Lev Grossman's The Magician King Brings Sex, Drugs and Slang to Hogwarts

​As much as he loved visiting Hogwarts, something always bugged author Lev Grossman when he worked his way through J.K. Rowling's epic."I found it really odd that Potter never seemed to have read C.S. Lewis growing up. No one in his world seems to have ever read any fiction at all, in fact," says Grossman, who speaks at the Miami Book Fair International this weekend. "I don't think Hogwarts' library even has a fiction section."

So when he created his own fantastical realm full of young magicians -- starting in his 2009 hit The Magicians and continued in his new sequel The Magician King -- Grossman took the exact opposite approach.

His characters, a young bunch of gifted math nerds from Brooklyn, are obsessed with a Narnia-esque literary land called Fillory, well versed in Harry Potter lore and speak not in the faux-Olde English of most fantasy books but in normal teenage patter.

"This place is magic as balls!" hero Quentin Coldwater exclaims toward the beginning of the new novel. 

"Part of the idea is writing fantasy as an American, it seemed wrong to have characters speak with this correct English diction you usually find in fantasy," Grossman says. "But I also wanted to take a mythic story and not treating it like a myth. I wanted to treat it like a novel, where the characters are psychologically distinct and self aware."

The result has been characterized in book review shorthand as "Harry Potter for Adults" - and the stories are certainly not G-rated, with torrid inter-magician affairs and bloody magical shootouts. But ultimately the books are just great fiction, about the most literary of subjects: Growing up, not fitting in, and finding a purpose in life.

"It's a relatively recent trend to divide literature into genres, and some are OK for academics and some not," says Grossman, who has degrees from Harvard and Yale. "As recently as Shakespeare, it was OK to populate literature with spirits and monsters. Then we decided that literature should resemble real life, and if you wrote about stuff that couldn't actually happen, you were shunned."

Audiences haven't been nearly so quick to dismiss Grossman's foray into fantasy. In fact, culturally Grossman sees a mass shift back toward realms of fantasy and away from the sci-fi epics that defined American pop culture for decades.

"Between the Twilights, the Narnias, the Potters, people are not looking to technology for answers anymore and they're not looking to the future, either," he says. "People feel disconnected from their immediate environment. They're alienated from technology."

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink