Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

A Magicians Fan’s Guide to Watching The Magicians

They’re showing the first episode of The Magicians tonight — it’s at 10pm on Syfy — and I thought I should post something ahead of time to kind of ease you through the transition. Because some things in the show are Not The Same.

For example: the characters are a few years older than in the books – they’re entering graduate school rather than college. Also in the books we don’t learn about Julia’s life and her world until the second book, but in the show she’s a major character from the start. And Janet’s name is Margo. Penny is way more badass than Penny in the books. Also there’s an extra Physical Kid whose name is Kady.

Some things from the books don’t happen, some things happen differently, and other things happen that are nowhere in the books. When you see this stuff you may find asking, why, great triple-horned god, why?

The answer to all of this is basically, because of TV. It’s a different medium, and you tell stories differently there. Not everything translates directly.

That may sound a little glib. And believe me, there were a few changes that I got hung up on along the way (I didn’t write a word of the show, but I saw and weighed in on each script, and on rough cuts of the episodes). But you know what? After a while I got over it. The people who made it are mega-fans of the books, and whatever changes they made, they did it to get as much as they could of the feel and spirit of the books on screen. They are in very, very good faith.

I’m a huge fan of the show. I get psyched every time they send me a new episode to watch. It’s dark, it’s smart, it’s weird, and it’s very funny. It’s cool to see the magic on screen. The actors are acting their hearts out.

So give it a shot. There’s really nothing else like it on TV. I’ll be watching too.

p.s. Many people have asked if the episode tonight will be online somewhere. As far as I can tell it will not, so if you don’t have cable you’re out of luck. Come to think of it I don’t have cable. Fortunately I have a copy of the show, so I’ll watch along anyway.

133 comments on “A Magicians Fan’s Guide to Watching The Magicians

  1. Melissa Thornton says:

    Change is hard. I struggled to accept the finest of tweaks to the books. I watched the whole series and I feel like while it had a slow start, it picked up in rich scenery and delicious plot lines. I still wish that they focused a bit more on the bird migration to Fillory South, just because, HOW COOL, but I am willing to give it another season. In the meantime, I hope you are writing something equally as delicious for all of us to consume.

  2. KITEMAN says:


    The Magicians are my NEW ADDICTION!!! WOW!!!!!!

  3. Avo Manta says:

    I wonder if Shannara Chronicles would have been more popular if it had been made by SyFy rather then MTV trying to appeal to young audiences pining for Game of Thrones. I love magic, at least you actually see it in the Magicians

  4. Dave says:

    The show is awesome. I think it’s great that you (Lev) enjoy the show! I think it says something that you can enjoy a different take on something that you clearly put a lot of time into! I watched the show first bit now I’m reading the first book and when I have to put it down I can’t wait to et back to it! I’m also rewatching the show to catch the differences me see little niances that I missed that are me obvious in the book.

  5. P. Preston says:

    I just watched the SyFy adaptation of The Magicians. I really enjoyed reading the books, but I was very disappointed with the adaptation. It was not the plot variations that bothered me as much as the poor acting. By the time I had finished the last episode, I disliked each and every one of the characters and don’t plan to watch season two. I find it hard to believe you had any input at all. So sad.

  6. Krankshaft says:

    Loved the show. Ordered the trilogy on Amazon and couldn’t stop reading till I was done. The show scares me because the first season was good, but it could end up being another BBC Misfits, where the first two seasons are great, then you lose actors or writing goes Brakebills south on you. I just hope they put the scene with Mayakovsky from book three in the series. I wonder if he was named after Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky the Russian poet …

  7. Lisa says:

    Initially I started reading The Magician as the TV series started airing. Boy was I sooooo confused. As Mr. Grossman stated you don’t learn Julia’s story until book 2 so once I started on book 2 everything started to make more sense. I finally had to stop watching the series so I could finish the books as there is so much detail. I enjoyed the books immensely. Because of all the detail I started reading them again and as I guessed I’m picking up more that I missed first time reading. I’ve watched the series and completely understand the changes because it’s TV. I also would have liked to seen more of the migration to Brakebills South than what the TV series presented but that’s ok. I’m not sure why Janet’s name had to change to Margo or why Kady had to be added, but I am still enjoying and loving the TV series as much as I love the books, so far. I am definitely a fan!

