Codes of manner, codes of honor, and codebreakers.
First in The Magicians, and now in its sequel The Magician King, Lev Grossman transports readers to the land of Fillory, an enchanted realm that recalls Hogwarts or Narnia — but seen through the eyes of a modern Brooklynite. As a literary critic Grossman has been an ardent defender of fantasy as serious literature, but when we asked him to pick three favorites, he offered an eclectic trio, evidence of the broad range of visions that influence his own writing.
By Evelyn Waugh
“‘You’re to come away at once, out of danger. I’ve got a motor-car and a basket of Château Peyraguey — which isn’t a wine you’ve ever tasted, so don’t pretend.’ The words are those of the beautiful, doomed Sebastian Flyte, a character in Waugh’s tragicomic masterpiece, and you would do well to heed them. Brideshead Revisited is Waugh’s epic of England between the wars, and its rather stiff-collared title notwithstanding, it’s as great and moving and entertaining as its American counterpart, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby — all twinkle and gloom and tragic hilarity and buckets of champagne.”
By Susanna Clarke
“The year is 1808, the Napoleonic wars are raging, and magic in England is in a state of sad disrepair — historians study it and theorists argue about it, but nobody can actually do it anymore. But wait! It turns out there is one practicing magician left in England, the caustic, reclusive Mr. Norrell. He soon acquires a rival in the young, dandyish Jonathan Strange, and Clarke’s book is the story of their strange, tangled frenemy-ship. Clarke writes about magic as if she has seen it worked first-hand, at close range, 10 minutes ago — it’s that fresh and clear and real. And she has the scariest fairies anywhere.”
By Neal Stephenson
“Imagine a novelist with the stylistic chops of a Jonathan Franzen and the technological prescience of a James Gleick. Poof! He just appeared, right in front of you: he’s Neal Stephenson, and he writes the most electrically intelligent novels around. Cryptonomicon is set partly in a hothouse dot-com start-up, partly in the frenzied Allied codebreaking effort of World War II — the worlds are linked by Lawrence and Randy Waterhouse, grandfather and grandson, and their stories unfold in parallel. Stephenson’s abiding preoccupation is information: how it circulates, what are its fluid dynamics, and how it affects the lives of the people it flows around and through.”