Fans of Lev Grossman’s bestselling novels The Magicians and The Magician King, which follow the adventures of Quentin Coldwater in the fantasy land of Fillory, have been waiting for more details on The Magician’s Land, the upcoming third book in the series. Omnivoracious decided to interview Grossman about the new book, and the series in general. His answers give readers some teasing glimpses of the novel—and two short excerpts!
Amazon.com: How long now have you been living with the characters from this series, and does it get easier to write about this world over time?
Lev Grossman: I started writing The Magicians in mid-2004. So these characters have been around for (pause while writer tries to do math) nine years. Except for the Beast. He arrived in a dream in 1996.
Writing about them gets both easier and harder. Easier because I know the characters and the world very well. I don't have to think about how they would behave: I just know. But it's harder, too, because the best stuff always comes when the characters and the world surprise me. Julia for example—I truly never knew what she would do next, or where she would turn up, but whatever and wherever it was, it was always exciting. And occasionally appalling. But never dull. Can these characters keep on surprising me forever, now that I know them this well? I don’t know. But just to be safe I’m going to quit before they stop.
Amazon.com: Did you have an inkling of a third book in mind when you wrote The Magicians?
Grossman: I didn’t even have an inkling of a second book when I wrote The Magicians. I had no idea if anybody would want to publish it. So I didn’t want to jinx things by even thinking about a sequel, let alone a third book. But once I started writing The Magician King, the core idea for The Magician's Land arrived pretty quickly after that. I wasted a lot of time doubting myself and trying out alternatives, but in the end it wouldn’t be denied.
Amazon.com: Although of course book two continued the story of The Magicians, it also seemed like a departure—not the same thing served up again. Can you give us some idea of how different this third book will be? And what excites you about writing it?
Grossman: My attention span is too short to tell the same kind of story twice. I just can’t do it. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m like everyone else: if I find a bunch of characters I want to hang out with, and a world I want to hang out in, I don’t want the author to throw them out and start over with the next book. But you’re right, The Magician King was a different kind of story from The Magicians, and The Magician’s Land will be different from either of them.
You could think of the first book as a sort of coming-of-age novel, along the lines of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Magician King as an epic patterned after The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I don’t know how to label the third book, but it’s neither of those. I keep coming back to the phrase “rich and strange,” but that’s not really a genre, is it? I can tell you what the Narnian antecedents are: The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle. (Which are, of course, the story of the creation of Narnia and the story of its destruction.) Whatever those are, that’s what The Magician’s Land is going to be.
Amazon: Could you give us an inkling of how book three starts?
Grossman: I can tell you exactly how it starts. It starts back at Brakebills—I really missed writing about a magic school, so I took the action back there. We’re reading about a new character, a senior named Plum, who’s planning some harmless mischief. But Plum is hiding a dark secret. Obviously nothing could possibly go wrong here.
Amazon.com: Is there a phrase or sentence you could provide—perhaps even an excerpt from your draft—that would be suitably mysterious and teasing and yet, to you, to speak to something important about the novel?
Grossman: Having massively overthought this question, I wound up with two different excerpts that I can’t seem to choose between. I'm not sure either of them tells you anything important, but here they are.
One is about a Brakebills student named Wharton and his remarkable pencils:
"Wharton’s personal pencils really were remarkable pencils: olive green, and made from some oily, aromatic wood that released a waxy aroma reminiscent of distant exotic rainforest trees. Instead of the usual fleshy pink the erasers were a light-devouring black, and they were bound in rings of a dull-grey brushed steel that looked too industrial and high-carbon for the task of merely containing erasers. He kept them in a flat silver case like a cigarette case, which also contained (in its own crushed-velvet nest) a sharp little knife that he used to keep them sharpened to wicked points."
The other passage is about Quentin discovering that he has undergone a subtle, mysterious transformation:
"Quentin snuffed the candle out and lit it again. The light that played around his hands as he worked the spell was a little more intense than it would have been a week ago. In the darkness of his room he could see that the colors were shifted a bit toward the violent, violet end of the spectrum. The power came more easily, and it buzzed a little harder and louder in his fingers."
Amazon.com: Those are certainly evocative! Can you imagine writing further books in this series, or is there a sense of finality now?
Grossman: It really is my full and total intention to end the series here. But I’m sure Ursula K. Le Guin thought that when she finished the Earthsea trilogy. If I had another good idea for this world, I wouldn’t let it go to waste. But Quentin’s story will be over.