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The Magicians Explained, Part 1

In this little Diddy we go over episodes 1 through 3 of the first season.

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Hey there everyone, this is Chris. This is going to be an overview of Season 01 of The Magicians. For those of you new to the channel, I take shows and movies based on books, and compare and contrast them to the source material.

Not to prove one or the other is better, but so that I can fill you in on plot points and background info that might be left out for various reasons, good and bad.

Oh and don’t forget to subscribe to the channel so you won’t miss any of my future videos, and click the notification icon to join the notification squad, and be the first to know of a new video.

I’m going to quickly go each episode and highlight key moments and characters that are different in the show than the book. In this video we’ll cover episodes 1 - 3. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get into it!

Episode 1

Meetings in the park

Yeah, this wasn’t in the books at all, and actually goes against one of the main conceits in the novels, namely that there is no “chosen one”, not really. They all have their parts to play, and only through working together are they able to make any positive movements.

Recasting the story as a hero’s journey is well trodden ground, and usually fine, but one of the things that made these books stand apart was the fact that it wasn’t the standard fare in this regard, so not a fan.

Mental Health

So, one of the threads that can be seen in the novels, is not only Quentin’s struggle with depression, but really all of the main characters. At one point it is even suggested that, at least in the beginning, having a fractured psyche is necessary for the working of magic.

With that being said, having Quentin in a mental institution was created for the show. Unlike the previous change, I rather like this one. TV is a medium of show, don’t tell, and with only 13 episodes in a season, the writers don’t have the luxury of slow playing the introduction of Quentin’s emotional issues.

Having this moment easily establishes that he is dealing with very real issues, at least to the mundane world, and makes his reactions to the magical world he is about to enter all the more impactful. So, well done writer type people, well done.

Everyone’s Age

All of the main characters, from the members of the Scooby Gang, Eliot, Margo, Alice, Julia and Quentin, to the Chatwin children, have been aged up quite a bit. In the novels Quentin, Alice and Julia are all around 17 when the story begins and they test at Brakebills, and the Chatwin children are all between the ages of 5 and 10.

I think it makes a certain amount of sense to age up the magician characters, making Brakebills a graduate school as opposed to a college, since the themes are way more adult than is sometimes comfortable when they are being played out by a 17 year old.

It also will help as the story unfolds, since eventually the magician characters are all in their 30’s, if they stick with the established timelines, and it’s easier to make that believable when you start with 20 somethings, as opposed to 17 years olds.

Enter Brakebills

This is a pretty massive change from the novels. The trip to the alumni representative was Quentin and James, Julia wasn’t involved. I actually like it better that she was there, since it gave us a clear picture of the dynamic between them, which was sorely lacking in the novels.

While that is nice and all, what it really allowed us to see is how Julia is brought to Brakebills for the entrance exam. In the novel Quentin thinks he sees her there, but they never meet, it isn’t confirmed until much later that she was there as well, and what happened.

It’s interesting how they handle Julia not getting into Brakebills in the show as opposed to the novels. In the novels she basically blows the exam by getting to caught up in everything. The strange, wonderfulness of it all, and as such isn’t able to focus on what is actually happening.

Contrast this to the show, where her admission or lack thereof is a planned change to an established timeline by Jane, and you get two very different contexts and resolutions. In the show she is a victim of circumstances outside of her control, in the novels she is the architect, unwittingly or not, of her own fall.

Oh and chatting with Jane about The Beast after Quentin did his first bit of magic? Completely made up for the show.

Time to Shine

This was an interesting moment for me, Quentin’s first magic class. In the novels he is called on first to demonstrate magic, and given he doesn’t know any real magic yet, grabs the glass ball and does sleight of hand magic, to great effect and the love of his peers.

Then the professor asks Alice up and she lays down some serious stuff. It was meant to show how little Quentin knew, and how far behind his peers he really was, but in our new Quentin is the chosen one view of The Magicians, this moment really doesn’t play well. What is still did in this version of the story was to illustrate Alice’s apartness.

Not only is she demure, withdrawn and introverted, but she is demonstrably more powerful and knowledgeable than her peers, which is another way of alienating someone.

Julia’s invitation

God, I really hate this. They have basically removed all agency from her character, which sucks. They have made her into the consummate victim, and for no reason. In the novels she enters the magical underground scene by sheer force of will, a goodly amount of rage and brilliance.

To take that all away, and yet again make her a victim, this time of an attempted sexual assault, is just crap. Julia’s arch in the novels is one of my favorites, precisely because of her determination and motivation. Did she make terrible decisions, and abuse herself mentally and physically? Yes, but she was the architect of it, for better or worse, not just the victim of it.

It’s just frustrating.

A little Night Reading
Finally the end of this episode was not found in the novels. Alice did not come to Brakebills to investigate what happened to her brother, at least not as a primary goal. She was there because she was a magician, born from magicians.

What’s interesting to me, is that Alice in the novels had very little personal motivation and agency, she kind of just went along with the flow of things, which always felt odd to me. With that said, I don’t mind her having this new found reason for her presence at Brakebills. Giving her a mission, a purpose outside of what is expected of her is great.

The seance though, that’s a bit weird. Again this is another instance of Jane messing with Quentin, which has no parallel in the books. That’s not to say that Jane doesn’t mess with Quentin and rest of the Scooby Gang, she does, just not in this overt way.

