Monday, July 6, 2020

Story Wonk: The Magicians S1E3

The Magicians S1E3: Consequences of Advanced Spellcasting

First Aired 2/1/16

Directed by

   Scott Smith

Writing Credits

Created for TV by

   Sera Gamble

   John McNamara

Written for TV by

   Henry Alonso Myers

Story Editor

   David Reed

Based on The Magicians by

   Lev Grossman

Narrative Drive:

This episode is all about the stakes. It drives home the message that the world of magic is dangerous. Just having the talent for magic can kill you … or even worse. In some ways you begin to wonder if learning magic is even worth it. Just casting a spell can corrupt a person into a monster, overpower a person into a monster, kill a person accidentally, or just change you into someone else. This isn’t a Harry Potter version of magic. With each revelation we are left to wonder which of these many characters will end up as monsters or dead or changed. The suspense starts subtly but it will last throughout the entire series.

Another driving force that lasts through the entire series is the conflict between the Brakebills magicians and the hedge witches. This conflict provides tension in a myriad of ways in different episodes. We are encouraged to pick a side in this dispute, but which side? Both sides make eloquent arguments. The back and forth tug provides the tension.

This episode provides foreshadowing for a number of upcoming episodes. We learn what a Niffin is. Margo’s enigmatic personality begins to come more in focus. We see Penny struggle with hearing too much of what is in other people’s minds. We learn that Quentin knows all the words to some Taylor Swift songs.

Writer Take Away:

  • Stakes: You just can’t have tension or narrative drive without stakes. For the stakes to feel real, they must be shown. Thus Charlie foreshadows his sister’s fate.
  • Conflict: To provide grinding tension throughout the story provide two groups whose approach to the issue at hand is equally valid. The reader will feel obligated to side with one or the other side. However, the two sides provide a push-pull sensation as the advantages of each side come clear. No one need “win” this conflict. The point isn’t who is right, it is that the two sides can’t agree.
  • Series: Not the type of series that results in a number of seasons or novels in the same setting but the plot structure series. This is the type of structure J. K. Rowling uses to create her stories. She has several subplots going throughout each novel and she keeps track of which ones appear in each chapter. The result is that it keeps the reader asking what will happen to a number of characters. In this episode we see the series about Niffins, Emily Mainstream, and Travelers. When these issues come up again it creates excitement for the reader. For a comprehensive course on series see Stuart Horwitz’s three books on the subject.

Character Arcs:

This episode provides a lot of the foundation for the rest of the season. It exemplifies each of the characters strong points and their flaws.

Quentin: Quentin was the hardest for me to figure out. Initially his flaw was his unwillingness to grow up and take adult responsibility. It was also his inability to fit in with society. He didn’t grow out of those flaws as much as coming to Brakebills negated them. 

So now what is the flaw that he needs to overcome? In this episode he runs into Julia with the hedge witches. He admits he didn’t tell anyone at Brakebills about her nor will he. He tells her it is revenge for the way she treated him. She did seem to tease him sexually and to pester him about taking on adult attitudes. So perhaps Quentin does have a vengeful streak. But it also seems that Quentin is almost afraid that Julia will somehow work her way into Brakebills. Since coming to Brakebills himself he has been accepted and made friends. Is he worried that if Julia comes to Brakebills his friends will be so struck by her they will abandon him? Or perhaps he just enjoys

feeling special in a way Julia is not “special.” Either way, he is hoarding magic from his former best friend. 

Quentin’s flaw, then is selfishness. He wants magic for himself. He needs to feel special, or more special than Julia.

Julia: Still acting as the foil for Quentin, Julia’s trajectory is the opposite of his. Where he is making friends, she is ignoring her friends. Where Quentin has a budding romance with Alice, Julia alienates her lover. Julia is sinking into the pit of obsession. No wonder she uses addiction as her excuse with her boyfriend. You do have to admire her determination though. She has pursued magic at all cost, but her strength of will has slid over a cliff into obsession.


 "Use magic in anger, and you will harm yourself much more quickly than you will harm your adversary. There are certain spells... if you lose control of them, they will change you. Consume you. Transform you into something not human. a Niffin, a spirit of raw, uncontrolled magical energy.”—Henry Fogg

Alice’s strength is her magical ability. She outstrips everyone with her ability. Her weakness is her overconfidence. Even unexperienced Quentin can see that what she plans will result in another death—likely her own.  Alice is unwilling to see not because love of her brother blinds her, but because her over confidence in her abilities blinds her. In some ways she is the opposite of Julia. Julia was also overconfident until she was rejected by Brakebills. That rejection broke her mind and set up the obsession to have magic no matter the cost.

Alice also shows us that she has a trust issue. Despite Margo’s best efforts Alice will not trust her or become friends with her.


“Hedge witches. Amateurs. Magical D-leaguers. Sad and desperate people. Once one of 'em offered to blow me for a spell. It was barely worth it.”—Eliot Waugh

So far Eliot has seemed the most organized and mature of the students. Eliot finally provides us with a believable character flaw. He is an Ivy League Snob. He also gives us a hint of something else. He is in search of the missing book because without it there will be an investigation of the cottage party culture. Eliot seems very fearful of the end of the Physical Kids Parties. Why? Is he afraid of going back to being a regular student rather than the host of the most incredible parties on campus. Is that what props up his ego?

Margo: This is her second attempt at befriending Alice and she has failed again. Her strength may be gossip. Her weakness is that gossip doesn’t provide opportunity for deep friendship. She may be smart, beautiful, clever but she is not trust-worthy to Alice. She is able to get men’s attention but she can’t quite make a female friend.

Penny: Fogg forces Penny to say he needs help with learning to control traveling. Penny is unwilling to accept help. That might be quite a flaw in this environment. The flip side, is that he is self sufficient. When he travels to Asia, he isn’t waiting to be rescued, he is finding a way back home. That is a pretty big plus for a magician.

Kade: She is resourceful. She uses battle magic to get into the Physical Kids Cottage. Her flaw is her betrayal of the Physical Kids. She stole a book from the cottage. Somehow hedge witches are controlling her and forcing her to steal for them.

Fogg: He seems to be concerned for all of his students. He isn’t necessarily able to keep them safe as they are being picked off in each episode.

Writer Take Away:

  • Strengths and Flaws: This episode painted each character with a strength and a corresponding flaw. The flaw will be overcome by lessons learned and growth as the story progresses. What are your characters strengths? If you take that strength too far, what does it turn into? Think about Julia. Determination and intelligence are great strengths but taken too far they become obsession. For Quentin he loves magic and has a natural talent for it. But now he is hoarding it away from Julia. How can you show your character’s strengths and flaws? How can different characters bring out the best and worst in your characters?
  • Give everyone a part to play. The books are much more centered around Quentin. The TV series allows for more points of view and so the support characters are getting richer development. That fills the series with even more fascinating plot lines and characters to root for. 


”Being a magician has always been, in part, about accruing power. Power over yourself, the elements. Power over the future, the very world that exists around you But power, as you all know, does not come cheaply. There are reasons we teach this curriculum precisely the way that we do. Skipping around, focusing on all the wrong things, lack of guidance... These are all extremely dangerous. There are certain energies, certain spells, which are far too powerful for one magician alone. If you lose control, it will turn against you. It will kill you. It will consume you. Change you into something else.”—Dean Fogg

“Magic is not something to be dicked around with.”—Dean Fogg


Figuring out the theme of a fantasy story frequently revolves around figuring out what magic represents to the author. In the last episode we were told magic is pain. In this episode Dean Fogg goes out of his way to tell us magic is power and thus it is dangerous. Human beings have an odd relationship with power. We are all obsessed with it to some degree but we also recognize it has negative side effect. It takes a great deal of storytelling to constantly remind us that too much power is undesirable. Therefore power and its corrupting side effects are a common theme in stories.

