The Magicians : The Series

I was naturally thrilled when I learned that The Magicians was going to be turned into a TV show. To be honest, I’m rarely as skeptical as I should be when the books I enjoy get put on the screen. I get swept up in the excitement, and then often get let down when the reality doesn’t live up to my expectations. With that in mind, how did the sneak peek of the first episode go?

Age Before Beauty

In the books, Brakebills is presented as a magical college — students attend it right after high school (with one or two exceptions). In the show, Brakebills is a graduate school — students attend after successful completion of an undergrad degree. Does that really matter? I’m leaning towards “Yeah, but not a whole lot”.

It’s made very clear in the books that in order to become a proper magician, one of the many traits you need is a certain unhappiness with the world. You have to be so out of tune with the status quo that magic is the only answer. Of the many magicians we meet, almost all are at least a little eccentric, and not in a good way. Many of them are seriously unstable or dysfunctional.

This extends to the main characters in the series, pretty much all of whom are deeply fucked up. It’s understandable that high school graduates, even very smart ones, would have all sorts of problems, but it seems less plausible that someone with that many issues could both successfully complete a four year degree, and not mature at all during the process. Can it happen? Absolutely. Hell, it happened to me. I just think it’s a lot more believable when the characters are younger.

So why did SyFy make this change? Maybe they were uncomfortable with the large amounts of underage sex, drinking, and drug use. But hell, The Vampire Diaries has got away with a lot worse, with younger characters. Will this make a big difference? Probably not, but I’d be happier if they stuck more closely to the book.

Extreme Home Makeover : Brakebills Edition

The impression I got of Brakebills from the books never seemed large enough. It was described, unless I’m very much mistaken, as a single building that was large enough to house a hundred students, assorted faculty, classrooms, offices, study areas, a library, and even a dining hall. I had a very hard time visualizing one building which could hold all that. Maybe that’s just my issue, though.

At any rate, the Brakebills depicted in the show doesn’t have that problem — I can easily believe that it could hold all those rooms. I just can’t believe that it’sBrakebills. In the book, Brakebills is an ancient building straight out of Tom Brown’s School Days — it was built and furnished as an conscious imitation of British schools from the 18th or 19th century, but it’s old enough to be considered a genuine heritage building, and hasn’t been touched since.

The show gets some of this right — the classrooms are done well. The library, on the other hand, is kind of awful. It’s a nice library, but it’s what you’d expect from a community library built in the early 2000s. The dorm rooms aren’t very good either. Not only are they relatively modern looking and generic, they’re double rooms — students have to share. It’s a departure from the book, and I have a very hard time picturing any grad student, or any other 22 year old, being willing to put up with that, even it was the only way to study magic. To be honest, it seems like a cheap way to introduce drama and conflict into the story.

The housing issue actually crops up again, which is kind of a bad sign. In the books, most (but not all) groups of students have their own clubhouses, which are used for studying, parties, and seminars. Towards the end of their time at Brakebills, Quentin and Alice informally move into a spare bedroom in their clubhouse. In the show, every group has a clubhouse, and every second year student moves into it. I’m not going to say that the show is dumbing it down, but this definitely seems like unnecessary streamlining.

You’re A Wizard, Harry

One of the things that everyone seems to love about these books is that it presents magic as being really hard. Only a few hundred students every year even get the opportunity to take the Brakebills entrance exam, and only the top 20 are accepted. These are probably the 20 smartest people on the continent, at least in that age group, and yet even they have an incredibly hard time learning to do magic. This stands in stark contrast to Harry Potter, where magic is so easy that even Hagrid can do it.

I understand that the show can’t give us hours upon hours of classroom scenes, and no one wants to spend an entire episode watching Quentin practice moving his fingers, but so far The Magicians seems to be going too far in the other direction. In the first episode we get :

  1. A character who can just naturally read minds
  2. First year students who just sort of unintentionally float in the air while having sex
  3. A bunch of first year students more-or-less successfully carrying out a very advanced, very dangerous ritual without any guidance from faculty.

“If You Want To Take Over The World, We Don’t Teach That, But Give It A Go”

I had to quote that line in its entirety because I have a huge problem with it. I grant that it doesn’t technically contradict the letter of the books, but it definitely contradicts their spirit.

On the face of it, Brakebills in the books teaches you how to do magic, and that’s it. There are no magical ethics classes (although there really should be), and the staff doesn’t make any effort to stop students from doing magic when they visit home.

First published here: The Magicians : The Series

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