The Magician’s Land
I read The Magician’s Land at the very first opportunity, on an e-reader while flying back from London this summer. Because it is so good and I liked it so much, I gulped it down in horrendously big bites, clicking the page turn button almost rhythmically every 30-40 seconds until it was over.
Then I knew another part of why I had loved The Magicians and The Magician King so much—because they were building towards this story, which is, in the end, a story about how being a fantasy writer is like being a magician—you build your own land, and you populate it with creatures you find magical and hope that your readers will, too.
Quentin has tried his hand at something like fan fiction—becoming a king of Fillory in The Magician King—but in this third book of the series, he successfully works a spell to create his own land: “Magic was wild feelings, the kind that escaped out of you and into the world and changed things. There was a lot of skill to it, and a lot of learning, and a lot of work, but that was where the power began: the power to enchant the world.”
The beginning of Quentin’s new ability to create is his discovery of what his talent is, as a “physical kid.” His “talent” is part of the metaphor about writing, a necessary step along the way to being able to do it independently, out of one’s own head. He has grown from one of the kids who “used to run around their backyards or basement rec rooms or whatever they ran around in pretending they were Martin Chatwin, boy-hero of a magical world of green fields and talking animals where they would attain total and complete self-actualization” into an adult magician, more than a king, with more skill and better intentions than a necromancer, and more responsible for his own creations than a god.
I mention necromancy because Quentin manages to bring Alice back. She has not been dead, exactly, but turned into a niffin, a dangerous magical creature that no one has ever turned back into a person before. He manages it, although right before he succeeds she looks like “a wasp who’d been trapped in a jar and then shaken, and she was ready to sting. She was the most beautiful, terrible thing he’d ever seen.” As her humanity comes back to her, she remembers bits from her old life until the glorious moment when she rescues Quentin’s quest to save Fillory from apocalypse by punching Penny, because Penny can’t let go of his determination to impose a fine on Quentin for keeping a page from one of his Neitherlands books for a year:
“I’ve waited a long time for this,” Penny said.
“Then this is going to be kind of an anticlimax,” Alice said, and she punched him in the face.
Umber, one of the twin ram gods of Fillory, confesses that he thought “that if I possessed Martin’s humanity, I could be king of Fillory. As well as god. A god-king, you might say.” None of his actions or his excuses satisfy the kings and queens of Fillory, however, who think that “he had a way of not taking responsibility for things.”
As I’ve grown to expect in the Magician novels, the details are a big part of the fun. Quentin’s escape with his gang from a group of rival magicians happens like this:
“They swarmed out through the empty windows like angry bees out of a hive. Plum and Stoppard rode leather club chairs; Betsy had a small prayer rug that had been in front of the fireplace, which she handled standing up, surfboard-style; Quentin got the penny-farthing bicycle. Pushkar himself, along with Lionel and the bird, had taken command of the enormous pool table, which despite its size and weight had turned out to be surprisingly amenable to flight spells.”
We get to see the apocalypse in Fillory:
“A tall and rather august man in a tuxedo had joined the fray, fighting bare-handed, and Janet thought she recognized him from Quentin’s stories about the edge of the world. The battle was dissolving into frantic scrums featuring all kinds of weird shit she’d never even seen before: a burning suit of armor, a man who seemed to be woven out of rope, another who was just built out of pebbles. To the south a towering dune had finally crested the Copper Mountains, and surfing on it like a mad thing was a tremendous clipper ship crewed by—rabbits? For real? Was that something from the books? It had been so long. They came ripping down the steep slopes, heeled over.”
In the end the reader of this book, like 8-year-old Quentin, remembers the kind of book that made her feel “awe and joy and hope and longing all at once,” and it turns out that the character has made a world from those feelings, which means that the reader, with enough skill and learning and work, might one day be able to join him, or to sail beyond that sunset.
What more could a reader ask?