  8. aloysius says:

    i missed the niffin alice and the way penny lost his hands was rather anticlimatic 🙁

  9. Steven Arcos says:

    I found it somewhat offensive when the solution to Elliot’s problems was presented as a heterosexual matrimony. He had been portrayed as a proud and confident if not troubled gay man – like all of the characters he carried a lot baggage. I was disappointed when, without much thought or concern, he was willing to give up his identity in order to “do something meaningful with his life.” Margo even warns him that he’ll never be able to be with anyone romantically ever again. This implies being gay is a choice – it is not – that causes misery and depression, and on a whim, anybody can just quit being gay, get married, and save yourself from an unfulfilling meaningless life.

    I read the books before watching the show and did not find this theme presented. Which really leaves me wondering why create this circumstance in the show? There are so many ways to have Elliot arrive to the same point without him renouncing his sexual identity. I loved the books! I really enjoyed the show, until this point. But now, I feel really let down.

  10. Eric Balingit says:

    Well I’m a little late to the game but so far so good. The writers have actually done a nice job of fitting the story into 45 minute segments. I like the books more mainly because they provide broader and more satisfying swings in the plot. But that doesn’t mean that the TV version isn’t attractive in its own right. 🙂

    You must be looking forward to season 2. I’m excited!

  11. Luciano Braga says:

    I`m reading book 2 and found about the TV series and started to watch online.
    The actor that plays Quentin is terrible, and the change all the history, it was better if they didn`t mention the books.
    I was doing an effort to watch, but I couldn`t pass episode 5, it`s just too lame…. Sorry but they ruined a great history.

  12. hisham harun says:

    I’m at episode 4 and I realise that while I do enjoy the show, at times the characters seem too whiny. “What’s wrong with the world? Why can’t everything be as right as rain? Why me? Why my dad?…” You feel like telling them, “suck it up and get a move on. Aren’t you the protagonists of the show?”

  13. Mel says:

    I didn’t know the books existed ’til I saw the first ads for the show, and when I decided I wanted to watch the show, I didn’t rush out, buy them, and read through them–very odd for me, since I’m usually pretty strict about reading source material before viewing adaptations.

    I found the first handful of episodes hard to swallow: too much pointless sex, too much whining, not fantastic acting or writing, etc. However, each episode got a little better, so I hung in there. By a certain episode (I don’t remember which one), I was genuinely enjoying it, though I could have really lived without the whole rape thing (I think rape is *way* overused as a device to create tension and drama, and I think it tends to thrust women into the role of damsel in distress, which as a woman who likes strong female characters, I have some issues with; all that said, sometimes it’s used less gratuitously than others, and sometimes it even works within the plot. Just on the whole, I’d really like to see it as a less frequently leaned upon device.)

    After the season ended, I got the books–and read through them pretty darn fast, because I enjoyed them that much. I could definitely find some nits to pick, but on the whole, I thought they were great–better than the series, for sure, and I ended up really liking the series (oh, and on the extremely slim off chance any of the actors read this comment, I’ll add that I thought the actors all settled into their roles and improved tremendously as the series went on).

    All that said, I can see quite easily why some of the changes that were made happened. Renaming Janet is an obvious one; Janet/Julia are a touch too close (though in a show, I think that would be less distracting than it actually was in the books). Some of the others have a lot to do with pacing and the like; some of the elements I liked best in the books would be hard to depict the same way in a visual format. Because I’m not a big fan of Julia (who seemed whiny to me and ended up with a heck of a “prize” if you will for not doing anything particularly great herself and mostly being stupid when she should have known better), I could have lived without her story going on simultaneously, but I can see why it made sense. So forth and so on.

    I guess the point (if I have one) of all this is that if you only gave the show a few episodes, you may possibly want to press on a bit; it does improve. And if you’re really just not inclined to enjoy an adaptation that deviates from its source material, then that’s OK, but you’ll likely just want to stay with the books. The books were never going to make sense translated one-to-one to the screen. That very rarely works well.

  14. Shaun Ackroyd says:

    Just watched the first season and it was fantastic. It was so good i rooted out the books and read them. I thought the series was excellent until i read the books and was blown away. They are now some of my favourite books now. I got half of my family reading them after describing it to them, they had to try it.

