Mark ruins his childhood, part 1: Raymond E. Feist’s Magician

For reasons I cannot fathom, I recently re-read this book, which was a favorite of mine when I was about fourteen or so. Sure, it’s one of many Tolkien-via-D&D fantasy pastiches, but I was already a die-hard gamer back then and had yet to make it all the way through LotR, so I guess it seemed fresh to me. I even re-read it in my twenties, and as far as I remember twenties-me still considered it a great read. 

Forty-five-year-old me realizes that it is not a great read.

Feist is, at best, a competent writer, though for most of the novel his prose is quite leaden, and he has an annoying tendency to tell you exactly what is going on. And by that I mean almost no moment passes without either the author or a character explaining exactly any and all subtext. The meaning of a given passage will be patently obvious, but nonetheless, someone will pipe up and say, “You’re feeling [X], aren’t you?” just in case the reader lacked the ability to discern that there was indeed a nose right in the middle of their face.

And for all implication that this book is the zero-to-hero story of Pug/Milamber and Tomas/Ashen-Shugar, it’s really more the story of Pug, Arutha, and maybe a handful of other characters. Tomas’ story — which is basically awesome boy finds awesome magic armor and becomes awesome warrior who gets to bang the awesome elf queen and… wait, he might be evil… no, it’s cool, he’s still awesome — gets comparatively little page-count. Which is fine, really. Magciain is really about the war with Kelewan, and everyone of note who is affected by it.

It’s also astonishing how nice everyone is in the book. Almost every character we meet is basically a good person, and everyone who asks for help gets what they need. No one questions the idea that Midkemia is being attacked by invaders from another planet, and everyone bands together with near-zero hesitation. And even when we shift to the other side of the war, we learn that most of the enemy are all basically good folks who are the victims of political maneuvering. Oh, and the rare sex scenes are pretty much G-rated, so HBO isn’t going to be adapting this book any time soon.

Really, anyone used to the constant horndoggery, murder and betrayal of Game of Thrones is going to feel like they’re reading about Mayberry.

There are really only two villains in the novel — the Warlord of the Tsuranuani and Guy du Bas-Tyra — and they primarily appear only in reference. The Warlord gets a few lines in one scene, and Guy literally does not appear in the book at all; all we see are the effects of his actions.

And, as one would expect, there are few women of note in the book, and Carline is the only one whose story reaches beyond “stoically stands by her man”. Even so, she is almost entirely defined by her relationships with various men.

That said, Feist seems to sort of figure out how the whole novel-writing thing works about 60% of the way in. The story of Pug’s life on Kelewan and Arhuta’s struggles to escape Guy’s reach are pretty page-turn-y. And the side-effect of everyone being so nice is that, by the end of the book, I do generally care about them, so I am happy to find out how they fare. (And almost tempted to keep reading more of the books in the series.)

I want to give teenage-gamer-me some credit for loving this book. The current edition in print is the “author’s preferred edition,” which adds something like 20,000 words to the manuscript. I’d like to think that the edition I read back in the day was maybe a little tighter, and thus was more compelling. But I have a feeling it was mostly fantasy nerdery and my identification with Pug. (Pug and Tomas, as boys, were very much like me and a good friend of mine.)

While it was rough going at first, I basically enjoyed this re-reading exercise. I don’t know if I’ve forever destroyed my nostalgia for the book, but I at least feel like I’ve gained some perspective upon it. And I feel comfortable selling off my hardcopies.

Lastly, let me say that I am really surprised that Professor’s Barker and/or his estate never went after Feist for ripping off Tékumel so hard. We know the book is based on Feist’s old D&D campaign, and his DM was obviously mashing up D&D and EPT. Kelewan is very obviously Barker’s creation with some of the serial numbers filed off. (And the further Feist stays from Barker, the less interesting and more culturally-confused Kelewan gets.)

18 thoughts on “Mark ruins his childhood, part 1: Raymond E. Feist’s Magician

  1. If you are surprised about this one, you should read the Daughter of the Empire series. Which is so Tekumel.

    That said, I think I will avoid reading any of them again, to save the memory of 12 year old me.

  2. Feist’s protrayal of Crydee in the first chapters of the first book always seemed like a fine way to start a D&D campaign.

    I’m also thinking about fucking up my nostalgia by rereading the Belgariad.

  3. Alright, I’ll tell this story. I like it, so I may have inflicted it on you before.

    In the mountain phase of Ranger School, the students have not been eating very much for about a month. There are a few scheduled breakfasts in a small chow hall where blueberry pancakes are famously served.

    Objectively, these pancakes are not very impressive. They’re on the small side and only have a few blueberries each. But for students who have lost twenty pounds already due to lack of nourishment, they’re divine. Plato’s own Blueberry Pancakes.

    On one of our mountain phase patrol, a group of us asked an instructor if the blueberry pancakes still taste as good to him now as they did back then.

    “I couldn’t say,” he replied. “I’ve been here two years and never had one. I don’t want to ruin the memory of how great they were when I was a student.”

  4. But maybe I should take a dangerous run at my nostalgia? I know enough to stay away from the Xanth stuff I read, but what about the first Dragonlance trilogy? What’s the jury’s verdict there?

    Or maybe I’ll finish this Umberto Eco book I’m halfway through like a proper pseudo-intellectual. #brag

  5. Dave Turner You can read pretty much anything you want, as long as it’s not the goddamn Belgariad. It was terrible while I was reading it. I can’t even imagine how bad it would be now.

  6. I listened to an audiobook about a year ago. I remember loving videogame that took place between books 2 and 3 i think. It is pretty wretched. But that scene when the orcs or whatever are digging under the castle was almost the worst thing I ever read*.

    *the worst thing I ever read (beside some weird book on magic, that was actually so stupid that was also the only book I never finished, because It was just THAT stupid) was the passage in Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms book I think it was a part of Icewind Dame trilogy, maybe in Crystal Shard. It was freshly translated into Polish, and since I the paperback was way cheaper than the original FR boxed set I figured that I’ll read them and then can run a game in FR. That would be cool. That also never happened. But I digress, there is a description of travel underground that spans pages and has some underground river voyage and cavern hopping. It sounds just so cool, but it also makes not sense whatsoever. I re-read it multiple times, even tried to map it and it still was super confusing. So from that time I felt like RA just went like underground travel – fuck it as he wrote it.

  7. Dave Turner original Dragonlance is bad, but not Eddings bad. Not as good as Magician. So, you know, egh.

    Also, there are Eco books you haven’t read all the way through and then discussed with him when you went out for tea?