The Magicians is the latest show addition to the Syfy roster, and the first episode is streaming free right now. I’ll admit — as a Harry Potter fan, a big reason I read Lev Grossman’s Magicians book series (on which the show is based) was because it’s often called “Harry Potter for adults.”
But what I discovered is that the “adult” part of The Magicians is that it’s a grown-up, less-rosy view on how magic could practically exist in the real world — as in “Grow up and join the real magical world, kid.” It’s brutality is basically an antidote to the charm of the HP chocolate-frog realm. While the similarities are there, they’re more of an edgy reframing than a knockoff. And it feels very intentional.
So let’s walk through a few and you may see that why the parallels make for fun viewing and reading for more us mature Harry Potter lovers.
The center of Harry Potter’s world is always Hogwarts, and gaining access to Hogwarts is a decision made out of view of anyone, based on some higher-up knowledge of who in the world is a wizard blessed with magical ability. In the Magicians world, you aren’t just whisked away from Platform 9 3/4, nor are you naturally gifted at magic; instead, you must learn to do magic. And before you can do that, you must first test into the elite and selective Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. All of this splendor is hidden from the non-magic world with spells and protections.
At Brakebills, there is no friendly Dumbledore equivalent looking out for the heroes; there are only instructors who ruthlessly weed out those who can’t compete. There’s even an Antarctic prison semester that promises “empty, relentless, interminable wastelands of repetition” to push you beyond your magical limitations. But those who finish do end up in the exclusive brotherhood of Magicians, and the non-magic world is your oyster. Fail and your memory is erased, and you return to a mundane life, oblivious to the magic you left behind.
Quentin Coldwater is hardly The Boy Who Lived; he’s more like The Boy Who’s Never Really Lived. He’s obsessed with reading and re-reading a very Narnia-esque book series about a magical land called Fillory, he has an unrequited crush on a childhood friend Julia, and his only other friend is James, an alpha male type and Julia’s boyfriend. I’d say that’s fairly close to living in a cupboard under the stairs. But then one day, he’s magically chosen, handed an envelope that grants him access to the world of Brakebills, and suddenly he goes from zero to hero. And as events progress in the story, you start to realize that his interests and obsessions are at the very center of every challenge that he and his friends encounter. He holds the keys to them completing their quest. Sounds a bit Chosen One, doesn’t it?
Much like Hogwarts, Brakebills’ kids are “sorted” into houses. But unlike Gryffindor and the like which are sorted based on personality and destiny, Brakebills’ Disciplines are more like college majors. Discipline is based on one’s strengths and skills, and often there’s a trial or initiation associated with induction. The similarities really are in the bonding that goes on between house members, as seen with Quentin’s Physical House kids who end up becoming an almost snobby clique on campus and well after graduation. Which brings us to…
There’s no Ron or Hermione or Luna here, but there are Alice, Eliot, Josh and Janet. They meet as members of Physical House (aka Physical Kids), and develop their own language of inside jokes along with some very volatile internal personal dynamics. Gone is the childlike loyalty of Dumbledore’s Army, replaced by a plague of adult problems like heavy drinking, drugs, plenty of sexual bed-hopping, and gut-wrenching betrayals. Did I mention the sex and drugs? Butterbeer and snogging, they ain’t.
But this crew isn’t all drama — they can also be super fun. Unlike most fantasy novels, Grossman’s characters live in the modern era and are huge pop-culture geeks, even dropping jokes about Harry Potter wands and wizard’s chess. Oh and they can also cook a mean dish of pasta and even know the perfect wine to accompany it.
The He Who Must Not Be Named in this world is The Beast. He makes a very quick but terrifying appearance fairly early on, setting the tone for what’s ahead, and crops up again later as the very-formidable foe. Not surprisingly, Quentin is uniquely qualified among his peers in understanding who The Beast is and how to fight him. As a result, their stories seem very connected. He’s dark and ugly in a very different way from Voldemort, but you’ll not soon forget this sharply-dressed but twisted monster.
I’ve saved the fun one for last — the Magicians world even has its own sport called Welters. While there are no broomsticks or snitches, Welters is played on a large field divided up in squares like a chessboard. Each square is made of different materials like water, stone, sand, grass, and metal; and players claim squares by manipulating them with magic. Two teams compete, usually between houses, and the team with the most squares at the end of the match wins. Some matches can get so heated that they can become downright dangerous, as teams conjure magical creatures, strangling vines, and worse. Basically, nothing’s a forbidden curse where Welters is concerned. So game on!
Interested? Go watch The Magicians first episode now on Syfy. Plus you can check it out on Syfy TV starting January 25 at 9 p.m.