The Magicians Is a Master Class in Book Adaptation
At first glance Syfy’s new show The Magicians, which can be described as “Harry Potter goes to college,” might seem like just another story about young heroes with supernatural powers. But over the course of its first season the show slowly reveals itself as something strange and unexpected. Fantasy author Melinda Snodgrass calls the show, based on a series of novels by Lev Grossman, a master class in adaptation.
“It was fascinating to be reading the book while I was watching the show, and seeing the choices that the showrunners had made that I thought were really smart and just took this whole series up a level,” Snodgrass says in Episode 199 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I can’t wait for it to come back.”
Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley was particularly taken by a scene in the pilot episode in which a spell goes horribly wrong, summoning a mysterious monster.
“I really thought the climactic scene where the Beast shows up was just one of the most riveting things I’ve ever seen committed to television,” he says.
The show can sometimes feel uneven though. Pop culture critic Andrew Liptak says that too many episodes feel disconnected from the larger story.
“There’s a whole stretch in the middle of the season where they just go through the standalone episode thing, and I wasn’t quite sure if I liked the show at that point,” he says. “But once the show started getting darker, that’s when it really started to pay off.”
And The Magicians gets very dark by its season finale, which features a string of shocking twists that have outraged some viewers. But Snodgrass praises the show for doing the unexpected.
“I never thought they would go as dark as they did,” she says. “That was quite powerful.”
Listen to our complete interview with Melinda Snodgrass and Andrew Liptak in Episode 199 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Andrew Liptak on the novel The Magicians:
“It was a book that I read when I was a little bit out of college, and it was one of those things that really struck me. I identified pretty closely with some of the characters, even though they were kind of horrible. … I liked how Grossman had set up a magical academy, and did it in a slightly different direction than Harry Potter had gone. It felt modern, it was a little more realistic—at least as realistic as a fantasy novel about a magical college can be—and I liked how these kids basically said, ‘Well, adventure’s not going to find us, so let’s go to this fantasy world and find it.’ And they also find that magic is really dangerous. It’s not this cutesy thing that they just get to cast spells with, but there’s really devastating consequences.”
Melinda Snodgrass on geeks:
“One of my favorite moments is the scene in which Penny is trapped and he’s trying to get a message to Quentin, and he invades Quentin’s dream where Quentin is Indiana Jones and one of the girls is Daenerys from Game of Thrones and the other is Princess Leia, and he’s like, ‘OK, you are the nerd king.’ I thought that was just a gorgeous moment, and it was lovingly done. As a big major geek who’s loved all this stuff my whole life, I didn’t feel disrespected by it. I thought it was just a great moment. And I felt like that was actually a moment where the two men began to have an understanding of each other, and start to like each other a little better.”
Andrew Liptak on the season finale:
“That whole sequence is right out of the books, and I was a little surprised they went there, especially for a primetime television show. It was also one of those instances where a lot of readers I’ve spoken to have been really disturbed by it, that it went to that length. … I’m still not quite sure what I think of it. … One of the main things that a lot of female readers have pointed out—I think correctly—is that [Grossman’s] male characters never face the same consequences as the female ones do, and there’s really this disparity between them. … I thought his response to it was—I was satisfied by it, but I know of some people who heard it and were like, ‘Well, I don’t really buy it.’”
Melinda Snodgrass on wizards:
“If magic were real, why aren’t they doing something? If you look at Harry Potter, they can grow fabulous gardens. Well why is there mass starvation? Why aren’t the wizards and witches doing something? … If our fantasy world exists, we have people who can affect the weather, who can make it rain, who can make plants grow. … You always run up against the problem of, if magic is real, why isn’t everybody who is a magic-user rich and gorgeous and happy, or doing something for the world? … You always run up against the question of ‘Why aren’t they doing more?’ If this is real, where is it present in the world?”
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