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The Magus: a revised version by John Fowles

The Magus: a revised version (1966)

by John Fowles

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,064771,867 (3.97)17



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Showing 1-5 of 75 (next | show all)
The Magus is a book by John Fowles. It is a work of fiction that was listed in The 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. I probably wouldn’t have heard of it otherwise. Going into this, I didn’t even know the synopsis of this work. I didn’t really have any expectations of it since I only know what I had read in 1001 Books and even that was nebulous at best.

The book is about a young man named Nicholas Urfe. It starts pretty well I suppose. I didn’t really care about his family, but it certainly does explain some things. For instance, Urfe is really into reading and poetry, but his father is more practical-minded. His mother also doesn’t care about his interests and dismisses them out of hand. Urfe is successful enough in his studies to go to Magdalen College, Oxford. He becomes a teacher but aspires to be a poet. At first, he goes to a school to teach but quits after his second term there. There is a faint hint of failure in the air, and it is palpable to this Urfe fellow. He doesn’t want to be a failure, so he quits his job and decides to go overseas. He initially strikes me as a directionless young man.

Urfe doesn’t have the confidence to be in relationships so he goes for dowdy spinsters. Even when he asks this woman out, he makes note of all of her flaws. Her front teeth are too big is one example. He attempts to use the fact that he is a pathetic man with the solitary heart of a poet and goes off that. I don’t know about him being a Lothario or anything, but I don’t really care for his character. Urfe is the sort of person that sleeps around, but he only does it because that is the image he wants to convey to others. He doesn’t want to be tied down. He loves his freedom.

So I don’t know if I am meant to relate to this character, but I can’t condone what he has done under any circumstance so far. The parts with dialogue are very well done though. Eventually, he gets to Greece and the mysteries that it holds. Urfe loves Greece for its natural beauty but hates the women that live there. They are too sallow-faced. However, he does come to the realization that his pieces of poetry are terrible and childish. He also gets syphilis and tries to commit suicide.

Eventually, he meets a mysterious millionaire and is led into a deadly game of survival. I guess this is a good point to stop with my synopsis.

This one took me ages to get through. This is mainly because I kept getting involved with other books and putting this one on the back burner. Luckily, I was able to procure a copy of this book and could read it at my leisure. The unfortunate thing is it took me so long that I forgot what happened and had to start over. This actually happened several times. Then I finally realized that I had been reading this book for almost two years. Thankfully, the book turned out to be enjoyable despite Urfe’s horrible character. Urfe goes through an arc, he becomes more of a man so to speak. Despite all of the time it took, this book was hard to stop reading once I got going. 4/5. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
The Magus is an interesting novel, but not my cup of tea. It epitomises why I'm not a fan of postmodernist literature. By his own admission, the author while writing this epic had little idea of where it was going. So, too, the reader finds himself baffled. Initially, we are misled along with the protagonist, Nicholas Urfe, a British Oxford graduate who takes up a role as an English teacher on a Greek island. Later, after so many deceptions, we catch on and are inwardly screaming at him to see through the lies. Yet his own fantasies, or intimacy with the psychological experiment he has become, cause him to be a mere passenger.

The plot is convoluted. Every enlightening moment is followed by a reversal and new, unexplored avenues. It is also full of esoteric references. If this novel has a point, and beneath its veneer it may well do, it is not easily accessible. Perhaps, ironically, this is what John Fowles intended: a novel which can arouse reaction but indicate no purpose. I appreciate this novel is set in Greece, but the Greek setting is not a requirement of the plot: there is no reason to expect the reader to understand dozens of references to classical mythology. George Eliot, a hundred years earlier, is the only author I know to have drawn so heavily on Greek culture. As such, this is a writer's novel, one you can admire as an ambiguous work of art, not one a casual reader will necessarily enjoy.

Fowles does write exceptionally well. The novel benefits from being written in the first person, and you are genuinely drawn into Nicholas' mode of thought. The level of detail is sometimes excessive and feels forced. If twelve figures appear in front of the protagonist, which happens at one point, expect each to be characterised in turn. Giving Fowles credit where it is due, however unlikable the protagonist, the extended denouement is brilliantly written.