    As i watched the series first it didnt feel to lose anything but i must admit the filler episodes (Quentin in the asylum dream world….)that were no where in the books could have been replaced with some of the epic bits they left out. More on the south training camp etc… But hey it was still a very good season. Thanks to the makers for doing great on transferring it to the screen and helping me find it in the first place. Cant wait for Season two.

  15. J the reader says:

    All in all, a great story and a compelling tv series. I watched the shows first and then after episode started the books. By the end of book 1, I was convinced they are a great set of characters in a very interesting world.

    The previous comments about differences in the show versus the books are all on the spot and it is impressive that
    the author attitude is so positive and has shared his appreciation of the adaptation.

    The story lost some of its appeal to me at Alice’s death. I thought their romance was a very strong and hopeful thing; but since her character is announced to continue in season 2, perhaps there is is still hope. I continue reading book 2, so far without Alice. ?

    But I am glad I have seen the show and and that the books were written so well. Keep it up. Congrats to all involved.

  16. Tiffany says:

    Sorry to say that I dislike the tv adaptation. In some places the plot changes almost feel like they are bowdlerizing or infantilizing the story. I could go on a boring analysis, but in the long run i’m trying to watch the series just so i can say that i finished it and see if they continue to turn it into something that feels a little twilight-esque mixed with only the lighter parts of Harry Potter, when I’d much rather re-read the books.

    At least the TV show didn’t kill the books for me, although it may have killed my enjoyment of the Sci-Fi channel.

  17. Dennis Montoya says:

    I started with the show,l. I liked it so much I read the books
    So glad I did! Brilliant just awesome I love the audiobook
    The narrator Mark Bramhall is quite exceptional!
    Good job!
    Where did you get the inspiration for the books? I catch the DND references, and the Harry Potter jabs!! Ha

  18. Aj says:

    The show is such garbage and to say you need to change it for it to work on tv it’s such a copout.

  19. Jacqueline Stigman says:

    From learning here that Hollywood added a gratuitous rape scene I’ve had the 1st series refunded. I watched the first episode, and while I enjoyed it I felt Lev Grossman’s opening of The Magicians was much better. I agree that books often need some changes for film, but this change was not necessary.

  20. gray444 says:

    Kill off Q if you want this show to be renewed the casting is alright except for him the writing has been lazy and sometimes down right STUPID ! They have a gay guy sleeping with women and getting her pregnant and now he say’s he loves her but he is still gay come on either he is gay or straight pick one. Then again you would have a better chance of getting a gay guy to screw a woman than Q getting a hot girl like Alice ! No wonder why these shows are constantly cancelled the writers and the casting director are smoking to much weed.

  21. Nubotai says:

    I loved the books and have read the trilogy twice now. I felt that Grossman’s storytelling ability improved with each book and WOW, what an ending! The show though, and adaptations in general, are so very hard to get right imho. Or at least, I assume they are because they are so rarely done right. I get cutting scenes out to fit the format of Television, I don’t understand changing a name, adding characters, new plot points, etc. Why?!?! Why add a new Physical Kid? Why change a name? I read in a previous response that Janet/Julia was confusing. OK, i guess…I wasn’t confused while reading…but I understand it in a book. In a TV show, with the visuals, there would be no issues or confusion, so WHY? Why bother optioning a book in the first place if you want to tell a different story? I’m just so sick of all of my favorite books being turned into crap TV (looking at you Legend of the Seeker, Dresden Files, and Game of Thrones season 5 onward). In the Dresden Files TV show, they make Murphy a brunette, when her blond hair is mentioned often in the books, WHY? Why change little details that don’t matter to anyone except the people who read the book, and they don’t want it changed. Look at LOTR, a rare adaptation done well. They cut out scenes, but it is largely the same (even if Glorfindel actually swept away the Nazgul in the river to save Frodo, not Eowyn) I loved the Magicians books, and I still do, but it’s really the changes that I find hard to swallow, not the omissions. Why change a name, add a new character, add in entire scenes that never happened in the books? It’s frustrating because I love when adaptations are done well (The Godfather, LOTR, The Crucible, Roots, etc.)

  22. Miles says:

    I saw tv version first randomly on Netflix and got sucked in. Then I bought season 2 on Amazon.

