Which Door Would you Choose?

 

So I came across an interesting post on Facebook earlier today. It asked a question that in turn got me thinking about something else. So I thought I’d borrow the idea and explore it in a bit more detail on the blog.

First, here’s the post itself:

which door would you choose

I guess I found it interesting as when I was young I used to daydream a little about this kind of thing. Quite often I used to imagine I was in Sherwood Forrest or Camelot and I loved using my imagination to make me feel like I was really there and not in my bedroom or back yard. This doesn’t seem all that different from those childhood fantasies.

What would I do now, given the choice as an adult? Where would I love to visit and what would I love to see? Maybe the beauty of Rivendell or the grandeur of Camelot? The fun of magical London or the breadth of the Wall?

I find that idea really fun to think about but, funnily enough, treating it seriously for a moment, I don’t think I’d actually want to go to any of those worlds.

When you stop and think about it and place them into context, all these worlds are wonderfully imagined, magical places but they’re also all torn apart by war and strife. That’s the nature of fiction, that it needs conflict to drive the narrative, and that’s often what interests us about these worlds as backdrops – but that becomes very different when you think about these places as potentially being ‘real’. While a child might dream of playing and adventuring in those worlds, for an adult they probably wouldn’t be as attractive and likely would be very dangerous.

I guess if you were to imagine a real world equivalent, it would be a bit like visiting Syria at the moment; it would be a wonderful place to see and learn about but probably not that safe and not somewhere most people would choose to go.

Given that, I find it quite hard to answer the question. All of the places would have incredible beauty and interesting landmarks, so it would be hard for me to decide simply based on that also.

So I guess this is how I would answer and why:

For me Narnia would be first out as, no matter how interesting that world is, it’s basically set against a never-ending religious civil war and there is enough of that in our world. And Neverland is a pretty weird and dangerous place when you think about it, so that’s out for me as well. Wonderland is too trippy for me and Westeros is a pretty hard land where everyone wants to kill you, including George RR Martin, so that’s out too.

That leaves Hogwarts, Camelot and Middle-Earth. Hogwarts is nice but there’s a really dark undercurrent to those stories too and as much as I love Camelot, there’s an awful lot of betrayal and loss.

Which leaves Middle-Earth. While there’s fighting, there are also long periods of peace and a quiet life in the Shire sounds like a pretty good option overall. Plus there’s a lot of beauty in that world.

So I guess I’d choose the Middle-Earth door and try to have a quiet life.

That’s more or less how I answered on Facebook as well, except with a little more humour.

I spent a while reading through the comments afterwards as well and something occurred to me while reading them. The choices were split pretty evenly on the whole, except for Hogwarts and Middle-Earth which both had a slight advantage, but the most interesting thing was how the answers often seemed to reflect bits and pieces of people’s lives and personalities.

For instance, people who chose Narnia often said they did so because they related to the themes in the world, while others who liked Neverland said they liked the innocence of the story, and Hogwarts because they would have loved to have escaped like Harry did when they were young. And so on.

I find that fascinating, how a simple question can reveal so much about us. It reminds me of some of the tests psychologists use and I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere something like this is actually being used that way.

I thought about it for a while and came up with this to describe the traits based on the choices people made and the reasons they gave. I’m obviously not a psychologist so this is obviously highly unscientific(!) but these traits definitely seemed to come up again and again in the answers which I thought was interesting.

Narnia: someone who is quite religious or enjoys religious themes. Neverland: someone who is a child at heart and has a sense of wonder about the world. Wonderland: someone who is attracted to more offbeat, eccentric subjects and thinks outside the box. Hogwarts: someone attracted to escapism and wishes they could be/could have been someone else during their life. Camelot: someone who is a bit of a romantic and a traditionalist and often wishes for simpler times. Middle-Earth: someone who seeks beauty and/or adventure and is a bit of a dreamer at heart. Westeros: someone who enjoys testing themselves and/or has experienced pain and loss.

I doubt those would be accurate for everyone but they corresponded with a lot of the answers and I’d say they’re accurate for me as well. I would definitely describe myself as a bit of a dreamer, and I’d say I’d also relate to some of those reasons for enjoying Harry Potter and the Arthurian stories too at different times in my life.

Overall I found the question and the answers really interesting and it’s funny how something like a simple Facebook post or a blog quiz can reveal so much about us.

Sometimes I wonder what historians in five hundred or a thousand years will make of a lot of the data we’ve put online and what it will tell them about our lives. Because that’s what we’re actually doing by keeping a blog or updating social media, we’re creating a collective tapestry of life that will far outlive us. Which is a bit scary when you think about it. But pretty amazing too.

I imagine a lot of it will seem very pedantic and self-absorbed (because honestly, a lot of it is) but at the same time things like blogs and social media will be a real boon to them, showing what our interests were like, our speech and writing patterns, clothing, politics, etc. Even a simple question like this might provide a huge amount of insight.

Something to think about the next time we write a post or share something on Facebook or Twitter.