In the real world this is a little like money. Money also represents power. A little is a good thing but too much has a corrupting influence.


In this episode Quinten learns about the long standing conflict between Hedge-Witches and Classically-Trained Magicians. 

The term hedge witch is an homage to the wise women of old who often lived on the outskirts of villages, beyond the hedge. One side of the hedge was the village and civilization, but on the other lay the unknown and wild. Hedge witchcraft is usually practiced by solitaries, and involves deep study of plants and the natural world. The hedge witch learned her practices from older family members or mentors, and honed her skills through years of practice, trial, and error. Hedge witches typically find magical intent in routine, day to day activities, and living mindfully.

The entire subplot of Hedges vs. Brakebills reminds me of something I am experiencing in reality right this minute. I came to Arizona a few years ago just as the state wide writer’s group collapsed. I am older and the sole financial support for my family. I could not quit and go to the university setting to get an MFA in writing. I have always had to rely on writing groups and websites and books to teach me the craft of writing. So I joined with others to recreate a writing group in the state of AZ. There is a university in my town, so I invited students and teachers from the university to come to meetings or hold workshops. We were snubbed by those connected to the university. 

I get the feeling that hedge witches are writers who write fantasy or other genre works. Did Lev Grossman come across the attitude that only classically trained recipients of an MFA who write literary works should be able to address the human condition in fiction? It feels like that to me.

Women Don’t Need Rescuing

This is a theme that will be resonant throughout the entire story, at least in the TV series. It wasn’t as prominent in the books. The trope for fantasy fiction usually puts men in the driver seat. They do all the interesting things and act as heroes in the end. Women are just love interests or there to be rescued.

The first couple of episodes lulls you into thinking that the show will follow that well worn path. But then Kade jumps in and confronts the Beast with battle magic.

As Sera Gamble said of the Magicians in April, 2019:

“Sometimes being a hero means admitting that your girlfriend’s a better magician than you! In order to move the story as far and as deep as we want to on The Magicians, we have to make it really clear to the audience that we’re not interested in telling the same old fantasy story, and that it’s actually about the people you might expect to be off to the side.”

The Magicians is putting that trope on its head. With each episode in each season the women are becoming the ones to watch as they act heroically when the men back off. Most of the women eventually rescue themselves and that is one of the reasons I really loved the TV series.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Story Wonk: Magicians S1E2

The Magicians S1E2

First Aired 1/25/16

Directed by

Writing Credits
Created for TV by

Written for TV by

Story Editor

Based on The Magicians by

Narrative Drive:

The last scene of Episode 1 we see the Beast recognize Quentin. In this episode, Quentin wakes on the floor of the classroom with an investigator asking him questions about the Beast. We learn in rapid flashbacks that Fogg offered Jane’s watch to Quentin. Quentin took it by magic and manages to hit the winder. The Beast stumbles away and the freezing spell is broken. The students can move.

Kade is the only one to confront the Beast directly with battle magic. The Beast knocks her out.  Penny kneels over Kade to protect her but he has little to offer in protection. Alice doesn’t confront the Beast head on but stands to the side looking small and does a spell to kill moths. Since the Beast wants his identity to remain secret he is forced to retreat into the mirror.

That is obviously a tense and exciting scene. Sure I have to hang around to see if we will have another scene like that.

The rest of the episode is about the investigator finding out about the seance (summoning), who was involved, how that relates to the Beast, and bringing them to justice. That threatens Quentin with expulsion from Brakebills. So the tension for the rest of the episode is in the presumption that Quentin will lose his chance to be a magician.

