Tuesday, March 22, 2016

"The Magicians": Grossman's novel on SyFy comes across as a combination of "Harry Potter" and "Smallville"


I heard discussion of the fantasy novel “The Magicians”, by Lev Grossman, at a book club in Arlington VA last night, with the comment that there is a waiting list for the book at the county library, odd to hear in the age of Amazon.

So I checked the StFy Channel (and Showcase) series by that name, and watched the pilot, “Unauthorized Magic”, directed by Mike Cahill, written by Sera Gamble and John McNamara, which had premiered Dec. 15, 2015.  It is not easy to keep up with everything. The Pilot runs about 80 minutes with commercials.

The premise is simple enough.  A young man, graduating from Columbia in New York City, gets invited to apply to a prestigious graduate school, a bit mysterious.  It turns out to be a modern Hogwarts, a school in magic.  So is the idea to make up a Harry Potter for young adults?
The grad student is Quentin Coldwater, played by Jason Ralph, who, for better or worse, fits a cultural idea of an attractive young adult white male with ancestors from pre-Saxon England.  (So did Tm Welling as Clark Kent, when Tom was younger.) When we walks into the campus, he doesn’t realize he has been teleported to upstate New York (maybe Sullivan County) for the campus.  The “entrance exams” are interesting.  The questions keep changing (but that could be done with electronics anyway).  It seems he has to work some calculus problems – maybe some integration by partial fractions.  I thought, they could have cast Deven Ware from Stanford AoPS (the math problem solving team) for this part.  Quentin soon meets a tall student named Elliot (Hale Appleman) who, unfortunately, impersonates a young version of the X-Files’s Cigarette-Smoking-Man.

Later we learn that students who fail have their memories of the place wiped (the way it is for surgery with general anesthesia – “boohoo”).  But Quentin prevails, getting very good at card tricks art first. So what, he could go to Las Vegas and get thrown out for counting cards (like in the 2008 movie “21”).

There are some behavior restrictions.  Quentin has to turn in his meds, as a crutch, like I did at NIH in 1962, and then again in Army Basic in 1968.  The Dean says otherwise he would be like a diabetic eating sugar pills.


Other ideas come up, some cosmetically disturbing.  One is that you can open a door with a forearm tattoo as an encrypted key.  Is body art going to become a mandatory part of security biometrics?

There is an eye removal and a decapitation in the last scene; where does it go?

Still this series has its own world, different from Potter, different from “Imajica” (which I hope is getting made now, maybe in New Zealand).

As for powers, I;ve actually seen "them" at least once -- instant self-teleportation or "speed".  Can't explain it.

The official site is here.

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