Favourite Quotes

"He had been a serious-minded man, and death frightened him as it must frighten anyone who believes that all his most secret thoughts will be shortly exposed in public."

"For days, afraid of Maggie, who for some reason stood in her mind as a hated but still potent monolith of solid Australian virtue on the blasted moor of English decadence, Alison did not go out except at night."

"I could see, as clear as printed words in Alison’s eyes, that she thought we had crossed back into the old relationship. She had broken the ice; but it was for me to jump into the water."

"I felt both sexually and socially deprived, I did not expect we should be able to meet during the week; but yet a deep excitement buoyed me on, a knowledge like that of the poker-player who needs only one more card to have an unbeatable hand."

"The lifeless sea was ruffled here and there by a lost zephyr, by a stippling shoal of sardines, dark ash-blue lines that snaked, broad then narrow, in slow motion across the shimmering mirageous surface, as if the water was breeding corruption."

"I was still determined to tell Julie, but at the right time and place, when the exchange rate between confession and the sympathy it evoked looked likely to be high."

"German is to death what Latin is to ritual religion – entirely appropriate."

"Either you enlist under the kapetan, that murderer who knew only one word, but the only word, or you enlist under Anton. You watch and you despair. Or you despair and you watch. In the first case, you commit physical suicide; in the second, moral.’"

"It was symptomatic that the ubiquitous person of speech was ‘one’ – it was one’s view, one’s friends, one’s servants, one’s favourite writer, one’s travelling in Greece, until the terrible faceless Avenging God of the Bourgeois British, One, was standing like a soot-blackened obelisk over the whole evening."

"Her mouth without a cigarette was like a yacht without a mast; one presumed disaster."

"It seemed sadistic, this last wasteland of days. It was as if Conchis, with Alison’s connivance, proceeded by some outmoded Victorian dietetic morality—one couldn’t have more jam, the sweetness of events, until one ate a lot more bread, the dry stodge of time." ( )
  jigarpatel | Feb 27, 2019 |
I was expecting something with more depth and complexity. This was a rollicking read, for sure. Ha, and actually I once participated in a psychodrama workshop, where some folks acted out a mildly traumatic experience from my past. But in this book our protagonist is annoyingly typical bratty self-centered exploitative young man. Somehow he gets caught up in the central role of sort of Rosicrucian initiation ceremony, with a cast of dozens and a budget of millions. The whole thing is just too contrived! Toss in some Jung... probably in 1965 it was a kind of grand manifestation of some trendy ideas. Nowadays, with virtual reality role playing and the utter decadence of society, this book seems more Much Ado about Nothing than Othello. ( )
  kukulaj | Feb 21, 2019 |

""The Magus" is a stunner, magnificent in ambition, supple and gorgeous in execution. It fits no neat category; it is at once a pyrotechnical extravaganza, a wild, hilarious charade, a dynamo of suspense and horror, a profoundly serious probing into the nature of moral consciousness, a dizzying, electrifying chase through the labyrinth of the soul, an allegorical romance, a sophisticated account of modern love, a ghost story that will send shivers racing down the spine. Lush, compulsive, richly inventive, eerie, provocative, impossibly theatrical--it is, in spite of itself, convincing." Thus wrote Eliot Fremont-Smith in his New York Times book review when this magnificent novel was first published back in 1966.

Let me tell you folks, this was one powerful literary experience - not only did I read the book but I also listened to the outstanding audio version, read by Nicholas Boulton. "Stupidity is lethal." One of the many musing from first person narrator Nicholas Urfe, a dashingly handsome twenty-five year old Oxford educated Englishman on the Greek island of Phraxos during a conversation with Conchis, a much older wealthy recluse, a man imaginative enough to remind him of Pablo Picasso and mysterious enough to remind me of Aleister Crowley.

This 660 pager begins with Nicholas Urfe recounting his background as an only child of middle class parents, stickler brigadier father, an officious military man down to his toes, a man forever trotting out words like discipline and tradition and responsibility to undergird his position on any topic, obedient housebound mother, public school education (what in the US is called private school), short stint in the army during peacetime and then reading English at Oxford. When one day at Oxford he receives word that both his mother and father died in an airplane crash, Nicholas feels a great relief since he no longer is obliged to carry around a huge sack of family baggage. Ah, family!

