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Thoughts on “The Magician’s Land” by Lev Grossman

This is the final book of Grossman’s trilogy, and he manages to maintain the power and intensity of the previous books. While part of me wishes the saga would continue, this really is the right place to stop.

I took a couple pages of notes while reading, so I could ramble on about this, but since brevity is the soul of wit, I’ll keep this post short and focused. I’ll focus on how the book corresponds to the biblical books of Genesis and Revelation.

So there are two big themes in this book: the creation of a world, and the destruction of a world. These are also the themes that are the focuses of Genesis and Revelation, respectively. In addition, Grossman also weaves in the symbolism of the death and rebirth of a god, which connects the two central themes and hearkens to Frazer’s work, The Golden Bough.

Quentin comes into possession of an ancient spell, and it takes him a while to decipher it. But once he does, he realizes it is a spell to create a small world, essentially speaking a world into being. This is the magick of God in Genesis, but on a smaller scale. Yet even though this is on a smaller scale, Quentin is taking a step toward becoming godlike through his ability to create.

This was a spell that created something. It was a spell for making a land.

He actually laughed out loud when he thought of it. It was too funny—too insane. But now that he saw it he couldn’t un-see it. He could follow it like a story that wound crookedly through the various sections and paragraphs and subclauses of the spell like a thread of DNA. This thing was intended to make a little world.

(p. 249)

Contrasting Quentin’s creation of a new world, we see the apocalyptic end to another world, with imagery and direct references to Revelation.

The chaos itself was momentarily, unfairly beautiful. The thrashing sun, the spinning, looping moon. Fillory half light and half shadow, dotted with flashes of fire, lava and flame and magical strikes from magical beings. Ignorant armies clashing by night.

It’s like Revelation, she thought. It’s Revelation, and I’m the Scarlet Woman.

(p. 339)

But the deeper mysticism here is that dying worlds can be reborn, but this cosmic rebirth requires the ultimate sacrifice: the death of a god. This is the mythology that Frazer explores in his masterwork, and Grossman makes reference to this mythology as the world of Fillory is about to die.

It was the oldest story there was, the deepest of all the deeper magicks. Fillory didn’t have to die, it could be renewed and live again, but there was a price, and the price was holy blood. It was the same in all mythologies: for a dying land to be reborn, its god must die for it. There was power in that divine paradox, the death of an immortal, enough power to restart the stopped heart of a world.

(pp. 377 – 378)

And with the death of the old god, the world is renewed, ushering in the new age.

“… Things are different now. It’s a new age.”

(p. 394)

These books have definitely earned their place in the upper echelon of the fantasy genre. I suspect that I may read them again someday, hence they now have a prominent spot on my bookshelf. In the meantime, I’ll indulge myself by watching the TV adaptation of the trilogy.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading cool stuff!

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Thoughts on “The Magician King” by Lev Grossman

As I am drafting this post on Grossman’s second installment in the trilogy, I am already well into the third and final book. These books are like crack for nerds who are into reading. I suspect that my thoughts on the third book will follow hot on the heels of this post.

This book is another version of the archetypal hero’s journey, but not at all hackneyed. It is full of current references to popular culture and it reads very well. Reading a page in this book is like eating one Dorito chip. You read it, and the next thing you know, a quarter of the book is gone.

“You wish to be a hero, but you do not know what a hero is. You think a hero is one who wins. But a hero must be prepared to lose, Quentin. Are you? Are you prepared to lose everything?”

(p. 179)

This quote really had a visceral effect on me. When I think back on the literature I’ve read regarding the hero myths, every hero loses something, and most of them lose a part of themselves. You cannot head out on a quest and expect to return the same person you were at the onset. Every hero must sacrifice in order to attain their goal. And even those who choose not to make the sacrifice after stepping on the path, they have still lost something, and likely that something is a more painful loss that that sacrifice which was asked for.

The hero’s quest is symbolic for a deep, often spiritual, transformation. And all transformations require the sloughing of the outer shell of the self to reveal the deeper aspects of the individual.

At one point in the book, Quentin discusses his quest with Ember, a god of the realm of Fillory. While it is a common trope in the hero myth for the hero to seek guidance from a divine being, what is interesting about this interaction is that the god Ember provides insight into the role of an individual on a quest, and how the quest ultimately transforms that person.

“I do not think you understand, my child. There are things a man must do, that a god may not. He who completes a quest does not merely find something. He becomes something.”

