The Magicians (Grossman novel)

The Magicians (Grossman novel)

The Magicians
Cover of The Magicians
Author Lev Grossman
Country United States
Language English
Genre High fantasy, Parallel universe
Publisher Viking/Penguin Books
Publication date 2009
Media type Print
Pages 402 pp (first edition)
ISBN 978-0-670-02055-3
LC Classification PS3557.R6725 M34
Followed by The Magician King

The Magicians (2009) is a fantasy novel by Lev Grossman, published by Viking Press. It tells the story of Quentin Coldwater, a teenager from Brooklyn, New York, who discovers that the magical world he's read about in books is real. The review by The A.V. Club, published by The Onion, gave it 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."[1] The New York Times review said the book "could crudely be labeled a Harry Potter for adults", injecting "mature themes" into fantasy literature.[2] The Plume paperback edition was released on May 25, 2010.

The sequel, titled The Magician King (2011), picks up two years later.[3][4]


The book follows the adventures of Quentin Coldwater, a high-school graduate from Brooklyn with above-average intelligence and below-average social skills, as he is accepted to Brakebills Academy, an exclusive college for magicians. As he goes through the five years of schooling, he realizes that, just because his fantasy came true, it does not mean that all of his problems are solved. He is forced to deal with his own sullenness and anti-social behavior along with similar issues with the other students. Magic, it turns out, is boring and tedious to learn. During this time, an incident happens where a strange otherworldly horror, in the guise of a six fingered middle aged man with a branch over his face, enters Brakebills and eats a student before being driven back to wherever it came from. The creature becomes known as The Beast. Quentin and Alice are placed in Physical, a sub group of magic involving manipulation of physical forces. There, they become friends with Eliot and Janet who were older students. At one point the students in Quentin's year all travel to Antarctica to Brakebills South, where they are forced to involve themselves in soul-sucking activities such as wearing bland uniforms, living in spartan quarters and not being allowed to talk for weeks on end with the purpose of forcibly engulfing them entirely in magic so that they can instinctively learn all of its seemingly arbitrary rules.

Upon graduation, he groups together with some of his Brakebills friends where they spend the days and nights in hedonistic pursuits, apparently a common theme for magicians who have it very easy in this world. While still looking for a purpose, he discovers that Fillory, a fanciful land that is the setting of his favorite book series, is real.

In the end, the group fights against The Beast, who is revealed to be Martin Chatwin who sacrificed his humanity in order to stay in Fillory forever and destroy its gods. Alice sacrifices herself to kill Martin, Penny loses both of his hands and chooses to remain in the empty city between the worlds and a gravely injured Quentin is left to the care of a group of centaurs when the others fear that he will never awaken from his coma. Upon awakening, Quentin becomes depressed and disillusioned, especially when Jane Chatwin reveals herself to be the Watcherwoman and had been pulling the strings the entire story through the use of a magical time traveling pocket watch, trying different ways to get people to kill Martin and reversing time whenever she was unsuccessful. Quentin leaves Fillory after some time and, via connections in the magical community, takes a high-paying (and free of magic) job in an investment firm where he spends his time playing video games. The book ends with Quentin eternally unsatisfied with his lot, returning to Fillory with Eliot, Janet and Julia (a high school friend who had independently learned magic on her own outside of Brakebills) to become the kings and queens in the hope of finally finding something fulfilling.


Fictional author Christopher Plover wrote the Fillory and Further series,[5] which comprises five books. In "The Magicians" the Fillory books were published in Britain in the 1930s and are about the five Chatwin children—Martin, Fiona, Rupert, Helen, and Jane—and their adventures in Fillory.[6]

Quentin Coldwater, one of the magicians of the book's title, grows up as a huge fan of the Fillory and Further series, which he assumes are fiction, much like The Chronicles of Narnia. However, upon graduating from his Hogwarts-like magical college Brakebills, Quentin discovers that Fillory is real. The kingdom features mobile trees with clock faces, a talking bear with a predilection for alcohol, and giant animals wielding medieval weapons.[6]

Fillory was "a place stuffed with wonder, from the enormous velveteen Cozy Horse that can convey all the children at once to a group of talking bunnies who like to take tea."[7]

In the fictional universe of The Magicians, there are five books in the Fillory and Further series:

  1. The World in the Walls – Martin and Fiona have to prevent the Watcherwoman from stopping time at 5:00 on a rainy September afternoon. (Excerpt)
  2. The Girl Who Told Time – Helen and Rupert are magicked out of their boarding schools and into Fillory – but also back in time. Rupert secretly helps Martin and Fiona battle the Watcherwoman (without their knowing it), while Helen hunts the mysterious Questing Beast.
  3. The Flying Forest – Rupert and Fiona search for the source of a mysterious ticking sound that is troubling their friend Sir Hotspots, a noble leopard.
  4. A Secret Sea – Set adrift on the Outer Ocean by the Watcherwoman, Rupert and Jane seek out the remnants of the Great Shark Army to help them take back Fillory.
  5. The Wandering Dune – Helen and Jane find a mysterious sand dune blowing through Fillory. It carries them out into the desert, where they discuss morality. Then, the bunnies show up.
  6. The Magicians - The final book in the series, written by Jane Chatwin, was never actually published. It concerns the adventures of Martin and Jane as Martin loses his humanity to accumulate great power and Jane's attempts to stop him, ultimately receiving a magical silver pocket watch from a group of dwarves and becoming the Watcherwoman, travelling through time and manipulating events in order to thwart Martin.