In the novels the entry into the world of Brakebills that The Beast exploits is caused by Quentin screwing around with a professor, and it happens after he has been there for a while, not you know, after his first day.

One of the things that writers adapting novels to the screen, whether small or large, have to contend with is what should they leave in, what should they leave out, and what should the compress, from a time perspective.

The Magicians books are especially tricky with this, since the first novel covers 4 - 5 years, and they don’t even make it to Fillory in that book. I think the writers have done a pretty admirable job of walking this tight rope, especially with season 1.

The Beast Attacks

This is mostly played out as it was in the novels, with a few important exceptions. Firstly, only one person dies or is injured while The Beast is there, a student who apparently throws off whatever spell is keeping them all still, and tries to attack The Beast. For her troubles, she is literally eaten alive.

Secondly, When he arrives, The Beast basically seals the room magically, making it impossible for anyone to get in, including Dean Fogg. Given this fact, all the action with The Beast taking his eyes, etc is entirely added for the show.

And lastly, the end where The Beast recognized Quentin. As I mentioned earlier, in the novels Quentin isn’t really the special, anointed, chosen, hero guy. So there isn’t any reason for The Beast to know about him, where he is or his name.

Okay, that’s it for Episode 1, now, on to Episode 2!

Episode 2

The Beast Continued

Quentin teleporting the watch to his hand, and it breaking the paralysis spell was all new for the show as well. In the novels Quentin’s specialty is eventually discovered to be minor mendings, meaning he is good at putting things back together, which upon inspection isn’t really a good skill for your hero to have.

And all the bits with the students fighting The Beast, that was just not happening. It’s not even a question of punching below his weight class, they don’t even know the sport. He is as near to a god as one can get without actually being one, at least in the source material.

Hedge Witches

This whole sequence wasn’t in the novels either, and fundamentally changes the character of the Hedge Witches, their safe houses, all of it, and not really for the better in my opinion. They underground in the novels existed as a place of refuge and support for those who were deemed unworthy of the various magical schools around the world, of which Brakebills is but one.

There were tests and rituals that had to be administered and adhered to, but nothing like we see in the show. It makes them seem like a criminal underground, which really rubs me the wrong way.
And the thing with the zombie, just kind of absurd.

Magicians and Technology

In the novels magic and tech don’t mix, anything more advanced than an old phone or watch would basically go haywire when a magician was near and doing magic, so they didn’t exactly have computer labs and cell phones.

This always struck me as odd, given that Magicians once leaving Brakebills have to live in the real world, surrounded by technology. They basically just ignored this plot point from the novels, which was interesting to me.

Penny

Man, Penny is 100% different between the books and the show. For starters he is a pasty white guy who dresses like a 90’s punk, mohawk included. He isn’t really a member of the gang the same way he is in the show either. Everyone pretty much dislikes him, he’s kind of an ass.

While Penny in the show is a bit of an ass, you get the idea that it is for a very good reason, not just because he’s a jerk. While both version are teleporters, Penny in the novels didn’t have anyone in his head talking to him, The Beast certainly wasn’t teaching him anything.

All of this adds up to TV Penny being vastly superior to novel Penny, in every conceivable way.

Quentin Getting Kicked Out

I think you might be seeing a pattern here. This plot point was added for the show as well. From the call to Julia to the fight with Penny, all of this was added for some sort of dramatic effect, although I’m not sure why.

And Eliza never came to him and chatted him up about destiny, the beast, and put him on probation. This is all material to support the classic structure of the hero’s journey which was very much absent from the novels, given Quentin wasn’t really THE hero, although he did heroic things, as did the rest of the main characters.

Episode 3

Becoming a Physical Kid

This was a bit of a change from the novel, in that there was a raging party with lots of people in attendance. The disciplines at Brakebills were very clicky in the books, and being a member of a physical discipline was rare, so you really didn’t get more than a handful in any given year.

When Quentin and Alice join the group, there are only 3 other members, Janet, Eliot and Josh, who is not in the first season of the show.

Penny the Psychic

While not new for the show, we didn’t see much of Penny’s psychic abilities in the novels, as he was always a minor character.

His discipline in the books IS travelling, as opposed to the TV show where his discipline is psychic, with travelling is his specific branch of the psychic family. This doesn’t really bother me to much, as it allows for some interesting plot movements in later episodes, and makes for some pretty great interactions with Quentin.

Also, in the novels we don’t really see Penny using his ability as a traveller during his time at Brakebills. We are only clued into it later when Penny is telling the Physical kids about his trip to the Nietherlands.

A visit to the Hedge Witches

This was actually a nice addition to the show. As I mentioned earlier, Quentin and friends don’t find out about Julia and her new area of study until the end of the book. This was nice because it shows a great many things, from the disdain heaped on the Hedge Witches by kids from Brakebills, to the fight between Julia and Quentin airing a lot of the feelings they have both kept inside.

One of the big changes with the underlying story here is that Quentin did tell Fogg about Julia in the novels.

Rescuing Charlie

And finally, let’s talk about Alice’s plan to save her brother.

So this was funny. Again, this is a new storyline for the show, but one interesting thing that they did was pull a plot point from later books. The “make a niffin into a person again” thing is actually from the books, specifically the last book.

It wasn’t used for Charlie, and it wasn’t normal magic either, it was arcane magic from another time and place that took years to unravel, decipher and master.

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