Writer Take Away:

  1. Sell it. You don’t just need to get your main character up a tree and throw stones at him, you need to sell to the reader/audience that the stones hurt. When Quentin confesses to Elliot about the summoning, Elliot acts as though it is a foregone conclusion that Quentin will be caught. He offers Quentin a spell to make his mind impenetrable. Then he tells him that he will find him after he is expelled. The rest of the characters also act as though Quentin’s days at Brakebills are numbered.
  2. Confess. This entire episode runs on confessions.
    1. Quentin confesses to Elliot that he was involved in a summoning.
    2. Elliot confesses to Quentin that he killed a boy.
    3. Alice confesses to Margo that she never took the entrance exam. She stole a key to Brakebills instead.
    4. Margo and Alice confess to each other that families are toxic.
    5. Penny confesses that the voice in his head had been teaching him magic and he thinks it is the Beast.
    6. Quentin confesses to Julia that he didn’t know how she felt until now.
Backstory is always difficult to get into the story without making it boring. Here we see confession after confession of backstory secrets and it never gets old. Of course you got to have a reason to keep something secret and a reason to divulge the secret.

Character Arcs:

Quentin: Quentin made several major leaps in his arc last episode. He went from isolation to making friends with Elliot and Margo. He went from being unengaged with his life to being fully invested in learning magic. He went from fearful, cautious, and restrained to taking a risk with Alice. So it is no wonder his arc slows down a bit in this episode while he wrestles with the probability of his expulsion.

The Magicians: The Source of Magic Review | Den of GeekJulia: Last episode Julia evolved in an equal but opposite direction from Quentin. She went from mature adult to childish belief in magic. She was on the sanctioned path of an upper class American when she slid into dealing with the underbelly of magic. She went from well adjusted to depressed and desperate. In episode 2 her desperation pulls her deeper into the underbelly of magic. Like Quentin, she must pass a test to join the hedge witches. She does pass this test.

Alice: In this episode Alice remains largely angry and distrustful. She repels Margo but when Quentin approaches her self preservation forces her to befriend him. So she goes from self imposed isolation to friends with Quentin.

Elliot: Still seems the most in control of the characters. Gives advice and solace to Quentin. And manages to be funny at the same time.

Margo: Tries but fails to befriend Alice. For the first time we see a crack in Margo’s facade. She is just as socially hobbled as the men in the story. Sure she has male friends, but her life seems strangely devoid of any female companionship.

Penny: Angry at Quentin (I’m unsure why.) Penny is also angry at himself for being the victim of the Beast inside his own head. But he shows his true colors when he kneels by Kade in an attempt to protect her from the Beast. He is brave. And when he finds out that he has been tricked by the Beast, he is willing to leave Brakebills to protect the others. So he has gone from cares about others to cares enough to put himself on the line. And yet, Penny is the one who sells out and fingers Quentin for what they all did. This starts the long standing animosity between the two men.

Kade: By far the biggest reversal. In episode one this character was deprived of a backstory and she acted childishly in class. Remember, this is a graduate level education. The students should be in their mid 20s. Kade heckles Alice when she is called before the class and then draws unflattering cartoons of people in the class. She seems less mature than the rest of the students and less serious. These details make her easy to write off as an unimportant character: Merely the love interest of the important character, Penny. In this episode we see how wrong we would have been to write her off. She is the only character who directly confronts the Beast. When they are interviewed by the investigator, Kade stays the course and doesn’t confess any knowledge of the summoning. She is brave, cares about others and clearly has more resources and magic than the others. The combination of putting her in the background in Ep 1 and bringing her out with such force in Ep 2 feels like a delightfully surprising twist.

Fogg: He has lost his eyes and his hands are broken. Angry at Jane for getting him and Brakebills into her mess. But he continues to be in the mess and work with Jane. So he expresses concern for his students but fails to actually change anything to protect them. He is ineffectual. As the parent figure for all of Brakebills I feel like this is another dig against the adult world.

