With the publication of The Magician's Land on August 5, Time magazine book critic Lev Grossman wrapped up his bestselling Magicians trilogy. PW talked with the author about developing character, the ever-evolving fantasy genre, and what life after the Magicians looks like.
In The Magicians, Quentin Coldwater is a high school senior; in The Magician's Land, he is 30 years old. What was it like aging a character over three books?
I very definitely wanted to write something about what it’s like to be a wizard in your 20’s. We tend to see magicians when they’re fresh young teenagers, and when they’re senior citizens with long beards, but we don’t see them in that crucial part of early adulthood when they’re finding their paths and figuring out what they’re doing with their lives. That was a tough time for me personally -- when I was in my 20s I was as lost and as down as I’ve ever been. I wanted to look at that struggle through the lens of fantasy.
The first book in the trilogy, The Magicians, was released in 2009. Since then, fantasy has really come to the forefront, both in terms of YA and adult titles. How did that affect your writing experience, and how do you see the genre evolving in the years to come?
I think fantasy's been at the forefront for a while now -- at least since I started working on The Magicians, which was ten years ago now. By then we had Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, His Dark Materials, Eragon, Twilight, American Gods, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell…it was everywhere. In terms of my writing experience, it was the first time I felt like I and the rest of the world were speaking the same language. This was my mother tongue, and suddenly there was a mass audience for it. That was the breakthrough for me. As for the future, I have no idea where fantasy is going, but it’s evolving like crazy. People are doing incredible things with fantasy—wild things, things nobody has ever tried before. It’s a good time to be a fantasy fan.
You are also a critic. In what ways does your role as a journalist inform your role as a novelist, and vice versa?
The two roles interact less than you’d think. As a critic I have a great vantage point from which to watch what’s happening in fiction. It helps my writing a lot. You pick up a lot of good influences that way. As for vice versa, my journalism puts me in contact with a lot of people outside the books world. Engineers, people who actually build things. It keeps me in contact with reality, which is a good thing for a fantasy writer.
Now that you've completed the series, what's next?
Whenever I finish a novel I think: aha, I get it now, I know how to write books. I was doing it wrong before, but this time it’s going to be easy. I’ll get it right, first try. And now I’m onto my next book and I’m floundering all over again. I forgot how hard it is. You fall right down to the bottom of the ladder again.