That's Not Magic

The Magicians. TV show review.

Review of the TV-series The Magicians, by Stefan Stenudd

The Magicians is a new TV series, bluntly plagiarizing Harry Potter and The Mentalist. Its main shortcoming, though, is its poor understanding of magic.

Ever Young. Supernatural fiction by Stefan Stenudd. Ever Young
Supernatural fiction by Stefan Stenudd
Caroline meets those who do not age, and this ability can be transmitted. But there are grisly downsides. Click the image to see the book at Amazon (paid link).

       I saw the first episode of The Magicians and that was probably also the last episode I will watch. There's just nothing to it. The story is confused and completely void of any original ideas.

       It's just one of those products trying to cash in on previous successes, contributing nothing significant of its own. The makers of it evidently do not even have a clue about the reason for the success of the predecessors they try to exploit.

       The casting is just as lost as the handling of the story and its premises. A bunch of hipsters try to play the roles of geeks. I guess they're supposed to be around twenty years old, but most of them give the impression of pushing thirty.

Levitating during sex in The Magicians.
Hipsters levitating during sex in The Magicians. I actually had a similar scene in one of my novels, where the lovers were levitating involuntarily. I doubt the TV producers read it, though, since the book has only been published in Swedish.

       The main character Quentin Coldwater, played by Jason Ralph, is supposed to suffer from the lack of a sense of purpose and meaning to his life, the old lebensangst known at least since Goethe's Werther, but that's just stated as a fact in the opening scenes. Otherwise he seems to be doing just fine. He looks and behaves more like a jock than a geek. So, what would he worry about?

       None of the other characters is given any more substance or believability.

       The way The Magician steals from previous successes is as shameless as it is clueless. Harry Potter's Hogwart is turned into a college. That's about it. Well, a college with students pushing thirty.

The Magicians: Red John's brand mark.
The brand mark of Red John reappearing in The Magicians.

       The evil villain is clearly copied from Voldemort as well as Red John of The Mentalist. They even use Red John's brand mark – the smiley in a horror setting. How such a symbol might relate to black magic is very obscure indeed.

       To top it off, The Magician picks bits and pieces from Narnia.

The Science of Magic

Still, the above shortcomings are almost negligible compared to the total ignorance of the nature of magic shown in The Magician. They just don't get it.

       The glimpses of magic seen are of diverse kinds with little or nothing in common. Some are paranormal mental capacities, some are spells from old books, and some chemistry lab products. It's like a supermarket of special effects.

       This is not uncommon in how magic is presented in fiction. J. K. Rowling did the same, but at least she went through some efforts to connect the dots and make kind of a sketch of what is really behind it all.

       The magic of The Magicians et al is based on a misunderstanding of the history of magic.

Voldemort/Big John of The Magicians.

       The astrologers, alchemists and healers of old did not think they were doing magic in the sense of accomplishing something out of this world, something contradicting the laws of nature. They thought they were applying hidden laws of nature. In other words, they thought they were doing proper science.

       One example is alchemy, a word that simply means “the chemistry,” initially not at all separate from the science of chemistry we nowadays reward with Nobel Prizes. The efforts to make gold out of lesser metals were carried out with the basic trial-and-error method, though error proved to be a given.

       Even the symbolic idea in some alchemy traditions of fostering the mind to a transcended state, which could be called golden, was thought of as a proper scientific application of what nature might contain and man was able to obtain.

       The same is true about astrology and other methods of divination. They were based on the belief that the future was accessible by certain methods, because the world was seen to be governed by higher laws – or a higher will – with an inescapable outcome that must be possible to predict somehow.

       And of course, what happens in the universe is governed by natural laws that make most future events – if not all of them – predictable, at least in theory.

       There was no abracadabra fireworks magic out of nothing imagined. Not even for the abracadabra incantation, which relates to the idea of creation by command, as in the biblical god's “Let there be.”

       Like with science, what we call magic was in history part of the human effort to understand the world and control it. So, what would prove to be possible was not magic at all, but simply real. It was a search for what reality is, and not for what it is not.

Faculty X

What we call the paranormal is also not a search for magic. If something paranormal is proven to exist, then it is normal. Something metaphysical confirmed to take place is simply physical. It may change our understanding of the laws of nature completely. But if proven to exist, then it is definitely part of nature.

       In parapsychology, all kinds of paranormal abilities are tested – such as psychokinesis, clairvoyance, mind reading, and so on. As far as I know, none of it has yet been proven beyond doubt. Nor is all of it ready to be thrown into the trash can. We will have to wait and see.

       The British author Colin Wilson (1931-2013) theorized repeatedly about the paranormal. In his extensive book The Occult: A History from 1971, he tried to find a force that would explain all paranormal abilities, sort of a united field theory of metaphysics. He called it Faculty X, in lack of a better name, and what he described was not far from a lot of ancient life energy ideas, such as the prana of India and qi of China.

Colin Wilson in 1956.
Colin Wilson in 1956.

       The basic question is if the mind of man is able to control things seemingly out of reach in our physical universe. Can we somehow move objects without touching them? Can we get glimpses of the future? Can we perceive what other people are thinking?

       If so, it would change our understanding of how the world works. But it would not be magic. Actually, it would cease to be magic at the very moment it was confirmed. Therefore, magic does not exist anywhere else than on the stage where a man in black tails pulls a rabbit out of his top hat.

       So, when handling what we call magic in fiction, it is just ridiculous to have all kinds of paranormal phenomena in a big mess. It is much better to follow the thoughts of Colin Wilson and exploit the idea of one such power, one ability yet to be proven, and to make it believable.

       That's proper use of the quest of fantasy, a process of the imagination that might not be science, but very often gives it the most revolutionary ideas. The world may be bound by uncompromising laws, but the human mind is only restrained by the limits of its imagination.

Stefan Stenudd
December 18, 2015

More Reviews

About Cookies

My Other Websites

Myths in general and myths of creation in particular.

The wisdom of Taoism and the Tao Te Ching, its ancient source.

An encyclopedia of life energy concepts around the world.

Qi (also spelled chi or ki) explained, with exercises to increase it.

The ancient Chinese system of divination and free online reading.

Tarot card meanings in divination and a free online spread.

The complete horoscope chart and how to read it.








Stefan Stenudd

Stefan Stenudd

About me
I'm a Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction books in both English and Swedish. I'm also an artist, a historian of ideas, and a 7 dan Aikikai Shihan aikido instructor. Click the header to read my full bio.