Some novels refuse to fade from memory, and The Magus is one of them. It explores the self, love, mystery, adventures of the mind, body and spirit. Its ending is as mysterious as anything else in the story. It refuses to be categorized and in rising above easy genre naming becomes a novel I have never stopped thinking about. Scenes endlessly come to mind with unerring similitude.
First published in 1965, it has evoked such powerful intellectual and emotional forces in my life that I had to make it a part of my own first novel, Wild Blue Yonder. Two characters, sitting in a London park, are reminded of the closing scene between Nicholas Urfe and Alison Kelly. Both are complex characters who defy easy interpretation, yet as Alison remains enigmatic Nicholas is easier to characterize as self-centered in the extreme. One wonders, while reading, if he will be transformed into a feeling, caring individual by the novel’s end yet as the last page turns, wonder still prevails.
Fowles rewrote The Magus and published a revised version in 1977. For me, this was heresy; although I own a copy, I’ve never read it. I long ago decided I would not want to read what he changed.
I did see the movie, starring Peter O’Toole and Anna Karina, and in fact watched it again recently [inspiring me to review the book here]. I was disappointed: O’Toole, although he seemed to try, could not measure up to the novel Urfe’s ennui and preening egotism. Far better it might have been if Oliver Reed had played this role. Similarly, Karina failed to capture Alison’s (renamed Anne for some reason) courage and emotional complexity. Its other shortcomings don’t deserve mentioning here.
If you have not read The Magus, I encourage you to do so. You could say it was a literary aspect of the social awakening of the 1960s, and you would not be wrong, yet there are no hippies, no drugs. In their place is pure, unadulterated consciousness-raising. Conchis, the novel’s magus, offers it to Nicholas. Does he accept the offer? Your consciousness will rise in your efforts to answer that question.