry Potter's world? What if the Gods and kings and Queens of Narnia were like your local city council -- full of vanity and petty squabbles instead of wise and noble? A protagonist who neither a great hero nor a dark villain, but a self-absorbed "mediocrity."

Though, just for me personally, I especially like Grossman's take on the magic itself. It's neither a snappy "Expelliarmus!" nor a dark blood sacrifice, but rather more like an episode of Top Chef, as the magician tries to scrape together something to serve the need of the moment, and often with results they can't quite predict or maybe not even understand. (And with a couple of variations, as Brakebills students start off with theory and try to make practice from it, and Hedge magicians start with random practices and then climb up to theory.)
posted by tyllwin at 7:49 AM on August 20 [5 favorites]


t's neither a snappy "Expelliarmus!" nor a dark blood sacrifice, but rather more like an episode of Top Chef, as the magician tries to scrape together something to serve the need of the moment, and often with results they can't quite predict or maybe not even understand.

Hell, Brakebills is upstate on the Hudson, just like the CIA.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:58 AM on August 20


I want a magic spell to correct my typing. Especially when it makes me look like I don't know "it's" and "its." I mean, "teh" is bad enough, but that's... shameful.
posted by tyllwin at 10:00 AM on August 20


You could cast Bigby's Pedantic Contact Form Request.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 10:17 AM on August 20 [2 favorites]


I enjoyed the first book, despite being a little meh on protagonists who spend the majority of the time drunk and/or high - it makes me sort of sympathetically queasy. And it may be unsophisticated, but I do better with lead characters I can at least like a little bit. So despite my liking the first book, I don't really feel a pull to read the next two.
posted by PussKillian at 10:23 AM on August 20


Discussing Lev Grossman always tends to bring up the misogynistic reading of the first two Magician books. I think he makes up for it in the third, or at least is very conscious of it and tries to make up for it.

SPOILERS

Quenton also receives more magical power after suffering a trauma. Not even close to what happened to Julia in Magician 2. (I have my own interpretation of what Grossman was trying to do with Julia, some sort of homage to old fairy tales and mythology, but agree that it really wasn't necessary.)

Julia doesn't give Quenton power. Quenton is the protagonist and the person that saves everything at the end because of the plant - because of the special magical feeling and connection he had to Fillory when he was a child.

Alice's return and connection with Quenton is weird, but makes some sense if you assume that Alice and Quenton carry huge torches for each other.

Plum is the new female character. She is written very charitably. But, she is kind of a Mary Sue.

I think Magician 3 makes up for the insufferableness of the previous 2 books. I enjoyed it.
posted by 90s_username04 at 11:51 AM on August 20


But, she is kind of a Mary Sue.

Interesting. I hadn't thought that at all. I thought she was a little bit of a problem for an entirely different reason: I thought she was sort of cut-out to fulfill an authorial need. Quentin had to have some sort of companion during those stretches of the book. Just Quentin by himself would have been unbearable.
posted by tyllwin at 12:29 PM on August 20


he mostly does fanfictionny plots, this time stealing a lot from Buffy

What is a "fanfictionny plot"? I've never read Lev Grossman or any fanfiction, really, so I'm curious!
posted by threeants at 1:24 PM on August 20


Sounds like a redo of the "Rabbit" series, only with magic. And I fucking loathe Updike, and all writers of his kind.
posted by happyroach at 8:25 PM on August 20


Ooh, Narnia fan fiction!

The day after Aslan left, taking the magic with him, just about everyone else left, too....

I really enjoyed Carpetbaggers. It tells the story of what happened to Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy after the events of Lion, but before A Horse and His Boy. It covers the challenges of a few young foreigners trying to rule a badly-damaged magical country - quick, you're a monarch! Do something regal!

If you want a quick teaser for the story you can try this one-page wonder: The Cave in Deerfield. It's not a spoiler, but it has something of the same feel and is plausibly in the same universe.

Carpetbaggers has a sequel that was abandoned, sadly: A Pagan Place. Lots of other stories on the author's page are either linked or alternative stories related to Carpetbaggers, and they're all pretty good.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:15 PM on August 20


By a fanfictionny plot -- which is not, I might add, a problem; my issues with Grossman's plots are not this -- I mean that the plot is essentially a response to problems in other works. (In this case, it is a naive response, but that is not always the case for actual fanfiction.)

