Posts Tagged ‘Harry Potter’

I once wrote a column about imaginary places that would be interesting choices for summer vacations: Neverland, Treasure Island, Oz, Middle-Earth, Avalon, Wonderland, Narnia. The latter was my favorite because of the thrill of pushing aside stuffy coats in the wardrobe to walk into a snowy world infused with magic. Narnia remains high on my list, but right now I’d like my passport stamped for Fillory. Oh, and while I’m there, I want to be a reigning monarch and ride a horse named Dauntless.

That’s what Quentin Coldwater is doing at the beginning of Lev Grossman’s The Magician King, the sequel to  The Magicians, my favorite fantasy of recent years. In that first novel, Brooklyn teen Quentin Coldwater matriculated at Brakebills, a secret, Ivy League-like college of magical pedagogy, where he learned real magic while fooling around with a select group of friends. All had grown up on a series of children’s novels about a magical land called Fillory — a sort of mash-up of Narnia, Middle-Earth and classic fairy-tale realms — and, after graduation, they discovered it was a real place. Adventures ensued, but so did tragedy, and Quentin returned to New York.

The Magician King begins two years later in Fillory. Quentin, two more Brakebills grads, and his high school friend Julia, who had to acquire her own magical powers after being rejected by Brakebills, have assumed the four thrones of Castle Whitespire and discovered that ruling over Fillory is a bit, uh, boring. But then Quentin and Julia sail to the Outer Island, hear the story of the Golden Keys and embark on a perilous quest that eventually finds them far from Fillory and struggling to return.

Interspersed is the backstory of Julia gaining her fierce magical powers, which are stranger, and perhaps stronger, than that of Brakebills. This becomes apparent when ancient forces threaten the portal Neitherlands, and the fate of Fillory hangs in the balance.

Dreams do come true, but not without great cost. Hearts are broken, hopes quashed, sacrifices demanded. Happily- ever-after is for fairy tales, and despite its fantastical flourishes, The Magician King is not a fairy tale. It’s an involving literary novel about what comes next after you’ve made the third wish and gotten what you thought you wanted. It’s sometimes thrillingly dark and dangerous but also frequently funny, filled with pop culture references and asides. Narnia is invoked, as are Harry Potter and Monty Python. Quentin and company refer to a diplomatic monarch as Fillory Clinton.

Early in the book, a character notes the things one likes about magicians; they are “disgustingly bright and rather sad and slightly askew.” Real. Like magic. Like Fillory.

Open Book: I bought the e-book version of The Magician King by Lev Grossman (Viking) as soon as it went on sale last week, downloading it in the middle of the night. Then I decided to reread The Magicians so I could spend as long as possible in Fillory. Now I am going through a box of old buttons. Fellow readers will understand.

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I’m going to wait on butterbeer. My Theme Park Ranger pal Dewayne assures me it’s kind of yummy, but I can’t imagine that it’s good enough to make me stand in line when the the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens June 18th at Universal Studios here in Orlando. Snow may be glistening on the turrets of Hogwarts, but it’s going to be crazy hot and crowded for months to come. So on the advice of friends who work there (and will not tell me ANY secrets because then they would have to kill me), I’m going to wait for winter — in some undetermined year — to visit. Maybe by then there’ll be diet butterbeer.

Meanwhile, I’m returning to Fillory, the enchanted kingdom at the center of one of my favorite books of recent years, The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Out in paperback now, it’s Harry Potter writ dark for adults who also are familiar with the transporting worlds of C.S. Lewis, T.H. White, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin and Lewis Carroll. Also, assorted fantasies, fairy tales, comic books, graphic novels and video games. Yet Grossman’s alchemy creates its own kind of magic.  Real magic.

After reading The Magicians last year, I’m pretty sure Fillory exists. You may think that it’s made up, like Narnia, and if you just find the right wardrobe, there’ll you be. Kid stuff. Well, that’s what Quentin Coldwater assumes before he walks down a Brooklyn alley and finds himself in upstate New York at Brakebills College, the Ivy League of modern sorcery. There’s drugs and drink and sex, and lots of  lying around and talking, because this is college. But the curriculum is difficult and dangerous. It’s more than smoke and mirrors and memorization, which can be boring. As Quentin and his classmates learn, you have to merge with magic. But to what end?

Ah, there’s the rub. What’s a young sorcerer to do in Manhattan these days? Find Fillory, of course — providing this mythic land exists outside the pages of a series of children’s books.

I’m following Quentin. I suspect a sequel’s in the works. That’s because borders.com is featuring a new short story by Grossman, “Endgame.” It stands on its own, but the end sounds like a beginning. Hope so.

Open Book: I bought my copy of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians (Viking) when it came out in hardcover. I also have a copy of Grossman’s first novel, The Codex, which is different and good.

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Before I forget, I want to thank everyone who responded to the last post, “Mother, may I read this book?,” about the Central Florida mother who wanted to keep public library copies of the Gossip Girl books and spin-offs out of the hands of minors. Many of you thanked your own mothers for giving you the freedom to read and make up your own mind. Others suggested that sitting down and discussing the books might have been a more productive act than “stealing” them. One reader noted that she’s against banning books but did think Gossip Girl was pretty trashy.

And that reminded me that I should have given a shout-out to Judy Blume, the best-selling author of teen and tween books and also one of the most censored authors in the United States. In the 1980s and ’90s, such Blume books as Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret and Forever… were among the most frequently challenged books in schools and public libraries. Then came J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter books, and the censors went wild over Harry in a bad way. Blume was one of the first to step up and speak out on behalf of Rowling and against censorship.

I remember writing about her speech to booksellers at their annual convention ten years ago. She noted that if kids didn’t love Harry Potter so much, the censors wouldn’t be out in such force. “It’s because they are so popular that there’s this idea there’s evil lurking in them,” she said, adding that this notion comes from “adults who want to control everything in kids’ lives,” especially what they read.

The book banners were againt Harry Potter because of its scenes of witchcraft and wizardry, moments of violence and “disrespect for authority,” as one censor stated. They went after Blume”s books  because she wrote candidly about having periods, growing breasts, making out and, in Forever…, going all the way. Sex!

That’s why some adults called Blume’s books “trashy.” But one parent also challenged Superfudge because a character said there wasn’t a Santa Claus. Any book can become a target for censors, and Blume added that no matter what you say, there are going to be people who will never change their minds.

“I tell them,   ‘This might not be the right book for your child, but it may be just the right one for another.’ ”

You said it, Judy. Thank you. And thanks for writing all those great books. I still read them. I guess the mom against Gossip Girl missed out.

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