Spoiler Questions 2011

Spoiler Questions for "The Magician King" 

 

Drew:

 

After all the work you put in, in both books, towards creating magic, and crafting the rules that it has to follow, and hammering home lessons of responsibility and consequence that come with it: how much freaking fun – just flat out, ridiculous fun – was it to write that awesome sequence in the castle on the later-named Benedict Island, where Quentin gets to finally cut loose?

 

Lev Grossman:

 

This is a bad analogy, but it’s a little like the first time you see the Jedi in Star Wars episode one. You’ve watched them for three movies, and they’ve been broken, on the run, shadows of their former selves, clawing their way back from nothing. Then suddenly in episode one you’re back in the great age of the Jedi. They’re in the full flush of their powers, they’re slicing open doors, they’re throwing their light sabers, all kinds of shit. That’s what I wanted in that scene. I didn’t want something to always be wrong. I wanted Quentin to be able to cut loose and really feel his power.

 

 

Drew:

 

There’s a hotly debated theory here among the staff at Little Professor (sometimes debated with words, sometimes with fisticuffs, but we’re booksellers, we’re not… we’re not really good with fisticuffs) – that, when viewed from outside of Quentin’s perspective, neither story is really his: the first belongs to Alice, the second to Julia.  Thoughts?

 

Lev Grossman:

 

This is a major question. It is entirely a suitable matter for fisticuffs. Because yes, true, as regards the first book, Quentin is present for a story that isn’t truly his. He witnesses it more than he lives it. He’s not ready to be a hero.

 

But in the second book Quentin is figuring out how to take possession of his own story, his own life, and truly live it, which means taking responsibility for it, and taking the loss when things go against him. It’s something I’ve struggled with myself. There’s a moment in one of my favorite movies, A Cock and Bull Story, which is an adaptation of Tristram Shandy (stay with me here – it’s an amazing movie, and not boring at all, even though it sounds totally boring). Steve Coogan is this actor who feels like he’s being edged out of his own movie. And he asks himself, Can a man not be the hero of his own life? I thought about that question a lot while I was writing The Magician King.

 

 

Drew:

 

Two of my favorite sequences in The Magician King are fairly similar: Josh relating his adventures in the Neitherlands to Quentin, and Eliot relating the adventures of the Muntjac after Quentin vanished.  Just, rapid-fire quick stories, all of which feel like they could easily be their own tale, each seeming more intricate than the last, but moving quickly enough so that the reader doesn’t have to get bogged down in the how or why – really, two excellent scenes.  How difficult was it to balance writing those – giving just enough detail to make them interesting, without going on and on about adventures that don’t really concern the reader?  Also, did anything of interest not make those scenes?

 

Lev Grossman:

 

Oh, there were lots of cuts. I write fat first, put everything in, then cut back till the scene gets nice and lean and starts to sing. A lot of stuff happened to Eliot that ended up on the cutting-room floor.

 

 

Drew:

 

In re-reading The Magicians before I read The Magician King, certain scenes – primarily Fogg’s speech to the graduating class about magic being a sort of relic of older powers that mankind was never actually meant to find – definitely work their way into important concepts in the Magician King.  How much of that groundwork was laid there intentionally when you were writing The Magicians, or were you just building off of what you had created before – and does that mean we can expect a third book - The Magician God, if you will - in a few years?

 

Lev Grossman:

 

I never intended to write a sequel to The Magicians. When I was done I was out. So when I changed my mind, when I decided I wanted to go on, I just built on what I had. There was no master plan. But I figured if the basic logic of the original was sound, I could do another iteration, and it would be sound too.

 

 

Drew:

 

Is Julia based on any specific goddess?

 

Lev Grossman:

 

She seems very real to me, but she’s not based on anything specific. I don’t know if you ever played Dungeons & Dragons, but there was a D&D sourcebook called Deities and Demigods that laid out the powers and stats of all these different deities. Greek gods, Lovecraftian gods, Native American gods, the works. Nothing was sacred. As it were. I loved that book. It was a build-your-own pantheon kit. I think that had a lot to do with what happens with Julia.

 

 

Drew:

 

In that original interview, you mentioned that there was a scene cut from the Magicians where Quentin and Eliot visit the Thames dragon.  How much of that scene made it into the (really, really cool) scene in the Magician King where Quentin visits the Grand Canal dragon?

 

Lev Grossman:

 

You have busted me. A lot of that scene wound up in The Magician King. I was just too fond of it to waste it. Maybe in some future book I’ll find a spot for the scene I cut out of The Magicians where Eliot gets high and gets in a bar fight in Red Hook. Probably not though.

 

 

Drew:

 

Which do you think actually provides a better education in magic: Brakebills or the rather rockier path that leads to Murs?

 

Lev Grossman:

 

It’s really a matter of taste. Me, I’m fond of these big old top-heavy institutions. I went the Ivy League route for college. So I’m a Brakebills man. But Murs is a hardcore situation all its own. They figured things out that the Brakebills have no understanding of. Nobody tells them the limits, so they wind up breaking them left and right.

 

 

Drew:

 

Julia’s rape by Reynard may be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever read – at least partially because of my affection for the character.  How difficult was it to write?

 

Lev Grossman:

 

I’m not a horror writer. I’m not a horror reader. But sometimes horror comes out. The logic of the story demanded it, and I had to provide it. I read a remarkable book by the journalist Dave Cullen that walks you step by step through the Columbine massacre, minute by minute, and I thought a lot about what it must have been like to be in those classrooms... I used that while I was writing that scene.

 

The strange thing is, that scene came very quickly, with very little revision. It was almost automatic writing. The same thing happened with Alice’s death scene, which I barely touched after I wrote it. I reread it earlier this year, for almost the first time since I wrote it. It was very upsetting.

 

 

Drew:

 

Fillory clearly owes a great debt to Narnia, which in turn has certain unavoidable religious overtones – especially The Last Battle, in which we learn that the land beyond Narnia is effectively Heaven.  Can the same be said for the land beyond Fillory?

 

Lev Grossman:

 

I don’t really know. I’m a secular writer. I wasn’t raised in any particular religion, and I don’t understand it very well. I can see how religious overtones could attach themselves to the Far Side. But I’m not sure they come from me.

 

 

Drew:

 

 ‘You were on a break.’  Seriously, is Penny just that big of a dick?

 

Lev Grossman:

 

Yes and no. Sure, Penny looks like a dick to us, but when you’re Penny, you’re not a dick. Everybody else is a dick.

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