“The Magicians”: Book versus TV


I recently finished reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman, the first installment of an adult fantasy trilogy following the story of Quentin Coldwater when he discovers that he could become a magician.

The whole thing is very Harry Potter-y; Quentin receives an envelope that takes him to a college where he takes a magical admissions test. He is admitted into the college (Brakebills) and begins his five-year program into becoming a magician. The plot follows Quentin’s time as a student, the people/friends he makes, his experiences at Brakebills, and the aftermath of graduation. To be honest, this was the first fantasy book I’ve read in a long long time, and I’m so glad that I chose this.

Now, I came into this series the opposite of how I usually do—through the television series. It wasn’t even until I had really paid attention to the opening credits that I saw that the show was based on a book series, and I gotta say, both are good. Even though they say the book is always better than the film, I thought the book was a little boring compared to the television series.

Yes, in television, the writers/directors/whoever have some liberty in the storylines that are presented or amplified because you need to keep the audience interested. And, in a book, you have more time to ponder the thoughts and list the details of a scene because the reader obviously can’t see what’s happening. But when comparing the two, the television series expands (I’ll just focus on the first season since I’ve only read the first book) other storylines and adds characters that the book doesn’t.

For one, Julia’s character in the book is practically nonexistent. She’s the classic female secondary (barely) character; she’s Quentin’s friend and the unobtainable love interest for him. Julia shows up at the beginning of the book, in one scene sort of in the middle, and at the very end. But in the television series, we get to see the pain and torment she goes through as she deals with her exposure to magic and then being not accepted into Brakebills. She becomes a multifaceted character that the viewer cares about and sees why she’s so important to Quentin and to the overall plot.

Another problem that I had with the book is Quentin. I found the written character to be a dick, especially when he cheats on Alice and doesn’t really see a problem with it. He irritated me so much and for the book to only follow his story, it was hard to read at some points. Maybe that was just the effects of Grossman’s amazing ability to write a character who you kinda despise, or maybe he truly captured the negative decisions of someone just being human; either way, it didn’t stop me from reading.

For the show, I found Jason Ralph’s (the actor) portrayal of Quentin to be much more digestible and empathetic. Plus, he’s just a great actor as well. Since the show focuses on more than his point of view, that decision could have altered my perception or may have allowed me to not become sick of being in his head.

Both do a great job of building a fantastical world with both good and evil creatures. The Beast is equally as terrifying and intriguing in both, but I do wish the character popped up more in the book. It would have built more tension and instilled more fear, since the eventual climax and villain revelation involves him. However, the show fixes this problem as it revolves more around his appearance and, well, I believe more terror and destruction (and death?) is shown.

So, what am I getting at? Would I recommend you read it? 

Yes. If you need a gritty and adultlike version of a Harry Potter, then read The Magicians. But, I would recommend even more that you watch the television show.

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