Novel ‘The Magicians’ successfully explores toxic culture of educational institutions

Peter Cox, Assistant Editor

“The Magicians” explores themes of inadequacy and depression through classic tropes of fantasy fiction (Didier Massard)

Burnout, perfectionism and general unhappiness are currently frequently discussed topics in many academic environments, but an interesting reflection on these themes can be found in “The Magicians.” Published in 2009 by author Lev Grosman, it parodies the young adult adventurer novel series many are familiar with from their childhoods and follows Quentin Coldwater, a gifted high schooler from Brooklyn who is deeply unhappy with his life until he gets invited to a mysterious magic college.

High schoolers will find “The Magicians” instantly relatable, and its exploration of adolescent disillusionment and the toxic culture of elite education institutions particularly will strike a chord with overworked Lab students who feel like there is something missing in their lives.   

Mr. Grosman flips conventions of the genre on their head: going to his new school doesn’t solve all of Quentin’s problems; in fact, most of them remain the same.

Even though he has his dream life, Quentin still is not happy. He finds a partner and graduates from his magical college and begins life as a full magician, with the power to achieve almost anything, yet he can’t find anything to do with his life and drifts deeper into depression and substance abuse. 

Alice, Quentin’s girlfriend says, “Look at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there’s nothing else. It’s here and you’d better decide to enjoy it or you’re going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever.”

“The Magicians” articulates its message of accepting yourself and your life, while never sacrificing the quality of the plot. The book is just over 400 pages and is available in the Pritzker Traubert Family Library, many bookstores and online.