Folks I’ve read some books in my time. I’ve read some good books. I’ve read some bad books. I’ve read some books that made absolutely no impression on me at all. But yesterday was a first for me.
Yesterday I read a book that wasn’t there.
Okay, well technically I didn’t read it. Or maybe I unread it. Anyway, this book that I unread wasn’t called The Witch and it wasn’t written by Lev Grossman.
I know that by this point you’re looking at me like I’ve gone off the deep end, so let me explain.
A while back I read a book by Lev Grossman called The Magicians. Overall I thought it was a good book. It deconstructed ideas found in the Narnia books as well as breaking down the notion of a magical school popularized by Harry Potter. More importantly it played with the idea of magical power leading to emotional stagnation through boredom.
But. It ended on a decidedly downer note, with the protagonist slowly dragging himself out of depression and finally agreeing to go back to the magical land of Fillory with his friends.
Probably the best scene in the whole book was somewhere in the middle when the protagonist meets up with one of his former friends who didn’t pass the exams to enter into magic school. Her memory of the exam was supposed to be suppressed, but she’s started to remember and is trying to learn the craft magic on her own.
The scene is effective because of her desperation. She is a woman driven mad by something she has seen but that no one else believes. And when she finally faces off with the one person who can validate her experience he shrugs her off and walks away.
At that point the story completely forgets she exists until the very end where some of the protagonists friends pop up and happen to mention, “Oh yeah, we met your old friend, and now she’s a hedge witch. Wanna go back to Fillory and be a king?”
And that’s it. The book ends there. And the sequel, The Magician King opens with the characters from the first book already on the throne in Fillory bored out of their minds again.
*takes deep breath*
DOES. NOT. HAPPEN!
The trials of a young woman trying to learn to be a witch on her own in a world that doesn’t believe in magic? The things she learns that go outside the borders of what would have been taught in a formal schooling setting? The main characters’ path to the throne? You think you can just kill it with a summary? You can’t just summarize all that stuff!
Well, obviously you can. But there’s a whole book in there.
Let me reiterate. An entire book’s worth of material is just skimmed over so that Mr. Grossman can get his characters onto the thrones in Fillory.
I understand that you can’t go into detail about every single character’s backstory. But the witch character had pathos. Her frustration and building insanity from trying to learn magic the hard way spoke to me. And Mr. Grossman thinks he can get away with telling me, “Oh yeah, she’s developed a lot as a character now, moving on with the real story” and get away with it.
But he can’t. This is one of the worst examples of telling over showing I have ever seen. And it infuriates me all the more because I can see all that that story could have been. I can see the interactions between the characters and their trouble accepting a woman who has no formal training. I can see the protagonist from the first book slowly overcoming his inner darkness. I can see all of it.
But the book isn’t there. The Witch doesn’t exist. Instead we jump straight into The Magician King and it looks like its going to cover the same “power leads to ennui” message that the first book dealt with already.
If it wasn’t a library book I would have thrown it across the room. Since I can’t do that I’m doing this instead.
Pardon my ranting, but I really had to get this out.
Maybe you’ve had a similar experience. Maybe you’ve read a book that made you want to pull your hair and and fashion it into a rope that you could then hang yourself with.
Commiserate in the comments ya’ll. I’m all ears.