Major characters

  • Quentin Coldwater – The novel's protagonist. When the novel begins, he is living in Brooklyn and preparing to enter college. After he passes a test to prove he has the potential to become a magician, he is recruited by Brakebills, an elite college of magic in upstate New York. Quentin has long been a fan of the "Fillory and Further" book series and yearns to fill his life with the same adventures found in those books. He studies with the Physical Kids (Eliot, Josh, Janet, and Alice) at Brakebills. He never seems to be satisfied with what he has and often willfully ignorant of others feelings. This leads him to grow apart from his parents and seek solace in his magic and socializing, and later, drugs.
  • Alice Quinn – A talented and natural magician whom Quentin meets while attending Brakebills. They are in the same year, and they study the same discipline once their specialty areas are decided. She lives with Quentin, Eliot, Josh, and Janet while at Brakebills and later in New York, following graduation. She grew up in a family of magicians, and her parents are shown to be flighty nearly to the point of neglect. 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 – One of the Physical Kids. Another very talented magician, perhaps the most natural at Brakebills. Eliot's sexuality is a minor plot point throughout the novel, as is his dependence on alcohol. He is particularly keen on esoteric wines. He is seen to be the unofficial leader of the group of five (along with Quentin, Alice, Josh, and Janet) throughout the novel. He, Janet, and Josh are a couple years older than Quentin and Alice. He has proven to be serious when something interests him but acts out when he has no skin in the game.
  • Josh Hoberman – Another of the Physical Kids. The overweight jokester-slacker of the group, Josh offers much of the novel's comic relief. He is likely the least natural in his skills, but he also flirts with an untapped power throughout. He struggles with his studies but excels at socialization. He grows close to Anaïs during the course of the novel.
  • Janet Pluchinsky – The final Physical Kid of the novel. The party animal of the group, Janet seems to be attached at the hip to Eliot. Janet is portrayed as both deeply insecure and surprisingly strong. She is outspoken and sometimes causes controversy, but she is also fiercely loyal.
  • Penny – A (male) student who enters Brakebills at the same time as Alice and Quentin. He is shown to be one of the three most adept magicians in that year, and he begins to study archaic and untested magic. He is the one that proves the existence of Fillory and finds a passage. His real name is William. He is rebellious, jealous and has a terrible temper. Although he and Quentin become friends soon after joining, he later grows to prefer the company of himself over others and even spends an entire semester's time in an empty parallel universe.

Minor characters

  • Anaïs – A Luxembourgish magician whom the others meet during an intercollegiate game of welters (a kind of hands-on magicians' chess). She travels with the core group to Fillory, where she demonstrates her bravery and penchant for battle. She also has an affair with Josh.
  • Richard – A Physical Kid who graduated before the main five, Richard lives with them all after they graduate. He also accompanies them to Fillory, but he proves to be the cautious one. He is the only Christian magician described in the novel.
  • Dean Fogg – The dean of Brakebills who is shown to be alternatively severe, kind, wise, and cynical throughout the novel. His words often influence Quentin's thinking.
  • Martin Chatwin – One of the Chatwin siblings who are the central characters in the Fillory and Further series. The siblings are rumored to have been real and to have lived next door to the author. In the books, Martin finds a way to remain in Fillory forever; and Quentin makes it his mission to find Martin, if he is still alive.
  • Julia Wicker – Quentin's unrequited love throughout high school, Julia dates Quentin's best friend instead. She also takes the entrance exam to Brakebills, but fails and has her memory altered. Quentin loses touch with her soon after entering Brakebills and is surprised to see her several years later having fallen to drugs abuse and alcoholism to cope with the not-perfectly-forgotten memories of her exam and her discovery that she can do actual magic. She ends up joining the others on becoming Queen of Fillory in the books coda.
  • Other minor characters – Jane Chatwin, Emily Greenstreet, Dint, Fen, Professor Van Der Weghe, Professor March, Professor Sunderland, Professor Mayakovsky.


External links

  • Official (hoax) Fillory website
  • Christopher Plover's (hoax) website
  • Official website of Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy
  • at LibraryThing
  • Grossman's A Brief Guide to the Hidden Allusions in The Magicians