Tell Us What Novels Remind You of
Reading The Magus is a powerful experience for many
of us, and one that can be repeated several times over a period
of years (it's fun to discover exciting new aspects of the
novel during subsequent readings). Another way to further
the connection one may have to Fowles' masterpiece is to seek
out other novels that have a similar "flavor."
To that end, readers are invited to e-mail the title and
author of one or two novels they believe fall into this category,
along with a brief description of why. Contact us at Magusbooks@hotmail.com
if you'd like to participate, and please include your name,
city and country. I'll start it off with three novels that
I think fit the bill.
The Secret History
by Donna Tartt (1992). Tartt's best-selling debut novel features
a young Nicholas-like protagonist (confused, aimless) caught
up in a mystery with a sinister group of Greek scholars at
a New England university. Like Fowles, Tartt is excellent
at weaving classical themes and metaphors into an exciting
In the Lake of the Woods by
Tim O'Brien (1994). A deeply disturbing mystery about the
disappearance of a failed politician's wife. The tone of the
story, O'Brien's excellent writing and the ending are all
reminiscent of The Magus.
The Lost Domain (Le Grand
Meaulnes) by Alain-Fournier (1913). This novel--the
only one ever written by the author, who died on a French battlefield
in 1914--reminds one of The Magus for good reason.
Fowles himself has stated that he wrote The Magus
"very much under the influence" of The Lost
Domain. This was Fowles' favorite book growing up, and
the parallels between the two books are obvious. The 1986
edition includes an afterword by Fowles.
Submitted by Rick Thompson of Sydney,
The Chymical Wedding by Lindsey
Clarke (1989). Quite like The Magus in tone,
spirituality and strange things happening. Quite different
as a book, but leaves a similar taste.
Submitted by Mark Dollar, a professor
at King College in Bristol, Tennessee:
The Crying of Lot 49
by Thomas Pynchon (1966). Like The Magus, this involves
a young, mostly well-adjusted protagonist (here, Oedipa Maas)
who suddenly finds herself in an absurd new world. She goes
on a quest to understand Pierce Inverarity, an enigmatic industrialist
who seems to want to control her, and she constantly runs
across occult symbols for an underground cell of revolutionaries.
As in Fowles' novel, the clues are usually dead ends and the
reader ends up feeling just as bewildered as the protagonist.
Both novels also contain several sly literary allusions to
Greek myth and drama from the English renaissance.
Submitted by Gary Brooks of Berkshire,
The Diary of a Drug Fiend
by Aleister Crowley (1922). A novel by a real life magus,
the story of which concerns a young couple who are captivated
by the personality of the enigmatic King Lamus, who invites
them to holiday at his Abbey. Filled with many abstractions
of meaning, this book is very similar in both tone and content
to The Magus, and could even have served as its template.
The Illuminatus Trilogy
by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (1975). This underground
science-fiction classic concerns itself with displaying the
psychology of individuals drawn into various levels of conspiracy,
and provides a very sharp detail concerning the "god-game"
methods employed by some of the shadier characters. Has the
same psychological themes of The Magus but explores
them in a far greater depth.
Submitted by Richard Johnson of
Great Expectations by
Charles Dickens (1861). Fowles himself alludes to this in
the introduction to the revised edition of The Magus.
The self-delusion of the protagonist, the grand manipulation
going on without his knowledge, the hard-won self-knowledge
in the end (if you want to see it that way, and I'm romantic
enough to want to.)
Submitted by David Blair of Sacramento,
Steppenwolf by Hermann
Hesse (1929). This novel explores eastern spirituality and
western philosophy through the eyes of a an older protagonist,
the steppenwolf, who after encountering a younger woman and
her friend gains a new understanding of the physical and emotional
aspects of life, only to enter into a game wherein the steppe's
views of reality are truly tested.
Submitted by Peter Linn of Brisbane,
by Lawrence Norfolk (1991). Especially the scenes of the death
of Charles Lempriere and the soiree at the de Vere's. Also
by Umberto Eco (1989). Both books have an air of an unsuspecting
protagonist dumped into a disconcerting other universe.
Submitted by Holly Hoffman of Cincinnati,
Knowledge of Angels by
Jill Paton Walsh (1994). Like The Magus, this is
set in another world--a fantasy island in Inquisition times.
