From paper to screen: The Magicians as a novel and The Magicians as a show

magicians show.jpgI was excited but also apprehensive when I learned one of my favourite books was going to be reimagined as a SyFy series. On one hand, what could be better than seeing the characters come to life? But on the other hand, what could be worse than seeing other people messing around with my favourite book?

The first season is now finished and it’s looking pretty likely that it will continue on into a second one. I’m happy with the show, but also disappointed in some ways. For better or for worse, the TV show incorporates a series of additions, subtractions, and transformations – a couple of which I want to talk about here.

Janet isn’t Janet

In the books, Janet is a main player – a senior student at Brakebills famous for her signature mix of style and snark. She’s fiercely independent, glamorous, wickedly intelligent and more than occasionally manipulative. In the show, sadly, she’s not as sharp or as tough as I imagined – and, inexplicably, she’s been renamed Margot. Too many “J” names, maybe?

Penny is too cool

In the books, Penny is a “moon-faced,” punk-assed, and painfully uncool white kid with a semi-successful mohawk. In the show, we see two changes. First, he becomes a POC, which I wholeheartedly love. But second, he becomes way too cool. The books paint Penny as pompous, stand-off-ish, painfully uncool, and unsuccessfully attempting to cultivate an air of mystery. In contrast, Penny of the television series is actually honest-to-god tough as nails – not to mention capable, wildly attractive, etcetera, etcetera. In some ways I dig it. But I do also miss the nerdy pompousness of Penny from the book.

We see way more Julia

The show includes Julia’s storyline – which makes up at least half of the second book in the series – as a parallel to Quentin’s narrative. I’ve always loved Julia’s journey, maybe even more than Quentin’s, and directly contrasting her black market education in magic with Quentin’s prim and proper Brakebills training is both effective and dramatic. It’s a big change, but I wholeheartedly approve. The only downside here is for those who hadn’t read the second book before starting the show – because it makes the first season chock-a-block full of spoilers.

Undertones of fate / destiny / prophecy

Part of what I loved about the novel is that Quentin – while intelligent and capable – is, at heart, nobody important. I love narratives that highlight and celebrate ordinary people rising up in extraordinary circumstances – characters who, for better or for worse, merely happen to be in the right place at the right time. The novel accomplishes this; Quentin isn’t a chosen or prophesied hero, but just a guy caught up in circumstances bigger than himself. In contrast, the show keeps referencing Quentin as a foretold saviour, the last hope of a battered magical world – and, quite honestly, this ruins the effect. Quentin makes a better Joe Nobody than he does a Harry Potter.

The Neitherlands has people

The Neitherlands are a bridge between Earth and Fillory – the gateway between hundreds of worlds, each represented, Narnia-style, by a courtyard and fountain. In the books, the Neitherlands are eerie, empty, and pale – a place where nothing with sound or colour seems to stick. In the TV version, however, the Neitherlands are populated with magic-hungry mercenaries – which takes away from the mystery and otherworldliness of the place. I can see how the show writers saw it as an opportunity to introduce conflict and tension, because now the intrepid group of protagonists can’t hang around in the Neitherlands without fearing for their lives – and yet I can’t help but feel that it wasn’t really worth it.

Overall I would say I’m happy with the show – just (irrationally) disgruntled that it didn’t come out exactly the way I wish it did. How about you? Do you have thoughts on the book-to-television transformation of this series or any other?

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3 thoughts on “From paper to screen: The Magicians as a novel and The Magicians as a show

  1. I agree that I am overall pretty happy with the show. I am just glad they didn’t altogether butcher the books, even though they are quite different from one another. I am curious how many seasons the show could be though — do you think they will make up things beyond the three books?

    One thing I loved in the show is when the Librarian of the Neitherlands called “Margot” Janet. I thought that was a pretty cheeky and fun reference to the books!

    Liked by 1 person

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