Spoilers for the book and televisions series, The Magicians, follow.
Back in 2015, I came across the series, The Magicians, with the first teaser that was released. I was mildly interested by Quentin's magic trick with the cards and added the series to my watchlist. However, it totally slipped out of my mind. It was only after the first season was completely released in 2016 that it got my attention again.
Being a series based on books (by Lev Grossman), I made sure to read the books first. I usually do not prefer adaptations to spoil the books for me (from prior experiences with abysmal adaptations). I started the Magicians trilogy and finished the series over a few weeks. I was taken in by the world and the characters. The story follows the journey of Quentin and his friends, Alice, Julia, Penny, Eliot and Margo as they discover Fillory, a fantasy world from children's novels in the book's world, similar to Narnia, and prepare to take on the Beast.
The book was darker, more realistic take on magic and fantasy. What if our world had magic?! The lead character, Quentin, deals with depression and even after discovering magic, he feels incomplete. But as Elliot points out: "Magic comes from pain."
I started watching the series and watched the first season. By that time, episodes of the second season were being released weekly. I caught up to the storyline of the first book, which kind of aligned with the mid of second season. I liked how they had combined storylines of the first book and the second because there are parallel events happening at the same time. The slight changes to the series gave a new life to the story and the characters seemed to be perfectly cast for their respective roles. But the story progressed to a more depressive tone with the death of Alice and with Julia dealing with the fallout of her abuse, I couldn't continue watching the series. It was too dark for me.
Only recently when I was looking for series to watch I restarted Magicians at the point where I had stopped. This time the fantasy and setting pulled me back. It was then I understood the deeper themes of the series.
Life is not a bed of roses
We take a lot of life for granted. What we have we do not appreciate. We find a way to brood and be sorry for ourselves. We always crave for something better. Not being satisfied with what we have. In a recent podcast of Lex Fridman, where he interviews Joshua Bach, Bach points out that not setting is an important trait of evolution. We are not ready to settle with what we have. We crave for more. This makes us fight for something better, invent the new, innovate. But it is that very same trait that makes us lose appreciation for what we have.
This was the case with Quentin. He never seemed to fit into the real world and is diagnosed with depression. Then when he finds out magic is real, he believe he has found his place. But yet as time goes buy, he feels insecure and questions himself. Is this it or is there something better? Then he finds out that the fantasy world, Fillory, from the books he loved as a child, is real. On making his journey there and later being crowned as a king, he still feels dissatisfied. He somehow finds a way to mess things up or things get messed up for him. Simply put, Magic cannot solve all problems. It is up to us humans to take control of our life and steer it in the direction we want it to go
Q does grow as a character understanding this lesson and appreciating his life. Near the end, he readily sacrifices his life to save his loved one. Coming out of his shell, he grows as a character. I do wish it did not end like that and would have preferred the ending as in the books but the sacrifice goes in line to the character evolution (still did not make me stop wishing he would come back in the final season).
Appreciating the hand dealt to us is the hardest thing we can ever do. We always look at the other side because the grass always seems green. But if we look down at ourselves, at the hand that has been dealt to us, at the grass beneath our feet and truly see, we will understand that we have it much better than most.
Magic in the real world
Magicians is a story about broken people, who through the journey, discover their place in the world. It is grounded in reality. Magic will not solve all our problems. It takes emotional growth and understanding to evolve out from our current position of brooding. Until we learn to truly appreciate what we have and make use of it, we will never be able to get rid of the feeling of despair. Life is a gift to us and most of us are privileged with gifts, which we take for granted.
There is a part in the series where magic is lost. There you see regret in the characters, who took it all for granted. Many of the desperate look for it in trinkets, clinging onto the dregs. They regret for it loss and wish for it to come back.
We are all broken in some way or the other. Filled with regrets, we dwell in the past and let life pass by. What we never accept is that the past cannot be changed. We can only live now and change the future for the better. There is no use wallowing in regrets. We just hold ourselves back from moving forwards.
Gods, in the Magicians, are represented as selfish, playful creatures, who torment humans for their own fun. From their behaviour, they seem to be as petty as the humans, who worship them. There is an occasional benevolent God like Hades or Persephone (Our Lady Underground) and yet you see them lax in their duties, allowing evil to spread, to rightly put, being human. This representation of Gods is interesting and grounded as it brings these immortal beings to the level of humans. At a certain point in the series, they even go to show some of the Gods are humans who attained Godhood by some means.