However, after Oxford, there’s one person who exerts a profound influence on Nicholas prior to his traveling to Phraxos to teach boys at the English-run Lord Byron School - Alison, a gorgeous, graceful Australian gal who moves in with Nicholas in his quaint apartment facing Russell Square. And that’s influence as in emotional intensity, as in red hot passionate lovemaking, bitter heated arguments and nearly everything in between, as if their relationship is a primer for the Dionysian frenzy and chaos Nicholas will eventually encounter in Greece.

When leaving England, Nicholas calls to mind how he needs more mystery in his life. Well, he certain gets his wish when he meets old Maurice Conchis and is initiated in unexpected ways into the atrocities of World War I and then the Nazis, the vitality of Greek theater and mask acting, isolation and religious fanaticism, hypnotism and mysticism, Freudian psychoanalysis and Jungian archetypes, ancient pagan religions inexplicably mingling with science and humanism.

Pulled into the vortex of the brutality of recent European history and pushed out to hidden spiritual realms with a dose of romantic love thrown in along the way, Nicholas is forced to confront his basic philosophic assumptions: How free are we? How much influence does our culture and historic epoch have on our values? Is there a universal foundation of morality beyond social convention? What is the connection between truth and beauty? Does love conquer all or is this merely a hackneyed cliché?

Toward the end of the novel, we as readers join Nicholas in asking: Ultimately, what was the real intent and purpose of Maurice Conchis and his so called godgame? Was all of what he as a young Englishman lived through at bottom a madman’s desire to manipulate and control, so much so it would it be more accurate to label Conchis’ inventive masque a congame rather than a godgame?

Turning the novel’s pages, we are right there with Nicholas as the suspense mounts – for every mystery that appears to be solved, two corollary mysteries pop up to take its place. Are we delving deeper into the mysteries of the universe or the mysteries of a detective novel, or both? No wonder Eliot Fremont-Smith called “The Magus” a stunner. I couldn’t imagine a more apt one-word description. I can also appreciate John Gardner’s judgement when he wrote, "Fowles is the only writer in English who has the power, range, knowledge, and wisdom of a Tolstoy or James."
( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
The first half was like a Hemingway novel in that it was extremely well written with high quality dialog and characters while at the same time being slow and lacking in interesting plot progression.

The second half makes the first half worth it. ( )
  cuothoju | Apr 6, 2018 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Fowlesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cartanega, SoledadForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peterson, MartinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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I was born in 1927, the only child of middle-class parents, both English, and themselves born in the grotesquely elongated shadow, which they never rose sufficiently above history to leave, of that monstrous dwarf Queen Victoria.
I acquired expensive habits and affected manners.  I got a third class degree and a first class illusion: that I was a poet.
Men see objects, women see the relationship between objects. ... It is an extra dimension of feeling we men are without and one that makes war abhorrent to all real women – and absurd. ... War is a psychosis caused by an inablity to see relationships.
This is true of all collecting. It extinguishes the moral instinct. The object finally possesses the possessor.
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Please do not combine the revised version of The Magus with the original version. There are some differences between these two versions of the book. This is the revised version.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316290920, Hardcover)

A man trapped in a millionare's deadly game of political and sexual betrayal.

Filled with shocks and chilling surprises, The Magus is a masterwork of contemporary literature. In it, a young Englishman, Nicholas Urfe, accepts a teaching position on a Greek island where his friendship with the owner of the islands most magnificent estate leads him into a nightmare. As reality and fantasy are deliberately confused by staged deaths, erotic encounters, and terrifying violence, Urfe becomes a desperate man fighting for his sanity and his life. A work rich with symbols, conundrums and labrinthine twists of event, The Magus is as thought-provoking as it is entertaining, a work that ranks with the best novels of modern times.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:23 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Nicholas Urfe accepts a teaching post on a remote Greek island, in order to escape an unsatisfactory love affair. He meets the Maurice Conchis, who introduces him to Lily, his ideal of the perfect woman. But is she flesh or fantasy? As the past bleeds into the present, he finds it increasingly difficult to distinguish reality from imagination. Under the spell of this magic isle and its presiding spirit, he struggles to understand the rules of the mysterious game into which he is drawn.

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