Finally I’ve finished reading the third book of the Magicians trilogy: The Magician’s Land. (Earlier I reviewed the first two books, The Magicians and The Magician King, so it’s time to complete the picture.)
The question — whether overt or hidden — in thinking about any work is always “What is it really about?” In this case the easy answer — the too easy answer — is that it’s about magic… or fantasy… or magic and fantasy. A better answer might be that it’s about growing up, that it’s a coming-of-age novel. Both of those claims are true, but I think they miss the main point. Surprisingly (perhaps) I am reminded of Tom Stoppard’s wonderful play, Arcadia. Read it (and/or see it) if you’re unfamiliar with it! Anyway, when I was teaching at B.U. Academy, back in 1996, we took the entire school to a performance of Arcadia at the Huntington Theater. Afterwards, the father of one of my students asked me what I thought it was about, and I answered “the conflict between classicism and romanticism.” (I had just given a talk to the entire student body on that topic — but mostly on the mathematics that underlies the play — as preparation for our visit.) This parent politely disagreed with me and told me that I was wrong; Arcadia is about loss, he stated confidently.
And maybe he was right. I gave it a lot of thought and conceded that he had a point. (I’ll resist adding “even though he was a chemist,” since he was probably as much a polymath as I am, and it would be impolite in any case.) The Magicians trilogy is partly a coming-of-age story, and partly it’s about walking through closets and emerging in a new world, but I suspect that it’s mostly about loss. When you walk through that closet you gain a fantasy world, but you lose the so-called real world. There are several amazing scenes in The Magician’s Land, scenes that are so vivid that you’ll never get them out of your head, but on the whole you need to think about the characters and what they’ve lost.