Quentin stopped, blowing, hands on hips. The horizon to the east was a solid band of orange now. The stars were going out.

“What’s that? What does he become?”

“A hero, Quentin.”

(p. 251)

Reading into what is implied here, the god is letting Quentin know that by pursuing the quest, something which he must do, that he will suffer a great loss. It is inevitable. No transformation can be complete unless the individual lets go of something important, whether by choice or by circumstance.

I’m intentionally keeping this post short, so as not to include any spoilers. I definitely recommend this book, and the entire trilogy.

Click here to read my review of the first book in the series: The Magicians.

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Thoughts on “The Magicians” by Lev Grossman

I’ve had my eye on this trilogy for a while. Everyone I know who has read Grossman’s Magicians Trilogy has raved about it. I’m just always hesitant to commit to a trilogy. But at last, I bought the first book and read it, and I have to say that it certainly lived up to all the hype.

Basically, Grossman takes aspects from some of the best fantasy books and weaves together a tale that is unique, yet seems familiar. I had impressions of Harry Potter, Narnia, Game of Thrones, and Lord of the Rings. But there is also a modern edginess to the book, which works well in my opinion.

There is a lot that can be explored in this text—addiction, power, corruption, escapism—just to name a few. But since brevity is the soul of wit, I’m just going to focus this post on the topics of magic and the multiverse.

Early in the book, Quentin enters a school of magic, and one of the professors offers an interesting definition of magic.

“The study of magic is not a science, it is not an art, and it is not a religion. Magic is a craft. When we do magic, we do not wish and we do not pray. We rely upon our will and our knowledge and our skill to make a specific change to the world.”

(p. 48)

This definition resembles Aleister Crowley’s, which states that magick is “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” And as Quentin continues his studies, he learns that the actual practice of magic is quite difficult, and is not something that comes easily, which is how magic is often depicted in books.

One thing had always confused Quentin about the magic he had read about in books: it never seemed especially hard to do. There were lots of furrowed brows and thick books and long white beards and whatnot, but when it came right down to it, you memorized the incantation—or you just read it off the page, if that was too much trouble—you collected the herbs, waved the wand, rubbed the lamp, mixed the potion, said the words—and just like that the forces of the beyond did your bidding. It was like making salad dressing or driving stick or assembling Ikea furniture—just another skill you could learn. It took some time and effort, but compared to doing calculus, say, or playing the oboe—well, there really was no comparison. Any idiot could do magic.

Quentin had been perversely relieved when he learned that there was more to it than that.

(pp. 148 – 149)

As a writer, I understand that words are just symbols intended to represent aspects of our reality. Which is why I was intrigued by a passage that asserts that magic somehow dissolves the boundaries that exist between language and reality, that it merges the symbol and that which the symbol represents into a single form.

“But somehow in the heat of magic that boundary between word and thing ruptures. It cracks, and the one flows back into the other, and the two melt together and fuse. Language gets tangled up with the world it describes.”

(pp. 216 – 217)

After graduating the school of magic, one of the young magicians, Penny, discovers a way to access parallel dimensions of reality, or what theoretical physics would call the multiverse. He terms this portal to the other dimensions the City (also Neitherlands), which seems like a type of matrix that allows one to pass from one reality to another. Penny goes on to explain to his friends what this means to our limited view of reality.

“The thing is, the more I study it, the more I think it’s exactly the opposite—that our world has much less substance than the City, and what we experience as reality is really just a footnote to what goes on there. An epiphenomenon.”

(p. 250)

Penny proposes exploring an alternate world (Fillory), which was described in a book that the other young magicians had all read. Quentin is reluctant, but Penny pushes the issue, stressing that the exploration of hidden dimensions is truly the greatest quest that humans can embark upon.

“So what?” Penny stood up. “So. What. So what if Fillory doesn’t work out? Which it will? So we end up somewhere else. It’s another world, Quentin. It’s a million other worlds. The Neitherlands are the place where the worlds meet! Who knows what other imaginary universes might turn out to be real? All of human literature could just be a user’s guide to the multiverse! Once I marked off a hundred squares straight in one direction and never saw the edge of this place. We could explore for the rest of our lives and never begin to map it all. This is it, Quentin! It’s the new frontier, the challenge of our generation and the next fifty generations after that!”

(p. 260)

As Hamlet so eloquently put it: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I strongly suspect that there are multiple universes existing beyond our current scope of perception, and just maybe, ancient mystical arts once provided glimpses of these hidden realms. It certainly warrants further exploration. If we dismiss ideas and potential knowledge because they conflict with our present paradigms, we are doing so at our own risk.