Writer Take Away:

  1. Wrap your Protagonist in Foil. Julia still represents what Quentin would be in a world without Brakebills. If Quentin is kicked out of Brakebills will he become as desperate as her? Probably more so. And he would become just as consumed by the hedge witch world. We can see all that when we look at Julia and it makes us fear for Quentin. We feel more concern for Quentin because we see his future in Julia. That’s how a foil works.
  2. Nobody wants to be friends with a depressed character. Quentin is first shown to us as an isolated, unengaged, depressed individual contemplating suicide. That’s wonderful backstory but an unengaged character is hard to root for. In fact they are hard to watch at all. So I am not surprised the writers gave Quentin large leaps forward in episode 1. That brought him into the magical world and made him fully engaged. Now you can root for him and feel concerned that he might return to his previous state. If you have a depressed inactive character, you might have to start the story at the point that they become engaged for some reason and then tell their backstory in flashback.
  3. Create a Crowd Pleasing Twist by Hiding one of your Characters. Just as Quentin and Julia traveled a long way on their arcs in episode 1, some characters traveled very little. Or they were deprived of an arc at all. By making Kade seem like a walk-on character instead of a main character she is hidden from view. We don’t care about her. We don’t keep track of her. Then she bursts out of her walk-on shell and throws battle magic all over the place. It’s like she went to a phone booth and came out in a cape. She provides a great scene turn as the students begin to fight the Beast off.


Magic Comes From Pain | #BattleTheBeast - bayaningbituon - WattpadLast time I theorized that Lev Grossman may have been disappointed with the adult world that produced works of fiction exemplifying a just world to children but then failing to create such a world for their own children to live in. In this episode we see that several of the characters have issues with their neglectful parents including Alice, Margo, and Quentin. We also see that the stand in parent for Brakebills, Dean Fogg, is ineffectual at protecting his students in the long term. They are being brought into the adult magical world before they are ready.

Also, in this world, we are flatly told that magic=pain. In fantasy, magic is almost always an allegory for something in our lives. John Granger makes a pretty good argument that magic in Harry Potter is love, particularly self sacrificing love for all humanity. Narnia has similar themes. In Philip Pullman’s books I feel like magic is innocence. I don’t believe I have encountered a fantasy in which magic is pain. I feel like Lev Grossman is saying something very different than other fantasy writers. I keep searching for what he is telling us.


Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Magicians Episode 1

Hi Magician Fans. 

I’m a struggling writer and a huge fan of the Magicians, both the books and the SyFy series. I’m the cofounder of Flagstaff Writers Connection and I’ve taught young writers the basics of writing fiction. I’m older—57 yrs old. I’m a life long fan of speculative fiction and I’ve read countless fantasy novels. What I want to know is how did Lev Grossman and the series writers compel me forward into their story world so well? I also want to know how they created characters who seem so vivid and how did they make me believe those characters grew and changed? I’m embarking on a project to answer those questions and use this excellent story to propel my own abilities forward.

Similar to the Write Like Rowling project, I plan to comb through each episode and each chapter looking for the answers and sharing my findings with you. If you are also a fantasy writer, you will likely find this interesting. If you are a fan, I’m not sure you will like the posts. It might be a little like finding out how sausage is made. Regardless of whether you are a writer or mainly a reader, I welcome  your comments on my findings, even the negative ones.

Currently I am reading book 3 of the series so I’ll start my analysis with the TV series. I’ll add chapter analysis on my re-read after I finish book 3. As I proceed, I’ll be keeping notes on my Story Grid. I’ll also post these discussions on my blog and my personal FB page.

Being a writer is a little like being a close up illusionist. Writers, good writers, understand the deep psychology of their readers. They know how to fool the brain into believing it is seeing or feeling things that aren’t there, to believe what isn’t true. I’m watching for that sleight of hand in each of these episodes.