    Then I arrived here and liked Lev’s attitude toward the tv series, so decided to give the books a look – or a listen, rather, since I got hold of the audiobooks firs. Written story IS quite different, yet I think somehow the underlying character and sensibility remains. Really liking them, even though I’ve been listening to them backwards!

    I like the creativity in theatricality of the tv series. It works for me.

  23. Adam says:

    One of the best show series on TV hands down! I think the writers and casting are great despite what some have said in their comments. Everyone has an opinion and mine is to spark up your best/favorite weed, kickback and relax, and let the Magicians take you on awesome quests through a magical land. A land that everyone should have the ability to escape to even if it is for a short hour out of our busy hectic lives. Enjoy!!!

  24. Scott says:

    The show is okay – visually engaging and occasionally sexy or fun, but rather shallow compared to the books, and with unnecessarily and improbably uniformly callous characters. It disappointingly barely touches on the extreme intellect and dedication required to be a magician (including the lengthy study of linguistics, the Conditions, finger positions, and many other things), with the students immediately successful at magic while seemingly possessing only ordinary intelligence instead of the academic brilliance (or whatever other interesting quirks) necessary to qualify for and succeed at the Brakebills of the novels. Subsequently magic is too easy and accessible and disposable in the show, which diminishes its specialness and makes it and the show, well, not very magical.

  25. Ryan says:

    Really sick of hearing about an ‘added’ gratuitous rape scene – it is in no way ‘added’ – it’s in book 2, along with most of Julia’s story.

  26. Jack says:

    I like Julia. She always looks sad and bad things happen to her. If I saw her standing in the rain, I would give her my umbrella. <3

    I haven't read the books. They haven't been translated into my native language, but I will probably read them after the TV series is finished. I hate Syfy (because they canceled Dark Matter), but… must see The Magicians.

  27. StringsAndMirrors says:

    I have seen many magicians and they all share the same problem. I think the first I saw was that guy who thought he could convince people that he actually walked through the great wall of China. Walking through a solid wall, so silly. The problem they all share is this; whatever they do, no matter how big the trick is I just say “it`s a trick”. And that ends it. Because it`s always a trick, they`re not really doing anything. They just take advantage of the fact that lots of people are idiots who wants to be fooled. Still have not met a magician who did anything I couldn`t explain and I never will. Because it`s always a trick. Always. When you learn that, magic is ruined forever. It no longer has any entertainment value.

  28. David N says:

    I’m a bit late to the party here but I’ve read the books and have been watching the TV series from Day 1. I loved the books and was initially quite disappointed at the way the show deviates from them. As it did so more and more, I just had to let that go and enjoy the ride, which I have…immensely. For anyone who hasn’t absorbed both, I highly recommend doing them separately and enjoying the alternative versions.

    One thing I absolutely must say, though, is that Eliot and Julia are cast perfectly, and Penny IS way more badass in the TV version. Oh, and Josh is also perfect in both!

  29. river lux says:

    I love the show. I’m ready for season 4!!!! ? Julia’s my fav…Alice is my least fav she’s such a whiny b****. Show is amazing. I’m gonna read the books soon (:

  30. K says:

    Caught up on the show, decided to read the books while waiting for the fourth season. Yes, the show has some things that can definitely be improved, but the books. Good lord. I suppose I just have a few questions, mainly- why is Q such a sex-hungry douche? Why does he have a crush or singles out every single female character as nothing more than just tits and curves? I’m truly hoping this was just an insane irony, because truly the show’s only saving grace is that the characters- and the depth of the characters- are significantly more stomachable and altogether somewhat enjoyable. Planning on finishing the series but I truly hope it improves from here. I had such high hopes.

  31. Ginny says:

    I love the show, especially the most recent season–wowsa–what a fantastic season (3). Just finished book 2 and am about to start book 3. I enjoyed book 2, not so much book 1. I like the tv characters absolutely better than the book characters. And, Margo and Eliot are the best and most interesting parts of the tv show–they are barely present in the books. I actually disagree with what others have said and think the acting on the show is pretty great. Looking forward to the show’s return next season.

  32. John Dough says:

    Mr Grossman – Thank you for bringing us this world,and these people, and thank you for staying connected to the TV show. I’ve enjoyed both tremendously. Cant wait for season 4 🙂

Leave a Reply