Friday, April 6th, 2012

The Tide Pool the Magicians Crawled Out Of

I’m back in Brooklyn after a week in England, specifically Oxford and the Cotswolds (which are some leafy hills near Oxford).

I’m not going to lie to you: I like England. It has taken me a long time to admit this fact. That’s partly because I didn’t want to be one-of-those-American-Anglophiles who is always pretending to be vaguely English, and partly because my mom actually is English, and she kind of hates England.

She went to Oxford in the fifties and was given so much shit there for being a) really poor and b) a really clever woman that she left England forever right after college. We went back a couple of times, to see relatives, but my mom’s antipathy toward the place of her birth was shall we say pretty pervasive. And she had some pretty good reasons.

It’s a lot easier for me. I’m well aware that liking England is a luxury my mom didn’t have — nobody in England gives me shit, or at any rate not more than the usual amount. As a result I find it very pleasant there. I was in Oxford to give a talk at Christ Church College, and afterward I went to dinner at Pembroke College (Oxford is made up of all these different colleges that have their own semi-autonomous identities — it’s basically just like Voltron). We walked in, and my host explained that I was standing in the same senior common room where Tolkien presided as a fellow.

Very pleasant indeed.

(Then he introduced me to the former master of Pembroke, Roger Bannister. If that name rings a bell, Bannister is the guy who ran the first four-minute mile. I know, right? Then just to piss everybody off, he became an eminent neurologist.)

A couple of days later I was staying with friends in a town near Oxford called Bladon, and I went out for a jog. I found an unlocked back gate onto the grounds of Blenheim Palace (pron. “Blennum”), which is a giant mansion where Churchill was born, and I went running through it, along the banks of the lovely Evenlode River. It was freezing cold and raining. Sheep were grazing on this infinitely perfect ancient grass, and I was shooing them out of the way, and dodging through colossal old trees, and keeping an eye out for shepherds bearing shotguns.

And I thought: yes. This is a country I could live in.

I did not run a four-minute mile. But still.

Now that I’m back in Brooklyn I find myself looking around and thinking, this is nice, but why do I live here again? How am I connected to this city? I’ve never lived anywhere that I didn’t leave thinking, thank God that’s over with, I’m never going back there again. It would be nice to change that. But I’m not getting out of Brooklyn for a few years get zithromax without prescription yet.

But that’s all by way of introducing a curiosity I came across the other day when I was transferring data to my bitchin’ new 13″ MacBook Air. I noticed a file with the suggestive name “dungeon crawlin’ fools.doc,” and a date of creation of July 14, 2004. It turned out to be my first cut at a plot outline for The Magicians. (I must have stolen the filename from Order of the Stick.)

I took my very very first notes on what became The Magicians in 1996, but this must have been the writing session when I went back to it, eight years later, and tried to turn it into something real. I have no memory of writing any of this, but I’m surprised at how much of it made into the finished book.

Here are the first couple of paragraphs. I apologize for their being in stream-of-consciousness broken English:

Vietnarnia – ref GLASS DAGGER [ed. note: I must be referring to the Larry Niven story “What Good Is a Glass Dagger?”] — begins as a lark — they go to vacation house to practice combat magic, something they aren’t taught — get there via Penny’s transdimensional magic — stop over in wood between worlds — that’s where he’s been hanging out all this time — he’s been working with a somewhat fringey professor — find ruined shanty, somebody living there — can you even drink the water? — ‘these trees come from paintings with forest backgrounds’ it’s the kind of thing he says all the time now, you can’t even tell if he’s joking — fucked up — war between speaking and non-speaking animals — old rules corrupted — forward to 19th [century? dunno — ed.] paradigms — riff on lamppost — city is darkened outpost, armed camp, under siege

nip over to check seasons. it’s summer. nips back. they go through minutes later. season has changed: it’s winter.

janet is the only one affected by the WbW effect

what happens there? drawn into question? becomes setup? they encounter wounded being — river-nymph? needs X? more obscure greek being? its head and shoulders poked up, motionless, from water in frozen stream. horrifying sight. is she a corpse? they had to get her out of there. or is it — is there a hot spring? it flees. then they find mysterious inn. anybody know about X? might could. offers to lead them.

And so on. It goes on like this for — let’s see — 6,331 words. I wish I could go back and tell myself to keep at it, it’ll get published, because I gave up on it a lot along the way.

Then my past self would say: I can’t believe we can’t regrow hair yet.

Must go. My Google Calendar looks like a Superfund site.

15 comments on “The Tide Pool the Magicians Crawled Out Of

  1. M says:

    sounded amazing
    your trip

  2. Paul says:

    Your reactions to England remind me very strongly of the Kipling story, An Habitation Enforced. I wondered if you’ve read it, and if so, what you thought.

  3. Jaimie says:

    Thank you.

    I want to leave it at that but let me explain: Thank you for implicitly telling me to not give up.