The protagonist is Palinor, an atheist who has washed up on
the shores of a Catholic island. His inquisition and judgement
by the island's priest-king Severo involves a strange experiment.
Submitted by Vehbi Inan of Istanbul,
The Black Book by Orhan
Pamuk (1994). The protagonist wanders all around Istanbul
looking for his lost love through signs in the city and through
the essays of an author he wants to replace. Istanbul becomes
a labyrinth of messages and symbols, a cauldron of architecture
and literature. The grey city as well as the mysterious author
tell urban stories supplying the clues to find the missing
Submitted by Brendan Doolan of Johannesburg,
The Lovers by Morris
West (1993). This novel has overtones of The Magus.
Principessa Giulia Farnese di Mongrifone is engaged to be
married to a wealthy, much older industrialist Declan Aloysius
Molloy--a marriage of old and poor Italy to rich new America
made not in heaven but on earth by heaven's representative,
Il Papa. "Giulia the Beautiful" meets West's protagonist,
a young Australian, Bryan Cavanagh, during a pre-nuptial Mediterranean
cruise on her fiancé's yacht. Cavanagh is serving as
temporary second officer for a post-war, pre university "gap"
year. She is indulged a last "fling" with Cavanagh
before marrying Molloy. Some critic once wrote of West that
he was the last of a dying breed, a writer of "articulate,
intelligent best-sellers." This is certainly one of them.
Submitted by Jeffrey Cox of Los
The Beach by Alex Garland
(1997). A similar set-up in which a disillusioned young man,
Richard, travels to an exotic island to experience something
"real." Like Nicholas, Richard is unable to directly
"experience" anything, but rather filters everything
through logic and almost lives vicariously through his own
Submitted by Terry Weissman of Chicago,
Arcadia Falls by Rand
Johnson (2001). Spiritually akin to The Magus (and
other Fowles novels). A man frustrated by his life finds a
cabin in a woodland threatened by development that is occupied
by a beautiful but mysterious woman. Falling in love with
her, he becomes obsessed with protecting her and her cabin
and basically leaves his old life behind--but in the end it's
not at all clear what he's left it for. Not only are the themes
Fowlesian, but the author tips his hand about his own influences
with references to both The Magus and The French
Submitted by Garry Brooks of Surrey,
Shuttlecock by Graham
Swift (1981). This novel has strong parallels to The Magus:
it's written in the first person, narrated by a not-terribly-likeable
male, revolves around the relationship between the tortured
narrator (Prentice) and an older God-like figure (Quinn),
and the ending leaves something to the imagination of the
reader. The setting--an obscure department of the police in
London--is very different from Phraxos, but in many ways provides
a similar level of absurd and surreal experiences for Prentice
as Phraxos does for Nicholas.
Submitted by Drew Dixon of Fort
Surprisingly, the book that reminds me most of The Magus
is a work of non-fiction. Inside
the Third Reich by Albert Speer (1970) is very much
in a real sense similar to the God Game that Nicko got roped
into. While ITR is documentary in nature, we see Speer as
the person who is drawn into the game, the deadly game of
fascism and its power structure in Nazi Germany, due to his
own unbridled ambition which is eagerly fed and seduced by
his version of Conchis...Adolph Hitler. Much akin to Nicko's
being drawn further into the God Game because of his own sexual
greed. ITR winds through the eddies of rising from humble
professor (i.e. teacher as was Nicko) to the peak of power
and involvement in the game. Speer, while being drawn further
into the game, isn't always sure who is pulling the strings...Hitler
(Conchis) or his subordinates (Nicko's women). The parallels
are there, but obviously Inside the Third Reich has the much
more deadly--but none the less psychologically destructive
and humbling--end result. Ambition and ego without tether
leads to ruin. Now, go pick up the pieces.
Submitted by Adam of London, England:
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
by Haruki Murakami (1997). A youngish, disenfranchised protagonist
sets off on a quest to find his missing wife. Via exotic travels
he encounters two strange, sexual sisters and empathizes with
an old soldier who witnessed massacres on the Chinese mainland
during the war. Then there's the precocious schoolgirl with
whom he has a hotly unrealized flirtation. Hugely reminiscent
of The Magus, with its ambiguous but suggestive ending.
