The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

They’d managed the neat trick of bringing up a child with whom they had absolutely nothing in common, or if there was something none of them had ever risen to the challenge of finding it.

Life was briskly and efficiently stripping Quentin of his last delusions about himself, one by one, shucking them off in firm hard jerks like wet clothes, leaving him naked and shivering. But it wasn’t going to kill him. It wasn’t sexy, but it was real, and that was what mattered now. No more fantasies—that was life after Fillory. Maybe when you give up your dreams, you find out that there’s more to life than dreaming. He was going to live in the real world from now on, and he was going to learn to appreciate its rough, mundane solidity. He’d been learning a lot about himself lately, and he’d thought it would be painful, and it was, but it was a relief too. These were things he’d been scared to face his whole life, and now that he was looking them in the eye they weren’t quite as scary as he thought.

But Eliot’s rage was crazy, over the top. They burned trees? His trees? They killed a hermit? They killed a hermit?

But whoever that hermit was, he obviously despised his fellow man, and that meant he was OK in Eliot’s book, and now he was dead. Eliot was going to destroy the Lorians, he would annihilate them, he would murder them! Not murder-murder. But he was going to mess them up good.

Some of the ones who weren’t swept away wanted to fight anyway, because they were just that valiant. Eliot supposed they must have had difficult childhoods or something like that. Join the club, he thought, it’s not that exclusive. He and his friends gave them a difficult adulthood to go with it.

Personal violence did not come naturally to Eliot; in fact he found it distasteful. What could he say, he was a sensitive individual, fate had blessed and cursed him with a tender heart.

Eliot followed, jabbing and slapping, both ways, left-right. My sister, my daughter, my sister, my daughter.

He picked up the broken end of Vile Father’s weapon and threw it into the sand. Fortunately for his sense of theater, it stuck there upright. “Go. Let this shattered spear mark the border between our lands. If any man cross it, or woman, I make no guarantee of their safety. Fillory’s mercy is great, but her memory is long, and her vengeance terrible.” Hm. Not exactly Shakespeare.

Life was good. It was funny how just when you thought you knew yourself through and through, you stumbled on a new kind of strength, a fresh reserve of power inside you that you never knew you had, and all at once you found yourself burning a little brighter and hotter than you ever had before.

Eliot loved Fillory at all times, but never more so than when he saw it from the air, when the land rolled out beneath you like a map in a beloved book that you’d spent your whole childhood gazing at, studying, wishing you could fall into it, feeling like you could. And Eliot had fallen.

Fuck love, fuck marriage, fuck children, fuck fucking itself: this was his romance, this fantasy land at whose helm he sat, steering it on and on into the future, world without end, until he died and tastefully idealized statues were made of him. It was all he needed. It was all he would ever need.

When he graduated he’d thought life was going to be like a novel, starring him on his own personal hero’s journey, and that the world would provide him with an endless series of evils to triumph over and life lessons to learn. It took him a while to figure out that wasn’t how it worked.

Plum needed to get moving, but she was having trouble attaching meanings to things; the meanings kept peeling off like old stickers.

“But you, Quentin, you I understand. You are like me. You have ambition. You want to be great wizard. Gandalf maybe. Merlin. Dumb-bell-door.”

Mayakovsky was right, this was grand magic, this was what a lifetime of solitary practice and toil bought you.

And Quentin knew something about hiding out from the world, too. He’d done his fair share.

But it hadn’t lasted. It wouldn’t do. Never risking anything meant never having or doing or being anything either. Life is risk, it turned out . . .  He’d risked again, and won, and lost, and it hurt but he didn’t regret it, not any of it.

I’m out in the world trying to get something done.

Eliot leaned forward. He put on his High King face and his High King voice. At times like this he wanted to look as much as possible like Elrond, Lord of Rivendell, from The Lord of the Rings, and he didn’t think he was a million miles off base. He made eye contact with each one of them in turn.

“Any idea where we’re going?”
“We discussed this. That’s not how quests work. We’re not going to think about it, we’re just going to journey.”

“Elephants, they know some shit. I don’t know why we rule them, they should rule us.” 

But now he wondered if maybe that little girl was long gone, or if she’d ever been there at all. What was under all that armor, all that anger? More anger, and more armor. Anger and armor, all the way down.

Give a nerd enough time and a door he can close and he can figure out pretty much anything.

Quentin wore his overcoat instead of a parka, because it looked more magicianly, and it was black anyway.

This is what an ended story looks like.

You children and your adventures. Stories have ends!

And everywhere she looked things were getting connected up, or rather it was becoming clear that they were already connected in ways that she was only just now picking up on. It was a worrying trend. Everybody else was deep into their own stories, and all the stories were woven together just beneath the surface into a web that included Plum. But what was Plum’s story?

What she really wanted was something she could fall in love with the way she loved Brakebills, but at this point she wasn’t sure she would ever find it.

That was one thing about books: once you read them they couldn’t be unread.

She was too tired to feel anything more, she wanted a book to do to her what books did: take away the world, slide it aside for a little bit, and let her please, please just be somewhere and somebody else.

Jane said nothing. She rarely spoke unless someone questioned her directly, and sometimes not even then.

It wasn’t that being in Fillory made you happy, and in its way too much happiness was as dangerous as too much sadness . . . No, it was that Fillory was cruel, as cruel in its way as the real world was. There was no difference, though we all pretended there was. There was nothing fair about Fillory, just as there was nothing fair about people’s fathers going to war, and their mothers going mad, and the way we among all animals were cursed with a longing for somewhere better, somewhere that never existed and never would. Fillory was no better than our world. It was just prettier. 