So which door would you choose and what do you think it says about you? I’d love to find out. 🙂

Novel Update

I haven’t posted much about my writing recently but I have a little good news to share about my novel for those following my progress: I finally finished the novel’s outline last week and as I couldn’t sleep last night as it was so hot in Sydney, at about 5:30 am I sat down and officially started on the first full draft of my novel. So it’s finally getting there.

To be honest I was so tired that I only managed a few lines but after more than two years planning it and all the backstory, it feels great to have finally started on it properly and I’m very excited with how it’s turning out. Can’t wait to get stuck into it later tonight.

As you can see in the photo I’ve given it the working title of Hallowden; at this stage I think it will probably be the final title as well, although that might change with time. Hallowden is the name of an ancient city where the majority of the novel is set and while I considered some other titles as well, in the end I thought it was the most suitable title as the city defines much of the novel. It also adds a bit of mystery to it that I like as well.

So what’s the novel about? Well, without giving too much away, the novel is about a man who returns to his home in Hallowden after fighting in a distant war, only to find that during his absence the ancient city has been taken over by extremists and is being torn apart by civil war. In the midst of the civil war, his lover has disappeared, feared killed in a brutal terrorist attack, and he must descend into Hallowden’s underworld to find the truth of what’s happened to her, to Hallowden, and to find her if she’s still alive.

The novel is set on an alternate Earth where magic and science are the same and it’s essentially a modern fable about religious extremism and the cost of war. It’s a bit of an adventure and a bittersweet love story as well… I guess I’m just trying to write the kind of novel I’d like to read and hopefully it will turn out well.

I hope to have this first draft (basically a rough draft without any dialogue or exposition) finished in about a month, then will start on the second (main) draft which will probably take about three or four months to write. There’ll probably be some revisions after that as well but with luck, hopefully I’ll have the whole thing finished in about six months.

Now that I’ve started I’ll be posting an update on my progress about once a fortnight and I’m also currently writing a short story set in the same world which I will post sometime in the next few weeks. If I have time I might also write a few other stories to help explore the novel’s backstory as well but I’ll see how I go first.

As far as my other writing goes, I’ve also almost finished a new poem which I’ve been working on for some time now and hope to post shortly. It’s a bit different to my normal poetry and I’m quite happy with it so far.

I’ve also been thinking about putting together an ebook collection of some of my previous works as a few people have suggested it to me now. The main reason I haven’t before is that I don’t think I own the copyrights to some of my published stories, so I’ll have to sort through my other stories and see if they’re of a high enough standard. The full novella version of The Life Artist might be an option… we’ll see.

I’m also still working on restoring my great-great grandfather Isaac’s memoir. I have a version of it scanned but the quality isn’t very good, so I need to type it by hand, which is a little time-consuming at the moment. I’m not sure when it will be finished but if anyone wants to read it in the meantime, I can send them the scanned copy. Just let me know.

In any case that’s where I’m up to with my writing at the moment. The novel’s coming along well and it feels great to finally be working on the first draft. I’ll have a bit more to reveal about the story once the draft’s finished as well.

Thank you to everyone who’s left comments or sent me emails recently as well. I haven’t had time to reply yet but I’ll be answering them properly tonight. ~ CJ.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

I stumbled across The Magicians by accident a couple of weeks ago. I’d not read any of Lev Grossman’s work before but there was something about The Magicians that grabbed my attention. It was partly the cover, a haunting image of a tree surrounded by fog, its leaves scattered like tears across a small lake, that caught my interest. Likewise, something about the description reminded me of a grown-up version of Narnia, an adult fantasy mixing the beloved worlds of Lewis with the sex, angst and conflict of real, everyday life. With The Magicians Grossman tries to reinvent modern fantasy for adults and it’s a novel unlike any I’ve read.

The Magicians begins with Quentin Coldwater, a teenager who’s just finished high school with his friends James and Julia. Unsure of what he wants to do with his life and pining for Julia, his unrequited love, Quentin lives in a near-constant melancholy; the only relief he finds is in a series of novels from his childhood about the magical world of Fillory. He dreams of living in Fillory and longs for it to be real, believing it would give purpose and meaning to his otherwise unremarkable life.

When Quentin discovers and is admitted to Brakebills, a college in upstate New York that teaches its students how to use and control magic, it seems that his dream is about to come true. But studying magic is nothing like he imagined. It’s tedious, arduous work and his fellow students are competitive and hostile. Suddenly Quentin is no longer the smartest in his class and finds himself struggling to understand his full potential. His depression returns even as he begins to fall in love with Alice, one of his few friends at Brakebills.

Eventually, after five long years, Quentin and Alice graduate from Brakebills. They move in with a few other graduates from Brakebills and Quentin soon falls into a familiar pattern, losing himself in a world of drugs, parties and alcohol. It begins to drive a wedge between them, with Quentin seemingly content to live a life of mediocrity, while Alice continues to learn about magic.