The first Gods introduced to you in the series, Ember and Umber, the creators of Fillory, themselves represent the direction the series was going with the portrayal of Gods. They also seem so human like, doing petty things like hiding away in the time of need, dumping in the Magic pool just for the sake of it or running Fillory like a TV show.
[Supernatural spoilers] This reminds me of Supernatural's interpretation of God with Chuck and how he also created worlds and kept them around as long as it amused him. He literally watched worlds on the TV, turning them off when he was no longer amused.
This dark, cynical take on cruel Gods is oddly reflective of the world around us. If They do exist, why would They let all this evil thrive. Maybe it is all a test, but if you think about it, this is the root of free will. Divine intervention will merely nullify it.
Fillory is Lev Grossman's take on Narnia. It can be accessed through a clock instead of a wardrobe. There are of course other means like a button, a phonebooth, etc. It is a dark real world created by gods who represent chaos and balance. It has it's own political system with one major rule. The kings and queens have to come from Earth. It seems like a good rule but looking at it closely it seems unfair. An outsider has the right to rule over the native inhabitants. How would you feel if a foreigner could come in at anytime and rule your country?! This is one among the many plays that the gods of Fillory have placed.
Fillory does have it's own fair share of problems with kingdoms in conflict. Again you can see the normal people suffer for the choice made by the monarchy. I see this as a theme, which I believe is reflective of our history. This isn't explored as deeply as possible but they do touch on the subject even through the persecution of indigenous races like the sentient trees, talking animals and fairies.
The Library and Control
The Library is featured in the series as the place that holds a treasure trove of knowledge in the form of books. Not only does it hold normal books but also the books of people, holding their life stories. This does seem to have a certain predestined element to it with the fates of people already written. But it is a Schrodinger's cat situation, until the book is opened it is neither written and already is.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The Library is weaved into the story at crucial points, choosing to observe rather than intervene. Later they do assume a greater role and get control of all Magic.But as with any form of control, that much power corrupts. Even with their good intentions, their means of maintaining it are corrupted. They seem ruthless in their process and one of their Order also plans to become a God so that he can make the world a better place. But in the end, they lose it all. Control cannot exist without chaos and the World needs balance.
Dealing with loss
The penultimate season prepares us for Quentin's passing by showing us that it is not only his story but the story of Alice, Julia, Kady, Eliot, Margo and Penny 23 (Penny from this timeline having passed on to his ultimate task in the Underworld). The first part of final season helps us deal with Quentin's passing through the spirit of young Quentin. I kept hoping for him to come back. There was a finality to his passing but with all this Magic, I believed that he would be resurrected. The journey to accept his loss was taken with the characters, who mourned him and accepted it. This is the hard truth of life. People come into our lives, change it and go away. No one can live forever.
Q had the habit of going back to the beginning of a book when coming close to the end. He did not want the story to end. But he goes on to explain that every story has to end so that a new chapter, a new book can begin. So, do not consider the end as absolute but as a new beginning. Ironically, I did it with Magicians itself. As soon as the series ended, I re-watched it from the beginning, reliving the time when Q discovers magic and Fillory and fights the Beast. I had this habit with the Harry Potter novels. but as I watched it again, I completed the loop and made peace with the story. Now it was time to move on. Make my own story.
The musical numbers are some of the best part of the series. Each and every song is perfectly reflective of the moment. Some of the songs were stuck in my head for so long after watching the series. Somehow they transcended the series and added a whole other layer to it. I almost didn't write about it but it would have felt incomplete. The one that truly stayed with me was Margo tripping on lizard in the desert. Such a perfect ensemble.
I wanted to write more about the evolution of the characters, of how they learn to accept loss and deal with it, evolve to become better people. They are flawed but that's just being human. In watching this series, I learned more about myself, about the reality of things, about appreciating what was given to me and making the best use of it.
Every day I slip in and out of this zone of regret. I forget what I had learnt and understood and sometimes seem to wallow in the thoughts of the past. These times with restrictions to going out does not seem to help. But through this series, I understand it is ok to feel like this. There are days where we are down but we can always rise up to be better, stronger. Live. Like Osho said, you have to be aware in every moment. When you lose awareness, do not wallow or regret for that moment, for that is in the past. Be in the present. Change the now. Repeat until it becomes as easy as breathing.