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Meaning of Abracadabra in “Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie

MidnightsChildren

Not too long ago, I went to a lecture by Salman Rushdie at the University of North Carolina – Asheville. He was so inspiring that I ended up purchasing a copy of Midnight’s Children (click here to read my thoughts on his lecture). Since I was reading Infinite Jest at the time, it took a little while to get around to it, but I finally did so and finished reading it the other day.

Anyway, the book is amazing and rich in imagery and symbolism. I filled several pages of reference notes in my journal as I worked through the novel. So then the question became: What do I write about? I didn’t want to just write a summary, so I decided to focus on the word “abracadabra,” which is also the name of the last chapter in the book, and share my thoughts on how this word ties in to the overall story.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the etymology of the word, it is Aramaic in origin and roughly translates to something like “I create as I speak.” So the mystical power of this word is that magicians and occultists can use it to conjure or create with the use of a word, similar to the power of the Judeo-Christian god who created all existence from a word (see Genesis).

So here is the passage that I feel is key to understanding what Rushdie is doing on a grand scale with the book.

… yes, and Aadam heard it too, with his flapping ears he heard the rhythm of the magic, I saw his eyes light up as I accepted, and then we were in a third-class railway carriage heading south south south, and in the quinquesyllabic monotony of the wheels I heard the secret word: abracadabra abracadabra abracadabra sang on the wheels as they bore us back-to-Bom.

Yes, I had left the colony of the magicians behind me for ever, I was heading abracadabra abracadabra into the heart of nostalgia which would keep me alive long enough to write these pages…

(p. 519)

At this moment, the protagonist of the story, Saleem Sinai, realizes the mystical power of the written word, that words are magical symbols that can create connections between the past and the present and the future, and that through the use of words, he is creating a mythology that is eternal. These connections, or correspondences, are the building blocks of the myth, because mythology uses symbols to explain things on a grand or cosmic scale. And what I find most fascinating is that what we have here can be described as a meta-abracadabra, since we have Rushdie using the magical power of words to create a story that is a mythology of modern India, but within the story is another story about Saleem using words to write his own myth establishing the correspondences between his life and independent India.

Since I wove in the concept of correspondences, I want to add another quote from the book that elaborates on correspondences.

As a people, we are obsessed with correspondences. Similarities between this and that, between apparently unconnected things, make us clap our hands delightedly when we find them out. It is a sort of national longing for form—or perhaps simply an expression of our deep belief that forms lie hidden within reality; that meaning reveals itself only in flashes.

(pp. 343 – 344)

I firmly believe in the concept of correspondence. All things are connected, and sometimes those connections are obvious, and sometimes they are hidden, as in symbolism. But connections exist all around us, and the power of the written word can help us realize those hidden connections. Abracadabra!

Although this book is rich with symbolism, it is very readable, a terrific story, and has some of the most beautiful use of synesthesia I have ever encountered. I highly recommend reading it. As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading engaging stuff.

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Doctor Strange: Issue 03

DoctorStrange_03

Wow! That’s about all I can say… Wow!

This is everything that I love about Doctor Strange. It is the perfect blend of mysticism with a touch of humor, all woven together with artwork that is surreal, psychedelic, and vivid.

The installment begins with Strange musing about “weird feelings” that people get and chalk up to the imagination. But the truth is, we sometimes get impressions of a reality that exists beyond the reach of our ordinary perception, and that the universe is populated by things which we cannot perceive with our senses, but exist nonetheless.

You know those weird feelings you get sometimes that you can’t explain? Like when you’d swear there’s someone watching you, even though you’re alone? Or maybe you think you see something move in the shadows for just a second, just out of the corner of your eye—but when you flip on the lights, there’s nothing there? Usually when people ask for my professional opinion on those sorts of feelings, I tell them they’re nothing. Odds are, your home isn’t haunted. I’m sure it’s a lovely house and all, but I doubt it’s so amazing that people would literally come from beyond the grave just to hang out there. And you’re probably not possessed. Or a mutant or inhuman. Or someone who was bitten by a radioactive anything. You’ve just got a healthy imagination is all. But that’s not entirely the truth. It’s what I tell people when I figure they can’t handle the truth. The truth is… you’re never alone.

There is another quote in this comic which resonated with me, and that is Strange’s definition of what it means to be a magician.