“I used to think about this a lot,” Quentin said. “I mean, it’s not obvious like it is in books. It’s trickier. In books there’s always somebody standing by ready to say hey, the world’s in danger, evil’s on the rise, but if you’re really quick and take this ring and put it in that volcano over there everything will be fine. But in real life that guy never turns up. He’s never there. He’s busy handing out advice in the next universe over. In our world no one ever knows what to do, and everyone’s just as clueless and full of crap as everyone else, and you have to figure it all out by yourself. And even after you’ve figured it out and done it, you’ll never know whether you were right or wrong. You’ll never know if you put the ring in the right volcano, or if things might have gone better if you hadn’t. There’s no answers in the back of the book.” 

“I still have no idea what magic is for. Maybe you just have to decide for yourself.”

Life was already sorting them into categories, whether they liked it or not. All they could do was stare at each other dumbly across the widening gaps.

Magic was always throwing off extra energy, wasting it in the form of sound, and heat, and light, and wind. It was always buzzing and singing and glowing and sparking to no particular purpose. Magic was decidedly imperfect. But the really funny thing, she thought, was that if it were perfect, it wouldn’t be so beautiful.

He could chuck a magic missile with the best of them. He was a damn one-man magic-missile crisis.

But not even the end of the world was going to stop Janet from being a bitch. It was the principle of the thing.

This time they could take the direct route, the express train: hippogriffs, the fastest fliers in the fleet. You couldn’t use them all the time. They were independent bastards, valued their freedom, practically libertarians, and they were very fussy about their feathers too, which you always ended up pulling out a few, it was impossible not to. But desperate times, etc. They were better than the pureblood griffins anyway—those things were just anarchists. Chaotic neutral all the way.

“Awesome axes,” Josh said. “Where did you—”
“Your mom gave them to me,” Janet said. “After I fucked her.”
“Because she enjoyed it so much.”

You don’t live in a castle full of spiral stairs without getting calves of adamantium.

“Stop! Jesus! We just want to talk!” We just want to talk about how fucking dead You’ll be after we kill You.

“I hated him. But I hated everyone. And more than anyone I hated you, Quentin. Hate isn’t like love, it doesn’t end. It goes on forever. You can never get to the bottom of it. And it’s so pure, so unconditional! Do you know what I see when I look at you? I see dull, stupid, ugly creatures full of emotional garbage. Your feelings are corrupt and contaminated, and half the time you don’t even know what you’re feeling. You’re too stupid and too numb. You love and you hate and you grieve and you don’t even feel it.”

You only had to see a unicorn lay open the side of a centaur once, the ribcage flashing white when the ripped skin flopped down, to swear a mighty oath never to fuck with or even look at another unicorn again. I’m putting down the hearts and fluffy clouds and backing away slowly. Don’t want any trouble here. You can have all the rainbows.

Half the mountains in the Northern Barrier Range had just erupted, blown their tops off like ripe pimples. She hadn’t even known they were volcanic, but now they were lobbing big seminal gobbets of lava all over their lower slopes, like a drunk prom queen puking on her dress. Shit was getting geological, yo. Fillory was bleeding its hot arterial blood.

Fuck all this, she said, and she squeezed her eyes shut for a minute. There was no end to Fillory, no end to the beauty and strangeness, except that there was, and this was it. She had to force herself to let go of it, and it felt like tearing off a piece of her own flesh. It was ending too soon, the way everything did, everything except Ebola viruses and really bad people like psychopaths. Those things never ended. How was that fair? Fuck it, it was stupid. Theories about life were always bullshit.

The chaos itself was momentarily, unfairly beautiful.

“It’s hard to be human, but there’s more to it than that.”

He had a goatee that was maybe growing into something that was more than a goatee, which made him look like an angry barista at an indie coffee shop whose dreams of becoming a successful screenwriter were dwindling by the hour.

It stood to reason that out of all these billions of books at least one of them had to be dragon porn.

“There are catacombs underneath the library,” Penny said. “That’s another special collection: it’s all the novels people meant to write but didn’t.”

You can’t unread a book.

“There are thousands of worlds. They live and they die. But knowledge is power, Quentin, and wisdom is eternal.”

Magic and books: there aren’t many things more important than that.

“For a second there,” she said, “I saw the point of being alive.”

The failure didn’t appear to sting Penny. He looked like a little boy with a new puppy. It was weird: he was obviously an asshole, but he wasn’t a sociopath. He had feelings—in fact from the way he held the book it looked like he had an enormous capacity for love. He just wasn’t very good at loving people, apart from himself.

She was starting to suspect that facing up to the nightmare of the past is what gives you the power to build your future

He was circling back to all the things he’d fought and lost over the years, and one by one he was putting them to rest.

He was a dragon, and he was ready. He was going to blast the immortal living shit out of Ember.

Sometimes when you finally figure out what you have to do, you discover that you already have what you need.

It hadn’t felt noble and righteous, it felt rough and ugly and bloody and cruel. It was what was necessary, that was all.

This is how you felt when you were eight years old, and you opened one of the Fillory books for the first time, and you felt awe and joy and hope and longing all at once . . . That’s where all this began for you. You wanted the world to be better than it was.

The world was fucking awful. It was a wretched, desolate place, a desert of meaninglessness, a heartless wasteland, where horrific things happened all the time for no reason and nothing good lasted for long . . . The world was a desert, but he was a magician, and to be a magician was to be a secret spring—a moving oasis. He wasn’t desolate, and he wasn’t empty. He was full of emotion, full of feelings, bursting with them, and when it came down to it that’s what being a magician was. They weren’t ordinary feelings—they weren’t the tame, domesticated kind. Magic was wild feelings, the kind that escaped out of you and into the world and changed things. There was a lot of skill to it, and a lot of learning, and a lot of work, but that was where the power began: the power to enchant the world.