Cable networks seem to be snapping up SF/F properties left and right ever since Game of Thrones turned out to be a massive success. Recently, the network SyFy has declared their plans to adapt a number of book series, and the series I am both most excited and most trepidatious about is Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.
I absolutely love that series. I first read The Magicians in paperback back in 2010, and I have since bought the hardcover and audiobook versions of all three. The audiobooks are particularly special to me, thanks to the amazing narration and characterisation given by the actor Mark Bramhall. Combining reads and listens, I’ve now “read” the first book thrice, the second (The Magician King) twice, and the third (The Magician’s Land) once… so far.
I really hope SyFy manages to capture what I love about the books so much: the unique psychology of human depression when faced with magical wonderlands; the, at turns, awe-inspiring and creepy atmosphere; the countless homages to Harry Potter and Narnia, among many other fantasy classics; and the endless creativity of the world Grossman has built.
Precious few details have been revealed so far about the direction SyFy is taking with the adaptation, apart from a few preliminary casting details. Quickly on that topic: Eliot’s actor is a bit too pretty for my tastes (he’s supposed to have a slightly strange face due to his twisted jaw), and now I’m nervous that they won’t keep Josh the tubby dude he is, but they’ll cast someone “TV fat”, i.e.: not fat at all.
Anyway, I’ve given quite a bit of thought as to how the complex structure of the Magicians trilogy would work on screen, and I thought I would list some things that, in my opinion, SyFy should do when adapting these books. Various bits and pieces of this list have been cribbed from my past posts on Reddit and other forums. So, here are my thoughts. SOME SPOILERS AHEAD!
1) Follow Julia from the start
This is obvious. Julia has already been cast for the pilot at least, and I assume she will be a series regular. Seeing as her rather tragic story runs parallel to Quentin’s years at Brakebills, it makes sense to follow her from the beginning as well rather than drop in flashbacks later on (as happened in The Magician King).
Julia’s storyline would work a little like Daenerys on Game of Thrones: the events she’s involved with would seem disconnected to the main storyline, but there would be the promise of finally tying together in a future season. There would of course be that moment when Julia runs into Quentin again after a few years of his enrolment at Brakebills. That is going to be a very heart-rending episode.
2) Introduce the Physical Kids early
In the books, the Brakebills students are tested on their discipline at the end of their second year, and then are placed in a group of students with similar disciplines much like the Sorting Hat places students in houses at Hogwarts. Quentin and Alice are placed with the Physical Kids, and they meet the remainder of the major characters at the beginning of their third year (actually their second, as they skip the majority of first year along with Penny).
Seeing as Josh and Janet are quite important people in Quentin’s life, it would be a shame if we had to wait more than a season before we meet them (Eliot of course comes into Quentin’s life earlier). That’s assuming that the TV series spreads the school years out over multiple seasons. Personally, I think that the discipline testing should be moved to the start of Quentin’s Brakebills career so that we can meet the Physical Kids earlier and begin to see the relationships develop within that group.
3) Introduce the real Fillory early
Speaking of waiting, it would be a disservice to the story if the TV series waited out the full five years of education before having our characters discover Fillory. It worked fine in the novel, because novels can have whatever structure they want. But unless they crammed the entire Brakebills education into one season of the show (making a problem out of the non-aging of the actors) then Fillory — arguably the most important plot device of the entire story — needs to be introduced early. In the first season, in my opinion.
This would change the story quite a bit, of course. Penny would need to be more present, and he’d have to stumble across the Neitherlands while at Brakebills. It could even happen in their first year! Perhaps the characters could have various dangerous adventures in Fillory during their time at Brakebills, keeping it a secret from the staff and other students. The Martin Chatwin plotline could be built up over time, with all sorts of evil portents being talked about by Fillorians they come across.
It would be a huge change from the book but I think it’s the best way to show both the Brakebills and Fillory moments of Quentin et al‘s lives while not rushing the story too much.
4) Show the “Ploverised” Fillory visually
One of the most entertaining aspects of the Magicians trilogy is the complete Narnia pastiche that Grossman has created, in Fillory. Fillory is both a love letter to and a twisted parody of Narnia. It’s very dark but not without some heart-warming aspects, and it’s just as complex and fully-realised as CS Lewis’s creation.
We first learn about Fillory through the sanitised, cutesy books-within-a-book, written by Christopher Plover. Quentin is strangely obsessed with these old children’s books, and reads them constantly even as an adult. We learn a lot about Fillory and its inhabitants as Quentin, throughout the story, picks up each book in turn for another read. How though can the TV series show us the “Ploverised” version of Fillory so that we can later see the horrific differences when the characters travel to the real Fillory?
I think a creative way to do this would be to slightly change what Quentin is obsessed with: have there be a TV adaptation of the Fillory books in his world. It would be a bit meta, considering we the audience are watching a TV adaptation of another set of books. But I think it would be genius! Quentin would be obsessed with watching his battered old VHS tapes from his childhood of, say, a 1980s BBC-esque Fillory series, much like the Narnia TV series from the late 80s. Fillory would be low-budget, full of puppetry and shabby costuming, and shot on low-grade video. Check out the video below to see what I mean:
Seeing silly puppets like these of Ember and Umber, and many other creatures, in badly-dressed soundstage sets, before the reveal of the actual Fillory and its creatures (done with high-quality CGI, we can hope) would be brilliant. Absolutely sublime juxtaposition, and great fun for the audience to compare the two different portrayals of Fillory. And shocking for Quentin to see his childhood come to life in disturbing fashion!
I seriously can’t see anyone else in the role of the avuncular yet slightly threatening, thoroughly eccentric Dean Fogg. Funnily enough it was Kline’s role as Mr. Fischoeder in Bob’s Burgers that made me realise he’d be perfect. His voice is brilliant, and frankly if they don’t cast him as Fogg then SyFy is dead to me.
Mark Bramhall brings the Magicians books to life in his outstanding audiobook performance, and for that I think he deserves a role on the show. I’m not sure who you’d cast him as though. Perhaps one of the Brakebills staff, or perhaps as the voice of Ember. I would just like to have his great work on the audiobooks recognised by exposing his talent to the TV show’s audience in some manner.
7) Explore the world(s) more
Like I mentioned before, there could be more week-to-week adventures that don’t just relate to the Chatwin plot. Other things could happen in Fillory as well: bits and pieces of the war, or just unrelated conflicts. Have the Physical Kids jump in and out of Fillory at different points in its history, like the Chatwin children once did. Maybe later on they finally get stuck there, which forces them to find Ember and face off against the Beast. You could also have strange things happening in the Neitherlands, which could lead to conflicts.
As well as these adventures, you could have entire episodes just exploring the lore of Brakebills. The fountains of the Maze, the weird geometry of the House, threats from within and without, fights between students, Welters tournaments, visiting students, Josh discovering his latent talents… these are all potential sources for more standalone episodes. I’m sure if the show is successful that SyFy will want to add more stories to fill out further seasons (although at some point the action would have to leave Brakebills and head to Fillory more permanently for the events of the second and third books).
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It might be a while before we see the final product on our TVs, but I will keep looking for news and details about the production of what I hope will be a fantastic adaptation. Here’s hoping the show will be successful, so that it will bring new readers to the amazing Magicians books.