Episode 1: Unauthorized Magic

Directed by 

Writing Credits  
Written and created for television by

Based on The Magicians by

  1. What compelled me forward?

In this episode, Gamble and McNamara, worked to hook me right away. The first scene shows the loud, chaotic world of New York City. The sky is gray and there is dirty snow on the sidewalk. Suddenly a door opens and we glimpse a green lawn and a bright summer day. Birds are singing. Dean Fogg strolls through the door and it slams shut behind him. He sits at a bench and reads a paper. A woman (Jane Chatwin) approaches and tells him “it” has started. She drops a huge moth on his newspaper. Fogg quickly covers the insect. She continues to warn him that things are happening sooner than anticipated and he has to get his group trained before they are discovered. No names are mentioned. In fact no specifics are mentioned at all. Near the end of the scene Jane gives Fogg a clock. Then she asks about “your boy.” Fogg looks uncomfortable and in the next scene we see Quentin in a mental health facility.

What draws me in is the sense of secrecy and danger. I have no idea what these two are planning. At this point, I don’t even know whether these two are good guys or villains. In fact it is the lack of information that makes me curious and I have to continue watching to figure out what these two are talking about.

Likewise, the end of the episode propelled me into the next episode because it leaves me with so many questions. Who (what) is this Beast? Why so many fingers? What does he want with Quentin?

Writer’s Take Away:
  1. Create a sense of danger with body language and subtext or just murder and mayhem. Fogg covers up the moth quickly so it isn’t seen by a passer-by. They discuss someone who is starting something that is clearly antagonistic to these two. Jane stresses that their group needs to be ready soon or suffer some sort of setback. She gives him a clock “in case things don’t go well.” In the final scene, things do not go well.
  2. Don’t tip your cards. What makes the first scene compelling is what we don’t know. We don’t know who or what is the antagonist they are prepping to overcome. In order to discover what they are discussing I have to keep watching. Likewise, in order to see what the Beast is and what it wants, we have to keep watching the series.
  3. Honor the fans of the genre, even at the beginning. When Dean Fogg walks through the door from Brakebills there is an air of separation between Fogg and the mundane world. Immediately I want to know more about the world with the summer’s day and birds chirping.

  1. What made the characters so special?

Quentin: When we first meet Quentin, he is being assessed by a psychologist for release from a mental health facility. We learn from the psychologist, from a fight with Julia, and from flashbacks to the last party Quentin attended that he is awkward, isolated, and that Julia is his only real friend. He is desperately in love with her despite her boyfriend. We find out that Quentin retreats from his life into the childhood fantasy books Fillory and Further.

In the Magician books, Quentin is definitely unhappy with his life but he is not in a mental health facility. While walking to his Princeton (Yale) interview he muses, “All of it just confirmed his belief that his real life, the life he should be living, had been mislaid through some clerical error by the cosmic bureaucracy.”—The Magicians, pg 5. And at the interview, “It was a liquor cabinet. A big one, there was practically a whole bar in there. Quentin reached back past the ranks of softly jingling bottles and felt the dry, scratchy plywood at the back just to make sure. Solid. Nothing magical about it. He closed the door, breathing hard, his face burning in the darkness. It was when he looked around to make absolutely sure that nobody was watching that he saw the dead body on the floor.”—The Magicians, pg 10. Grossman knows his potential fans. Is there a one of us who hasn’t fantasized how we are really made for something better, brighter, more adventurous? And if we just pushed hard enough we could …

Julia: Despite her boyfriend, she clearly cares for Quentin. She works to get him to move forward with his life including interviewing for Yale and trying to get him to ask a girl at the party out. She is frustrated by his refusal to grow up and his retreat into depression and into his fantasy world. She feels he needs to grow up. But immediately after she berates Quentin for not dealing with reality, she finds herself magically transported to the entrance exam at Brakebills. When she fails the test, she begs for a second chance. She says she can’t go to Yale when she knows a University of Magic exists. So we find out that Julia was once as engrossed in fantasy as Quentin but has suppressed her feelings successfully to become an adult. In many ways she is as dysfunctional as Quentin. She is hiding her true self, and when it comes boiling to the surface she is as alone as he. More so, as he rejects her request to ask Brakebills to test her again. Her desire to be a part of the magical world will be her vulnerability throughout this season.

