Lev Grossman (The Magicians) bonus interview from Sword & Laser Ep 3

Uploaded by geekandsundry on May 17, 2012


TOM MERRITT: Hey, everybody, Tom Merritt here.
Sword and Laser off this week.
But don't miss a brand new episode of
TableTop in the stream.
In the meanwhile, to keep you tied over until next week, we
got Lev Grossman to stick around for a few more bonus
questions from our listeners.
And also look for our bonus interview with the authors of
the Mongoliad here at youtube.com/geekandsundry.
But Lev, thank you so much for sticking around.
We've got some good questions for you.
I'm ready
TOM MERRITT: All right.
P Aaron, who's actually one of the most thoughtful folks in
our Goodreads forum, has this question.
"The Magicians really problematizes the escapism
which fantasy offers its reader.
Its sequel, The Magician King, arguably does the same for
fantasy's idealism.
With those gone, is there anything left?
If it's not really offering a better world or helping people
escape the troubles of this one, what value does fantasy
Well, I don't really think that fantasy is necessarily
about escapism.

Fantasy doesn't tend to present us with ideal worlds.
Just because magic is real in these worlds doesn't mean we
can have whatever we want or that there's no such thing as
loss or pain or death.
I feel like when we leave this world and we enter a fantasy
world, we re-encounter the problems of reality, but in a
transfigured form, which makes them somehow more bearable and
easier to understand.
One of the real models for The Magicians was Watchmen, which
made a colossal impression on me when I read it when it came
out in high school, because I'm so incredibly old.
And that was a book that attacked the conventions of
the superhero story.
Just demolished every single sacred convention of superhero
storytelling that there was.
And in the process, created the greatest superhero story
that had ever been told.
It felt so much realer and stronger and meant so much
more than any comic book I'd ever read before then.
Obviously Magicians is no Watchmen, but it's what I
wanted to do with fantasy.
I wanted to attack some of the basic assumptions of it.
Because when you do that with a genre, it doesn't make the
genre weaker.
Weirdly, it makes it stronger.
TOM MERRITT: But lot of people had this reaction of P Aaron
that's like, well, if you're not providing a message, if
Quentin doesn't have the revelation and learn something
at the end, then what was the point of reading it?
LEV GROSSMAN: Oh, but Quentin does.
Quentin does learn a lot.
I would never say that Quentin doesn't learn anything.
Quentin is himself, he's fixated on the idea, as I
think I was when I was his age, that one day his life was
going to be perfect.
And he was going to, for example, leave this world and
go to a world like Fillory or Narnia.
Somewhere where he had power and where
everything was perfect.
And he truly believes.
He's completely depressed, because he is just sitting
there thinking reality is junk, waiting to go to this
great place, which he knows is going to happen.
And it does.
And it turns out that when he gets there, it's a lot more
complicated than he expected.
And what he learns really is to negotiate between these
fantasies that he has and with the reality that he lives in
and to integrate them and understand them in a more
complicated sort of robust, realistic way.
VERONICA BELMONT: I'm going to jump to another related
question about Quentin from Agatha.
She asks "It seems to me Magicians is almost postmodern
in its approach to genre and characters.
And I was wondering, is Quentin being wrong genre
savvy another aspect of this?
Did it start out that way, trying to explain how a real
person might get the wrong idea about his own place in an
imaginary world?"
LEV GROSSMAN: You know, I started writing The Magicians
in 2004, which was in the gap between I think Order of the
Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince.
And it started with me--
it was almost like fanfiction, just playing what would the
story look like this?
What would a story look like, a Harry Potter-type story look
like, if I set it in America and if I had them swearing and
having sex with each other and doing those things that
teenagers actually do?
And one of the things that I thought was important was that
I wanted Quentin to be a fantasy fan.
I thought it was weird that Harry, when he gets to
Hogwarts, he doesn't seem to have ever
read a fantasy novel.
He hasn't read Tolkien.
TOM MERRITT: Well, he was under the
stairs the whole time.
He didn't do much reading, I guess.
VERONICA BELMONT: Not much room for a library under the
stairs, apparently.
TOM MERRITT: He would have had a lot of time to
read, you're right.
Just not a lot of light.
LEV GROSSMAN: Yeah, yeah.
So I felt like my guy, if we're going to play this real,
the way it really would happen, he would already be a
fantasy fan by the time he gets there.
And as a result, when he goes to this school for magic, he
spends all this time comparing what he's actually
experiencing to what the story of it was like and trying to
figure out how books are different from real life.
TOM MERRITT: Anne has as a question.
Because she's one of the people who I think wanted a