    You know, I don’t ever take plot notes like this. I figure if it’s worth remembering I’ll remember it, and so far that’s been true. (Yes I see it. No don’t correct me.)

    But this was fascinating.

    I appreciate your file naming system. Mine always get called “First” and “New” and “Scene.” It’s so helpful later on.

  4. 2cats4tea says:

    A great post all around, but your description of your google calendar is going to become a classic.

  5. Adam says:

    At first I thought the WbW effect might stand for the “White Bitch Witch Effect”. I’m an idiot.

  6. Ian Holmes says:

    I lived in Oxford for 2 years, a 20-minute walk away from Blenheim Palace. It was a great place for mind-expanding walks (which is all I’ll say in public). Oxford has a bunch of little copses around it that are great too (Bagley Wood, Wytham Wood, etc)

    However, as an English person who grew up in Cambridge and fled to the US, I’d have to sound a note of solidarity with your mom. English people spend far too much time criticizing, hating, and despairing of England to take this innocent Anglophilia lying down. WHY SHOULD YOU GET TO ENJOY IT WHEN WE CAN’T?

    I actually was a fellow in an Oxford college, and attended meetings of the Governing Body where 30 men and 1 woman sat in an oak-paneled hall around a large table, everyone dressed in black gowns, debating whether to increase the thirty-pound stipend of the college gardener, looked down upon by 50 more paintings of long-dead men in black gowns. Yes, I too loved living in Tolkien Town. Oxford is beautiful. But if you keep up the uncritical praise, I might just have to give you a taste of your own medicine by gushing in your blog comments about how America is the land of the free, cradle of democracy, home of innovation, last refuge of hope, shining beacon on the hill… and we’ll see how YOU like THAT.

    BTW, thanks very much for posting the draft of The Magicians; it is a fucking excellent book, and seeing this first version is super-cool. Kind of like seeing Douglas Adams’ first draft of “The Salmon of Doubt”, with the added advantages that (a) The Magicians is finished and (b) you aren’t dead.

  7. Trevor JP says:

    Thank you for posting the rough of The Magicians and making me laugh with the last phrase: “I can’t believe we can’t regrow hair yet.”

  8. Mark Crane says:

    Thank you for sharing that fragment of your rough initial outline. It gave me a little hope.

  9. Ah, Blennum. I took a trip to England in 2007. Driving back from Stratford and the Cotswolds to London, I literally drove right by the gates to Bleinheim Palace. I had vaguely considered visiting there (and wanted to stop in Oxford too) but didn’t have the time for it. So, I’m driving along and suddenly see the gates for Bleinheim. As I’m passing it, looking over my shoulder thinking, “Oh, That Place!” I apparently get caught by a traffic camera. So even though I never even visited, I received a lovely souvenir. Seriously; the speeding ticket said “Blenheim Palace.” Good story.

    Speaking of England… I just finished reading your lovely wife’s lovely book and really enjoyed it. I mean, it IS sorely lacking in Voltron and/or Quidditch references, but nevertheless was very engaging and engrossing. (Next up, your brother’s book. Go Team Grossman!)

    p.s. “vietnarnia” = awesome

  10. P. Aaron says:

    The brief ref to Niven’s ‘glass dagger’ is intriguing. Both it and Magicians deal with a question which is begged by any fantasy universe, namely, what is one left with when magic won’t solve your problems. But whereas Niven provides an optimistic answer (‘there’s always something close enough to magic to offer hope’), The Magicians and its sequel seem to offer a pessimistic response (‘there never was an answer, the magic was just a distraction’). I keep hoping you’ll come to some other conclusion in book 3, so I can look at 1 & 2 as the picaresque lead-up.

  11. Abby Lollar says:

    Oh, thank you for sharing this! Made my night!

  12. First off, I fly-fished an actual Superfund site on the banks of Lake Erie this last weekend and caught a nice steelhead, which is apropos of nothing but kinda interesting.

    Got to visit the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford in 2002 and had a drink of lukewarm Guiness in the very booth Tolkien and C.S. Lewis would occupy during their professorial days. Oxford is to high fantasy as Cape Canaveral is to space exploration.

    Looking forward to whatever Magicians 3 turns out to be. You are doing an excellent job.

    When you get a moment, I’d dig your thoughts on epub formats and specifically the temptation to simply steal whatever book we want off the torrent sites. You are uniquely positioned to write about this as a bestselling author and actual tech savant. How much money am I stealing from you if I download Magicians 3? (BTW I have paid full cover for both books and bought 2 in hardback).

    Thanks for all you do dude.


  13. Sarah says:

    Love this. I’m studying at Oxford this summer and I’m thrilled out of my skin to be an Anglophile for a bit. Also, your fiction scrawl is fantastic. All I want from this world is to write fantasy (what a noob 20-year-old I am). Your series has become really important to me. Sucks to identify with Alice, though.

  14. Bonnie Schranz says:

    What’s next?

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