Fogg: Dignified, slow walk. With Jane he appears to try to keep her more down to Earth. With Quentin he needles him until magic explodes from Quentin at the thought of going back to his troubled life. Then Fogg asks Quentin to give up his medication despite the fact Fogg agrees with Quentin that everyone self medicates. That gives us a clue about Fogg’s vulnerability. But we also see Fogg heroically face off with the Beast in an attempt to save his students. What makes Fogg fascinating is this dichotomy in his character. Brave and knowledgeable but also broken and alcoholic.

Jane: We see her as a child and an adult. She seems flighty and close to panic. Fogg is astounded that she believes they can change fate. She confronts Quentin and convinces him to take a risk. Her childish enthusiasm and belief that she can outdo fate will act as her vulnerability.

Elliot: He assumes a mentor position for the newly matriculated Quentin. He seems sophisticated and suave. He looks like he has it all together, including preforming magic. In retrospect, of course, Elliot has a whole host of vulnerabilities.

Margo: Talks and acts like a party girl. Easy to overlook her in these first few scenes and she feels like a throw away character. She defers to Elliot, so that might be where her vulnerability lies.

Alice: In this beginning, Alice is really angry and self isolating. She hates magic for what it did to her brother. She is well aware of the risks magic poses.

Penny: The second of our angry characters. He seems to have a chip on his shoulder about his race and the series makes great fun of that anger. He might be over compensating for the confusion hearing voices causes.

Kade: Also seems angry or at least bitchy. At this point we don't know what she might be angry about. Again, she is a female character who is easy to overlook. She isn't really granted a backstory and she acts childishly.

Writer’s Take Away:
  1. Give your perfect fan a place in your story. Quentin is awkward and his friends don’t really get him. That makes him a supremely lonely man. He takes refuge in books and in his magic tricks. Lev Grossman’s perfect fan would have a long history of reading fantasy fiction. They are likely guilty of taking refuge in books to sooth themselves when the real world is a little rough. They are likely to identify strongly with Quentin and when in his POV they feel like they are in the story themselves.
  2. Make your protagonist(s) vulnerable. Quentin has a long history of unstable mental health. His parents ignore him and he is in danger of losing his only real friend, Julia. He is an extremely vulnerable man. We feel for him. He didn’t cause all these issues with some sort of misbehavior, he has just been unlucky. It is hard to watch a person who isn’t intentionally “bad” suffer. We want his luck to turn around and when it does, we silently rejoice.
  3. If you want to take a character arc to the pinnacle of growth/change, start as close to the bottom as you can. Margo seems more like a walk-on character than a major character. In fact she is the sidekick of a sidekick. She is shallow and defers to whatever Elliot says. Easy to overlook her. In retrospect, this makes her character at the end of the series seem to have made super human growth.

3. What is the Theme?

All right. I lied. I have a third question I’m trying to answer. Lev Grossman is quite famously an atheist. I get the feeling that he wrote these books in response to the Christian themes in fantasy literature, especially in C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. We can see the similarities even in this first episode. The Chatwins are a group of estranged British children who discover Fillory in the back of a grandfather clock. That is essentially the plot of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Fillory is a magical land, much like Narnia. And Fillory has monsters and danger, just like Narnia. 

I don’t have a writer’s take away for this yet. I can only see the similarity between the two series at this point. I do think that Quentin and Julia’s unhappiness is perhaps representative of children who read the Narnia books and thought the world would be a just place but found out otherwise. They represent a deep mistrust of the adult world that created those books but was unable to create a world that reflected Narnia’s sense of right and wrong.