Three Reasons Why The TV Series is Better than the Book: The Magicians (and Satire)

Hey y’all, and welcome to the very first guest post on this blog by my lovely friend @amealcar/Amilcar Nogueira! Check out his writing when you get a chance! 

With The Magicians returning to television this Wednesday on SyFy, dictura kindly allowed me to hijack this Tuesday blog post so that I could talk about how even though The Magicians is not a perfect TV series, it has taken several strides to elevate itself above its source material. I’m going to focus my talking points on the first book and a little bit of the second book, so spoiler warnings.

The Magicians

1. Quentin Hates Things

The biggest problem with the books is our unplucky, disenchanted narrator. In the book series, Quentin is quickly disappointed with his magical life, living in a world surrounded by people smarter than him, people achieving more in magic than him; he ends up drinking and wasting his time. Quentin is meant to be our lens into Grossman’s satire of magical series. The problem with satire is that when you have a protagonist who shoves his viewpoint of the world down your throat with his magically-inclined hands, it becomes less about the original point of magic not being a solution to the problems of the world and more about how this insufferable, opinionated narrator feels about the world around him. Quentin telling us about how Brakebills magical school didn’t give him anything he wanted as he goes off to live a life of debauchery, all on the back of his magic, comes off as insufferable rather than illuminating the disappointment magic causes.

Compare this to the television series. Quentin is free of being our narrator and his opinion is balanced by the viewpoint of Julia, who becomes another focal point of life in a world where magic exists but you don’t get access, and the rest of the main cast surrounds both of them. Quentin’s pain becomes part of his mental illness and struggles. His inability to adapt and accept a sense of normality in a magical world reveals how flawed and harsh the magic world actually is: students die (a lot), everyone is dealing with their own issues, and fun never existed. If Quentin ever reaches the same point of disappointment in the series as he did in the book, it will feel like an actual character arc.

2. Magic Gets to be Seductive

The allure of magic is its ability to do almost anything: flying to the moon, throwing fire, discovering the depths of the universe—magic has to seduce the audience into its grasp. In the book, Grossman uses Harry Potter and Narnia as his seduction. He takes his audience’s love of these worlds and twists it into what the book becomes, a messed up school filled with messed up people and a magical land that murders some and disappoints anyone.

The series lets the audience see the magic: the terrible and the beautiful. One of my favourite episodes revolves around Julia casting a spell that locks Quentin in a dreamworld where he believes he hallucinated the entire world of Brakebills and he’s still in the rehabilitation centre that he leaves in the first episode. Quentin is trapped in a nightmare that brings him back to being “normal” and unable to deal with his problems with magic, even though magic isn’t helping them. The episode shows how Quentin still suffers from depression even though he has magic. The beauty of magic is more insidious in the show as the feeling of magic coming from pain in life is more direct. While in the book, Dean Fogg gives a speech about the belief that power in magic is connected to pain that one has felt in life, it feels empty for a character like Quentin who doesn’t feel like he’s had to deal with much. In the show, the audience is given a lot more to grasp on to, from Quentin leaving rehab to how he is anxious about everything around him and might fall apart at any moment.

3. Alice is (hopefully) Alive

Book Alice dies. And it’s garbage. Trashfire garbage. Grossman’s novel never gets his female characters right. And the series isn’t perfect either, relying on rape as a part of development more than once. Alice gets less development in the book than in the series: she’s mousy, smart, has breasts (as Quentin describes all women), and is the best at spells. Then she dies using too much magic to stop the evil. Garbage. In the series so far, Alice has had a chance to explore what happened to her brother, deal with her family’s very open attitude to sex and understand what she wants from sex herself, and craft a sweet friendship with the loveable (and now very sexy) Penny. Alice has more to do and it benefits the series. Television is good at giving characters their chance to shine and judging by the trailers for Season 2, we have some Alice left for us.

Better than the book (though Still Flawed)

The Magicians is not a perfect TV series. It can be a bit out of focus sometimes, other times it jumps around from moment to moment with no regard to season structure, and it definitely has problems with how it deals with victims of trauma becoming evil: for example, a pedophile’s victim being the Big Bad because he was molested, and a victim of rape by a god turning maybe evil. These examples are oversimplifications, but still, problems remain. However, the series captures, more so than the book, how relationships are complex things that require trust and definition, how magic can entice you but won’t solve your problems, and how if you don’t have to read something through an insufferable git’s eyes, you may be able to appreciate the world around them.

Let us know below how you feel about The Magicians (the book[s] or the show) and what you’re looking forward to/dreading this season! Thanks for stopping by, and hit up @amealcar if you dug this post!

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