different ending or a different trajectory.
"As someone who was pretty harsh on The Magicians but who
also assumes that Lev Grossman is a nice, possibly funny and
smart person, I would like to know whether he pays any
attention to reviews, positive and negative.
And if he reads any negative reviews, how does
he deal with it?
Does he take the criticism and try to work with it or simply
say, no, I'll do it the way I think is right?"
LEV GROSSMAN: Oh, I do read them.
And it's horrible, because it's very painful reading
reviews by people who didn't like the book.
But it's really important to me.
This book isn't about me.
It's not for me.
I'm not writing it because I think I know best.
This is a book that is shared.
I think novels are shared between writers and readers.
The point of it is not to write something that I love.
The point of it is to send something out into the world
that does something for people.
So I pay a lot of attention to reviews.
And if too many people hate a book, it's not working.
And it's funny, because I know The Magicians
is a divisive book.
It's not like I don't know, The Name of the Wind or
American Gods.
Those are books that it's humanely impossible to
dislike, because there are so great.
The Magicians is a different kind of book.
It's controversial, and its polarizing.
And I don't know that I meant to be that way, but that's how
it came out.
VERONICA BELMONT: Patrick Rothfuss is going to be very
excited that you just said that, by the way.
LEV GROSSMAN: I would say it straight into his face.
VERONICA BELMONT: He is a friend of the show.
And I think he'll be very excited to hear that.
VERONICA BELMONT: So I guess we have to bring it all back
to Narnia in the end.
Is Narnia something that you really find to be your
formative fantasy novel?
Is that something that really affected you growing up?
And is that why so much seems to be built from that world?
Or not built on that world, but it has that spiritual
connection to it.
LEV GROSSMAN: I've never been the same since I read The
Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
when I was eight.
That was just an inflection point for me, when I suddenly
had realized that, I don't know, that I felt as if I
belonged somewhere else.
And I think I've spent the years since then trying to
process that feeling.
And The Magicians is part of me processing that.
It's trying to come to terms with that fact that I feel
like I belong somewhere else, but I'm never going to be
anywhere else.
TOM MERRITT: I was definitely attracted to that part of the
novel as well.
Because I was a huge fan of Narnia growing up as well.
And I had that same sort of struggling with the
realization that, well, there is Narnia that
I've discovered yet.
And I definitely identified with Quentin's troubles in
college and coming to terms with growing and how the world
isn't perfect.
But a lot of the people that I debated with about the novel
said, yeah, but I want that uplifting moment at the end.
I want him to have the realization.
And I think that's what they mean when they say he didn't
learn anything.
And you've totally summed up what I was trying to express
when you say he did learn a lot.
He learned all of these things about the way
life is really like.
What would you say to the people who are like, yeah, but
I wanted an uplifting ending?
Is it just not the book for them?
Or is there some other perspective they
could have on it?
LEV GROSSMAN: Well, if we're going fully spoiler--
We're fully spoilerized, right?
TOM MERRITT: Spoiler zone.
Stop listening now if you don't want to
be spoiled at all.
LEV GROSSMAN: You know, Quentin gets a magical
education, and it's not enough for him.
And he goes to Fillory, and terrible things happen there.
And he gives up magic.
He thinks that he's done.
He's not going to try to be happy.
He's not going to try to have an amazing adventurous life.
He gives it all up and thinks, it's not for me.
It's not going to work.
And then at the very end of the book, he says, no, [BLEEP]
I'm going back.
It's going to hurt.
It's going to be difficult and complicated.
It's going to be so much harder than I thought it was
going to be.
But he goes back.
He heads back into Fillory.
And that's what the book's about.
It's about not giving up, even though things are so much
harder and more painful than you ever thought they were
going to be.
TOM MERRITT: Well, Lev, thank you so much for taking the
time to chat with us and talk with us.
People can follow you on Goodreads.
I know you've got an account there, and you do
postings and updates.
Are there any other resources people can use
to keep up to date?
I have a blog.
I think it feeds into Goodreads.
But there's also a blog at levgrossman.com.
And I tweet.
I'm on Twitter.
I tweet a few times a day.
So you can always find me there.
And my name there is Leverus, as in Severus, except with an
VERONICA BELMONT: I see what you did there.
TOM MERRITT: Excellent.
And we'll be in touch about buying the naming rights to
your new baby.
LEV GROSSMAN: Sure, good stuff.
Thank you.
Lev Grossman's book, The Magicians as well as The
Magician King, available wherever great books are sold.
Thanks everybody for watching.
And don't forget we'll be back with an all new full episode
of Sword and Laser next week right at