When another graduate of Brakebills reveals that he has found Fillory — a real place connected to a whole nexus of other worlds — Quentin’s listlessness lifts again. This is what he’s been waiting for; what he’s always wanted. Together the magicians journey to Fillory but soon find that everything is different. The real Fillory is nothing like the world they know from the stories, more nightmare than dream. Together they pledge to set things right in Fillory… but as their relationships begin to fall apart around them, they realise their quest will not only reveal the truth about Fillory but about themselves as well.

I’ve been thinking about The Magicians since I finished it last week and I’m still not completely sure how I feel about it. On the one hand there’s no doubt that it’s a brilliant, literate reimagining of modern fantasy. But on the other, there’s nothing about the novel that feels particularly magical or wondrous. That’s because, when you get to the heart of it, The Magicians isn’t a fantasy novel at all, not really, and it’s hard to know how to judge it.

Rather, The Magicians is a novel about fantasy. It’s an examination of the genre; it takes classic themes — like magic, strange creatures, fantastical worlds — and in dissecting them and putting them back together asks the question, what if magic were real? How would we use it? Would we value the gift or take it for granted? It’s a serious, adult novel that uses magic to explore the darker side of human nature and particularly the danger of apathy.

As such, what really stands out about the novel for me is the characters. It’s not a particularly long novel but all of the characters feel detailed and real. They’re real people, complete with hopes, dreams, flaws, jealousies… they’re magicians capable of great feats, yes, but they’re ordinary and imperfect and that’s what makes them compelling. Alice in particular fascinated me; brilliant yet shy, she seemed almost autistic at times, capable of great power but never really understanding it.

Quentin on the other hand is a study in contrasts. He is both a dreamer and a pessimist, a young man who finds himself with a gift he has always wanted, only to squander it when he realises it’s not what he thought it would be. His moods range wildly from joy to despair and he keeps making all of the wrong decisions again and again, so much so that as a reader you just want to grab him by the shoulders and shake some sense into him. But Quentin can’t help it. He’s our eyes into this world and represents our own expectations of magic; in a way we are Quentin and it’s hard to imagine that we’d react any differently.

Quentin is the main protagonist but it’s wrong to call him the hero of the story; there are no real heroes in The Magicians, just people. Everything Quentin does is because he longs to escape from his life but each time he just makes things worse and in the end that’s what The Magicians is really about — learning to accept reality, to make the most of what you have. It’s a lesson Quentin just can’t seem to learn and it costs him everything.

If there’s one problem I have with The Magicians, though, it’s that while all of the characters feel well developed, none of them are particularly likeable. With the possible exception of Alice they’re all bitter, competitive, narcissistic brats; Quentin in particular whines through most of the novel and it becomes tiring. None of the characters seem aware of the destruction they cause around them and while that’s the point, it makes it difficult to care what happens to them or to really relate to them.

Likewise, one of the other problems with The Magicians is that while it is a reinvention of modern fantasy, none of the ideas in the novel themselves are particularly original. Of course, they’re not meant to be; the story is meant to be reminiscent of classic fantasy motifs, making us look at them with new, adult eyes. For the most part that works and Grossman’s world succeeds in feeling familiar but different, but the setting still feels a little clichéd at times, particularly with some of the similarities between Narnia and Fillory.

At times I also felt that Grossman went a little too far in trying to make magic seem so ordinary in the story. Some of the scenes, particularly at Brakebills, feel like they’re included for no other reason than to show how hard it is to use magic in Grossman’s world (more like learning a science than a skill). I know that’s the point, to make it more realistic, but sometimes it just seems to take the magic out of, well, magic. On the other hand, some of the other magical scenes are captivating. There’s one scene in particular where Quentin watches the statue of a bird that a student had tried to bring to life; the spell had failed halfway through and the statue, thinking it’s alive, keeps trying to fly. But it’s too heavy and falls, only to get up and try again and again. It was little more than a paragraph but it’s haunting and stayed with me for the rest of the novel.

My only other real gripe with the novel is that while it’s well written, some of the dialogue feels a little stilted and unrealistic. Secondary characters like Eliot, meant to sound arrogant and supercilious, instead sound overly dramatic and some of the interaction between characters doesn’t ring true, particularly when they’re in larger groups. It’s a stark contrast to Grossman’s prose, which for the most part is excellent; there’s a subtle, rhythmic flow to much of his writing and some of his passages and descriptions are breathtaking.

Overall I’m still not really sure how I feel about The Magicians. I enjoyed it a great deal but at the same time I find it a difficult book to judge. As an idea and a reimagining of modern fantasy, it’s fascinating, but as a novel it’s not perfect by any means and is held back (ironically) by some rather mundane flaws.

Perhaps in the end The Magicians is a little too ambitious for its own good but in a market flooded with Lord of the Rings, Twilight and Harry Potter rip-offs, it still feels refreshingly different. It’s a thoughtful, intelligent novel and as a novel that makes you think about the nature of fantasy and reality in our own lives as well, it’s a resounding success.

Fantasy fans and general readers wanting something a little different will love it. Highly recommended.

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