As Lev Grossman celebrates the August release of The Magician’s Land, the final volume in his Magicians trilogy, and Deborah Harkness celebrates the July release of The Book of Life, the final volume in her All Souls trilogy, the two credit the zeitgeist, as well as the skills they honed in their demanding day jobs for their successes.
Grossman, who calls his novels “literary fantasy,” says that he has always maintained a “very powerful attachment” to the classic fantasy novels he grew up reading, but as he aged, he says, he became conscious that the fantasy novels that he most loved did not address issues relevant to him as an adult. He subsequently decided to write a novel and “leave in all the things that YA writers leave out.” Thus, protagonist Quentin Coldwater and his friends and enemies “drink, smoke, swear, have sex, [and] get depressed” as they ponder the meaning of life while navigating between the real world and the alternate universe of Fillory. Although The Magicians pays homage to both the Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter series, his two young children, Grossman says with a laugh, “won’t be reading my books for a long time.”
Although Harkness, a history professor, was also inspired by a book to write what became the All Souls trilogy, her experience was much more serendipitous. While browsing an airport gift shop in Mexico in 2008, Harkness says, she encountered “a wall of books about paranormal creatures”: a Twilight series display. “My 16th-century subjects would have been completely at home with this wall of books,” she muses, “and the covers make it look as if these [characters] are having a great time. In the 16th century, such characters wouldn’t have had such a great time. I wondered, how could the modern world support such creatures?” What Harkness started writing as one epic novel became A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life. “I knew from the start how the beginning worked, how the middle worked, and how the end worked,” she says, laughing as she recalled the enormous size of that first draft.
Harkness’s double life as a scholar and a novelist have overlapped: an English professor from Hood College recently presented a conference paper to the Rocky Mountain Medieval and Renaissance Association deconstructing Harkness’s novels.
Join Grossman and Harkness, 2–3 p.m., today, in Room 1E02, for their panel, “This World and Beyond: A Conversation about Fiction and Fantasy.”