Monday, June 14, 2010

B&B: The Magicians and The Mold

So to recap, God created us in His own image, so we, in turn, have this insatiable desire to Create things in our own image. The Gods themselves, those that were made by the Greek citizens in the polytheistic societies, were ones that had affairs, were greedy, lustful, and did all that mankind would do, but on a supernatural level. They were made in our own image, partially to justify our own behaviors, and also to entertain us of people much more powerful than us that control our universe. That they ultimately fall, and are consumed by those emotions, turning demigods into trees and fair maidens into spiders, those are stories made up to bring the perfect down off their pedestals and make them like us. Just as Joan Osborne did in her song.

This also applies to the rich and famous in today's world. The fall of the mighty off of the pedestals that we made for them (and consequently, tore down), is similar to the stories the ancient Greeks would have made about the Gods on Mt. Olympus. That our "Gods" live in "The White House," or play on "Pebble Beach Golf Course" is immaterial. They do the same thing, from supernatural and society-moving activities to the very human and very base actions of following their own hormones and emotions.

But I digress. Let's switch subjects.


Take a gander over at Google Earth, and walk down the streets on maps that are intricately carved out by satellites speeding across the sky taking pictures of every square millimeter of our planet. Everything is so precise, so final. It lacks the emotional response of the maps made back in the middle ages, where you see the edges of the maps fall off into whiteness, filled with strange creatures, sea dragons, people with one foot and one large eyeball. Those are the frontiers that we still yearn to explore. They could not know what lay beyond the cities and roads they traveled, so they made it up. Created the edges of our worlds with their imaginations, or with stories and rumors from across Europe. What excitement to extend the boundaries that are known, and drawn the coast lines farther, as if some 6 year old with a crayon were creating it from some mystical place. (Actually, there is a book like that. Pick up Harold and the Purple Crayon sometime. It'll only take a second, but it's a magnificent book that shows the idea of "Creating" so simply and elegantly.)

The authors of the present, since the real world is now shown in satellite preciseness and clarity, must create worlds of their own. The maps that you find in the beginning of books are worlds that you will be visiting in those pages. What is the town of "Bree" like on the map of Tolkien's LOTR? How would the world of Narnia look standing at the thrones of the 4 kings and queens? These worlds are as real to us as the maps of the middle ages showed those magnificent creatures swimming at the edges of the unknown. Except the authors of modern day fantasy stories have an advantage. The world is theirs to create entirely. They are the God of that universe, and they can control everything. Such is the mold of every fantasy novel. Much like the potter, spinning his clay on a wheel to make a vase (cue "Unchained Melody"), or a baker kneading the dough out to make bread (with cheese and Rosemary). They all are creating something from a mold, much as God did Adam out of the mud of the riverbank in Eden.

These molds, drawn in intricate detail by each author, are now just as real to us as an atlas of our own Earth. We know what Middle Earth looks like, or Narnia. We know where Hagrid's house is, off to the side of Hogwarts School of Wizardry. And when we read a new book, with a familiar map on the inside of it's cover, we know that we are in for adventures with dragons and elves and dwarfs and whatever else that the creator, the author, has thrown in.

The key to this is our Suspension of Disbelief. We cannot descend into this other world until we have put on pause the belief that this reality is the only one that exists. We have to replace God with "Author" and our universe with another. One good example of this, in story form, is C.S. Lewis' book The Silver Chair, part of the Narnia series. The underground world is one that the witch created, but there are other worlds that we only get a glimpse at, which are farther down and even more strange.

Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman.

Lev Grossman took the mold that Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling had kneaded into their universes, and threw them at the real world. He is very aware that, seeing the map on the inside cover of the book, that we are expecting something along the lines of the Narnia series. He knows that, by suggesting a school of wizardry, we are expecting a Harry Potter knock off that will ultimately end in the main character, Quentin Coldwater, saving the universe and blah blah blah... But this is not what happens at all. Because along with the molds of those lands, he throws in the gritty reality of our world. There is no disbelief to suspend at the beginning since Quentin is more interested in sleeping with Julia than studying Potions with Professor Snape. He reads the same pseudo-Narnian stories that we have, and his continued wish for that world to be true is somewhat pitiful. We pity this brilliant outcast, this boy full of teenage angst and self-loathing. We see too much of ourselves in this child.

There is no "Happily Ever After" in this book. Mainly because there is no happily ever after in real life. Things happen. People die. Hearts are broken. And very rarely is everything tied up into neat little packets like the endings of Full House episodes. It's much like the end of Law & Order, where very little is resolved and you're left feeling like you've run into a brick wall. But unlike L&O, this book does have a sequel, coming out Summer of 2011.

The section of the book where Quentin is in Brakebills School is my favorite part, if nothing else than because it is filled with such potential. The mold at this point is raw, unfashioned. The characters could be much more filled out by this time; they are mere shadows of what they could be. And while some people will not like this, it's the potential for what they could become that fascinates me. It leaves the imagination open to what this school would really be like, if I lived in it and became a part of it. It's the calm before the chaos that I see so much in books recently. The place where you most want to live, the place where you reluctantly leave because, if you didn't, there wouldn't be a story. It's this section of a book that gives the author a chance to shine. Grossman doesn't fulfill this need as well as someone like Orson Scott Card would, with brilliant dialogue and conversation. He is learning, however. Even at the end of the story there is much more depth in each soul.

Like many of the books Borders has promoted recently, this book is not perfect. It has its flaws and its moments of shining glory. Lev Grossman has done what many authors have done previously, what God did so many eons ago. He created a world with so much potential, but also with the imperfections that make it unique, make it interesting, almost human. If the twists of the normal fantasy world is of interest, try Stephen R. Donaldson's Mirror of Her Dreams and John Connolly's Book of Lost Things.
The next in this series will talk about the need to Make (create) versus the desire to Unmake (destroy). As for now, I'm gonna enjoy my new AC unit I have in my room.

No comments:

Post a Comment