It can be compared to Cassandra Clare's (more explicitly fanfictionny, or at least more admitted to) works, which are asking What If Draco Wasn't An Antagonist and What If The Other Species Banded With The Wizards In The Big Fight Scene (this latter something people had rather hoped would happen in the last Harry Potter book). Grossman is asking What If We Took Narnia Seriously, and then thought about the mostly useless gods, or the child royalty, etc. He turned it into a new universe, but you can see the blueprints.

To a certain extent, all literature is like this, but sometimes it's a much bigger driving force.
posted by jeather at 8:56 AM on August 21 [1 favorite]


I had not read Carpetbaggers, and so far, I like it. Thanks!
posted by tyllwin at 11:30 AM on August 21


There was one chapter that totally blew me away and made me reassess the way I read the Narnia books. Worth it for that alone. You'll know it when you see the watch.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:25 PM on August 21


Finding Yourself On The Other Side Of The Wardrobe - "Author Lev Grossman says C.S. Lewis taught him that in fiction, stepping into magical realms means encountering earthly concerns in transfigured form." (also apparently in nonfiction his science/technology journalism leaves something to be desired ;)
I grew up in a household that not only lacked Christianity—there was very little Christianity in our house, even though my mom was raised Anglican—there was almost no religion of any kind. Religion was, and to some extent has remained to me, a totally baffling concept. I wasn't experiencing the book in any way as stories about religion: I experienced them as psychological dramas. This sleight of hand in which an apparent escape becomes a way of encountering yourself, and encountering your problems, seems to me the basic logic of reading and of the novel.
i'm kind of fascinated by religion as myth making [1,2,3] in terms of lamarckian/memetic convergent evolution as it relates to the functional qualities of belief systems in terms of group membership, organization and evolution :P like one way to characterize part-whole identity relationships is thru familial/tribal/religious/national/ethnic/language/cultural-affiliations and while some of it may be genetic i think communities are becoming more intentionally 'imagined' (esp w/biotechnology!) with a more developed sense of (meta-)narrative consciousness and that is, as alan moore likes to say, magick!

one of the things i wonder about, which i'm sure has been better treated elsewhere, is the role that super-heroes/villains now play, versus say benevolent/nefarious aliens and angels/demons of yesteryear, just transposed into more familiar milieus and what they say about the collective human psyche, jungian archetypes or whatever. anyway, if it is more multi-ideological mix-n-match choose-your-own syncretism, what is or should be the 'fitness algorithm' (aesthetic satisfaction?) that defines us?
posted by kliuless at 4:44 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


Kliuless: I've been thinking about that a lot because I've been reading up on early Near-Eastern religions. There are really surprising parallels between Sumerian/Babylonian deities and modern superheroes: each god is clothed in distinctive outfits; a change in a deity's outfit is really significant ("this is El as as Lord of the Council of Heaven, this is him as Creator"); their characters are defined by back stories that may or may not be consistent; and they seem to get rebooted as necessary while maintaining continuity.

I suspect that you might find similar parallels among other polytheistic cultures, but I don't know enough about them to comment.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:39 PM on August 25


There are really surprising parallels between Sumerian/Babylonian deities and modern superheroes: each god is clothed in distinctive outfits; a change in a deity's outfit is really significant ("this is El as as Lord of the Council of Heaven, this is him as Creator"); their characters are defined by back stories that may or may not be consistent; and they seem to get rebooted as necessary while maintaining continuity.

I've long thought there was a book to be written comparing authorship and canon-policing around ancient (specifically in my case Greek) myths and superheroes, with, quite possibly, an interesting nod in Lawrence Lessig's direction around the transmission and use (communal and otherwise) of mythological material, copyrighted characters, and open-source software.
posted by gauche at 11:55 AM on August 26


You could even extend this to monotheistic religions: there's a quite large corpus of books that are basically Biblical fan-fiction, mostly written around 2,000 years ago. Ever wonder what Jacob's sons really thought? You have testaments from most (all?) of them. What about Enoch, the antediluvian figure who "walked with God"? Well, there are several books with his views. And then there are similar things for Christian figures (e.g., Joseph), like extra gospels, or letters by Paul. So if you've ever wondered what Jesus did as a child, you're covered.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:40 PM on August 26


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