Being a magician doesn’t mean you create magic from thin air. You only channel the magical energy that’s already all around you. It’s a little like being an electrician. You have to know how to direct the energy where you want it to go, hopefully without setting the house on fire or shocking yourself to death.

For me, this is one of the basic tenets of magick and mysticism. Everything is a form of energy. Magick is the ability to manipulate energy to create an effect in accordance with your will.

I’m really excited about the upcoming Doctor Strange film. I know it will be a while, but that’s OK… I’m patient. In the meantime, I have this wonderful and inspiring arc to keep me occupied.

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Issue #1

Sabrina_01

I have been eager to begin reading this graphic tale ever since I read the Afterlife with Archie comics. It took some effort to acquire this first copy (it seems Sabrina is in high demand), but persistence paid off and I luckily came across a copy last week at a local shop.

As with the Afterlife series, the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is dark, creepy, and reminiscent of horror from the 60s. Stylistically, the creative team draws on writers like Lovecraft, films like “Rosemary’s Baby,” and of course the classic horror comics of the era. All in all, the team has created something fresh and unique while tapping into familiar motifs that have become a part of the darker regions of our society’s collective consciousness.

This first issue traces Sabrina’s early years, from birth to her early teens. Sabrina is a “half-breed,” whose father (Edward Spellman) was a black magician and whose mother (Diana) was human. At age 1, Sabrina is taken from her mother and given to her two aunts to be raised as a witch. Diana resisted and Edward scrambled her memory, then had her committed to a mental institution where she was lobotomized. In a very eerie image, Edward is later depicted as trapped within a tree. It is not revealed why this happened or who was responsible, adding a level of mystery to the tale which works quite nicely.

I think the most impressive aspect of this comic is the wealth of references. The pages are strewn with allusions to occult figures, mythology, literature, and history. I had to look up a couple references with which I was unfamiliar, such as Ed Gein. I discovered that he was a most unsavory character who was a serial killer and body snatcher, exhuming corpses from graveyards and fashioning trophies out of bones and skin. He was supposedly the real-life inspiration for characters such as Norman Bates from Psycho, Leatherface from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs.

The issue leaves off with a very dark cliffhanger, where two foolish teenage girls have summoned a female demon from Gehenna. The imagery associated with this is nightmarish and the implications hinted at suggest that the upcoming installments will be nothing short of terrifying.

The bottom line is, I LOVE this comic and if you are a horror fan I strongly urge you to seek this out and read it. Issue #2 has not yet been released, but I have placed a request for my local comic dealer to hold a copy when it is finally published. One last thing, at the very end of this issue is a short comic strip from the original Sabrina which was published in October 1962. It serves as a nice contrast between the two comics, while at the same time giving a nod to the source of this amazing comic.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts and comments below. Cheers!

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Witchblade Issue 152: Unbalanced Pieces – Part 2

Witchblade_Issue152

In my review of Issue 151, I expressed my annoyance at the typos. I’m happy to say that this issue is much better in that regard, and in addition, it is a really great issue all around.

This has all the things that I love about the Witchblade saga: occult mysticism, the supernatural, mystery, solid writing, vivid artwork, all tied together in an engaging storyline. I cannot point to any flaws in this issue. In fact, I’m eager to tear into the next issue.

Without giving away any spoilers, I’ll just give a brief overview. Sara is investigating an encounter with a woman who appeared very young, but after the battle the woman transforms into an elderly lady. Sara becomes friendly with a stage magician named Cain Jorgenson who seems to have an interest in real magic as opposed to stage performance. Finally, there is the appearance of a wand-wielding woman adorned with occult amulets who seems to have some dark motives.

One part of the tale really stands out for me, personally. It is where Cain reveals to Sara his interest in real magic.

“When I started doing stage magic, I had no idea there was… that kind of magic. But, every time I see it now, I’m drawn to it like a magnet. Maybe faking it for so long makes me attracted to the real stuff. Pulled me to Ms. Smalls, for all the wrong reasons. I think you’ve got some kind of personal magic too, Sara.”

The reasons that people choose to follow mystical paths is something that fascinates me. People are guided to their respective paths by myriad ways. Sometimes it is something sudden and tangible, other times it is slow, subtle and difficult to determine. Regardless, I think that certain people are predisposed to long for the mystical roads, and as a result, find themselves drawn to mystical studies.

The end of the comic is intriguing. There are a couple of “documents” appended that seem to point at some deeper, hidden aspects of the story. If you pick this issue up, be sure to read them. They are definite hints to something that I suspect will be unveiled as the story unfolds.

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