Fowles meets Raymond Carver. Magic realism all the way.
Submitted by Benjamin Joplin of
Buffalo, New York:
Die Traumnovelle (English translation--The
Rhapsody) by Arthur Schnitler (1928). A psychosexual
thriller about a paranoid married couple who deal with the
issue of fidelity, as do Nicholas and Alison. It became Stanley
Kubrick's film Eyes Wide Shut.
Submitted by Mark Wieczorek of San
The Analyst by Jonathan
Katzenbach (2002). This novel tells the tale of a psychotherapist
haunted, and hunted, by an unknown former patient from the
therapist's distant past. The patient, now successful, plays
the Rumpelstiltskin game with the therapist: the therapist
must guess who Rumpelstiltskin is, or the therapist must commit
suicide. If the therapist fails, his family will be killed.
The mind games played by both sides on each other are quite
worthy of The Magus.
Submitted by Torsten Ekelund of
The Mind Game by Hector
Macdonald (2000). A young man, Ben Ashurst, is voluntarily
partaking in an experiment conducted by his charismatic Oxford
teacher James Redfield about how human feelings are working.
He is sent to Kenya with new girlfriend Cara, where he becomes
trapped in a labyrinth and put in prison. Cara is not what
he first thought, she is also a part of the experiment. The
whole plot is very reminiscent of The Magus. Ben
as Nicholas, James as Conchis and Cara as Alison and the other
women. Not as good a read as The Magus, but well
worth reading anyway.
Submitted by Nicholas Flavell of
A Deeper Shade of Blue
by Paul Johnston (2002). A young protagonist named Alex Mavros,
an Athenian private detective, is sent to an island in the
Cyclades called Trigono to investigate the disappearance of
a young woman. The story involves two major affairs with women
and a local Greek millionaire. I find these factors combined
with the deepening mystery young Alex finds himself involved
in very similar to The Magus.
Submitted by Gore Frey of Johannesburg,
Sophie's World by Joestin
Gaardner (1994). A naive--but still thoroughly enjoyable--book
about Sophie, a schoolgirl, and a mysterious old man who piques
her interest in philosophy. There is a great deal of mystery
in the book and although it echoes The Magus, the
echoes are very benign. Sophie represents, of course, Wisdom
in its primeval state. The book is as delightful as The
Magus is involving.
Submitted by Ryan Harding of Knoxville,
Shadowland by Peter
Straub (1980). The story line has instantly recognizable similarities
to The Magus, including a mysterious older man who
relates tales of his experiences in war and life, as well
as a duplicitous girl in re-enactments. The main character
is an adolescent and the book explores the possibilities of
magic in a more supernatural version of Fowles' novel. Like
The Magus, it is extravagantly layered, if less ambivalent.
Submitted by Sam Armour of London,
Captain Correlli's Mandolin
by Louis de Bernieres (1994). It evokes the flavor
of the tiny Greek island; in particular, the episode in The
Magus with the German soldiers is almost identical in
mood to the de Bernieres novel. In addition, a television
series which for me has strong overtones of the setting and
situation of The Magus is the 1967 series The
Prisoner. In it, Patrick McGoohan finds himself in
a village and has no idea of exactly how he got there or why
he is there. He is surrounded by strange figures and a series
of scenes are 'staged' for him to gauge his reaction and find
out more about his motivations. The sensation of having absolutely
no idea how or why events are unfolding in this way, both
for the protagonist and the audience (as well as the notoriously
frustrating ending which gives little or no explanation) is
virtually identical to the experience of reading The Magus
for the first time.
Submitted by Tamsyn Taylor of Wollongong,
The Architect by John
Scott (2001). Has a certain resonance of The Magus,
dealing as it does with a young man, in this case highly successful,
who seeks out a reclusive older man about whom there is an
aura of almost mythical fame. His life is utterly transformed
as the older man plays God. Another of Scott's books, What
I have Written, also reminds of The Magus in
the way it juggles worlds both real and imaginary so that
neither the reader nor the writer within the story are quite
in touch with the truth.
Submitted by Kathy Kreese:
Tropic of Night by
Michael Gruber (2003). Only like The Magus in being a
totally original mysterious literary thriller and page turner,
this an incredible mixture of anthropology, sorcery and murder
from Mali to Miami. My top pick in the last five years and
that includes a lot of books.
