Lev Grossman 2009

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians  is hands down the most exciting novel I’ve read this year.  A little bit Harry Potter for adults, a little bit spot-on satire of the college and post-
college years of the typical American, and a dash of pure genius, The Magicians is a standout in what’s been a great year for literature.  Mr. Grossman was kind enough to answer a double set of questions for us: ten spoiler-free to whet your appetite, and ten more after the spoiler link ready to be perused as soon as you close that final page.
 
Non-Spoiler Questions
 
Drew
Who was your favorite author when you were young?
 
Lev
Probably T.H. White -- The Once and Future King.

Drew
Folding Quentin's introduction to the Magician's 'magical' world into his entry into college was a great move.  Did you ever consider making Quentin younger, or older? 
Lev
 In the first draft he actually was younger. About 15, I think. But it all seemed too Harry Potter that way, so I bumped him up to college age. I didn’t want to write another magic boarding school novel. Plus it turned out that I wasn’t very good at writing a 15-year-old boy anyway. I wanted Quentin to use bigger words.
 
Drew
On a scale of 1 to 10, how awesome is the super-awesome cover design the Viking guys set you up with, with 1 being, 'eh - only kind of awesome', and 10 being 'totally friggin' awesome'?
Lev
I’m going with a 10. And I’m not saying that to suck up to my publisher. I love the cover. The feel is exactly right: very detailed, almost hyper-real, but also strangely mysterious and fantastical in some way that you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s actually a photograph -- the artist built that tree in his studio and shot it. In reality it’s about 5 feet tall. I wrote him a fan letter, and he sent me back a very sweet note in broken English (he’s French). I also tried to buy the original, but it turned out it costs $20,000.

Drew
What's for dinner?
Lev
Something awful. I’m halfway through a 11-hour train trip to Montreal, feeling lightly hungover from the Magicians book party last night. I love train travel, but train food: not good. Probably some form of microwaveable pizza.

Drew
While definitely working on its own, the Magicians seems to have an added layer that plays with the readers' awareness of Harry Potter, C. S. Lewis, and the juvenile fantasy market in general.  Did you start the Magicians intent on commenting on these earlier works, or did that just come out in the writing?
Lev
Probably. I try not to think too hard about that kind of thing while I’m actually writing, otherwise you end up making an argument instead of telling a story, which is instant death for a novel. But I knew I was doing something to those stories. Dragging them a little further out into the real world, I suppose, our world, and seeing how they fared there.
 
 
Drew
Here at the Little Professor, there's a general consensus that 2009 has been an exceptional year for books, particularly for fiction, with the Magicians leading the pack.  As a professional book reviewer, what are your 5 favorite books from 2009?  (Oh, and sure, not yet published stuff can count)
                       
Lev
Trouble, by Kate Christensen. Transition, by Iain Banks (that’s not out till September). Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (it’s the sequel to The Hunger Games, which if you haven’t read that yet, I don’t know why you’re reading this. Go get it!) The Kindly Ones, by Jonathan Littell (I’m bucking the trend on this one). Best Served Cold, by Joe Abercrombie.

Fur

 
Drew
Have you ever heard the song 'Fur' by Blitzentrapper?
 
Lev
 No. Should I get it?
 

Drew
Was it difficult to come up with a system of magic for the Magicians, complete with its own rules, or did you let the story dictate what was and wasn't possible?

Lev
I think that every fantasy fan has his or her own secret theory about how magic works - -when you read a fantasy novel, don’t you sometimes think ‘oh, they got that wrong’ or ‘almost, but not quite’? You don't know how you know, but you know. In The Magicians I just followed my instincts. Like Rowling's, it’s a very nuts-and-bolts, non-mystical approach to magic. No smoke machines and celestial choirs. Though I always wanted to know more about Harry’s magic. It can’t just be about swish and flick and yelling some fake Latin? Can it? It can't.
 Poe FTW!
 

Drew
If the Magicians were to be optioned as a film, who should direct?
 
Lev

It might not surprise you to know that I’ve thought about this. The Magicians needs somebody who’s comfortable with fantasy and FX, but who can go a bit gritty. I’d love to see it done by Matthew Vaughn, who did Layer Cake and Stardust and who’s working on Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass. I just saw District 9, which was directed by a young South African named Neill Blomkamp. Really amazing, the way he handles CGI -- sort of casually, not making a big deal out of them. It makes them feel that much realer. I’d love for him to do it. Neill, call me!

- SPOILER Questions -
Comments