Submitted by Ian Cowan of Omaha,
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn
Rand. (1957). Most of the comparisons to similar books relate
to the "Godgame" aspect. A novel that is complementary to
The Magus in a different way, exploring fundamental
questions--such as What is right? What is wrong? How shall a
moral man act? What shall be the next step for society and
mankind?-- is Atlas Shrugged, and essentially the
entire Rand bibliography. Although not identical in their
conclusions, they both address the issue that what society
generally considers moral behavior, isn't--particularly for
the best and ablest, the most self-aware--all wrapped up in a
nifty mystery: Who is John Galt?
Submitted by David Jones of Manchester, UK
As Far As You Go by
Lesley Glaister (2004). Set in
Western Australia, and, like The Magus, combines
glaring sunshine with a menacing atmosphere of sexual tension.
There are two victim-subjects here: Cassie, who responds to a
job advert for a housekeeper, and Graham, her boyfriend, whom
she persuades into going with her. Their employer Larry is the
Conchis-figure, and soon Cassie starts to suspect that they
are being observed and manipulated...
Submitted by Mark Cowling of Barcelona, Spain
by J.G. Ballard (1996).
A similar tale of masques and god games. The protagonist
initially appears to be the only sensible voice in a surreal
mock-paradise where adrenalin levels are kept high by a
constant level of orchestrated petty (and sometimes not so
petty) crime. In the end, however, he either allows or
cannot stop himself from being sucked into the game.
Submitted by Christopher Bott of Machester, UK
by Chuck Palahniuk (1996). There is a
(and a scene in the film adaptation) which mirrors, almost
exactly, a scene from The
Magus. Whilst on the hunt for his diabolical
nemesis, our narrator speaks to a barman in a pub who lets slip
a vital clue, revealing a shocking twist. Our narrator, suddenly
enlightened, picks up the scent (dashing off, leaving the barman
polishing his glasses of course).
Passages in The Magus
relating to the execution also remind me of similar scenes in
Gabriel Garcia Marquez's
100 Years of
(1967), another magical novel which, like
The Magus, is far
more than the sum of it's parts. And the psycho-trial in The
Magus especially reminded me of the part in Roald Dahl's
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
(1964) when Charlie is told he has failed the test. Which is in
itself another test. There are other similarities too,
especially when it is revealed in
The Magus that
Conchis is of failing health and that his charades may cease for
good. Nicholas seems to think not, could he be Charlie, selected
at random to sit a perverse test by which he proves his worth to
carry the torch? I do believe that the ending symbolizes
Nicholas becoming The Magus and bringing an end to the masque.
Submitted by Rich Gration of Leeds, UK
Satan Wants Me
Robert Irwin (1999). A different setting (late 60s--sex, drugs and
rock n roll) but a near identical protagonist, cocky and na´ve,
thrust into a world that scares and intrigues him, one that he
cannot leave even though he thinks he's in grave danger. Also
(1991) by Stephen Fry.
The denouement sets a different tone than in either "The Magus"
or "Satan Wants Me," but the premise is much the same. A
seems is young, knowledgeable, superior, bored,
cocky...and looking for something more. Drawn into a game whichmore and more dangerous.
Submitted by David of Hong Kong
Night Jasmine Man
By David Lambkin (2002). Weird things happen and they all seem to be
part of some master plan.
Rosa of Raleigh, North Carolina
Under the Volcano
by Malcolm Lowry (1947).
Some striking similarities to
The Magus. A conventional British
expat with a haunted past is caught up in an alternate reality:
a maze of divided loyalties and strange and frightening customs,
all while in the midst of the delirium and hallucinations of
advanced alcoholism, and harboring a perpetual sense of loss
and alienation. He wanders dazed through a maze of bizarre
locations, and realizes that there are
secret enemies--political, cultural--all around him. The
symbolism and staging is the Day of the Dead, a fatalistic
and fantastic orgiastic celebration of death. No one
can save him. He is on a one-way journey. The ostensible
landmarks are there: bored bureaucrat, exotic country, weird experiences. More important are the senses of dislocation,
disorientation, fantasy and fatalism.