The news is out: SyFy’s magical realism series The Magicians will end this year with the fifth season finale. Fans of the television series can thank Sera Gamble and Jon McNamara for their brilliant screen adaptation, but before there was a television show, The Magicians was a book series by Lev Grossman.
The Magicians tv show has a certain respect for the books; the showrunners even brought Lev Grossman in to consult. With the show coming to a close, many show-only fans are considering reading the book series to ease their Brakebills withdrawal. While both formats are entertaining, there are crucial differences between the books and the television show.
10 Janet is Margo
In the books, our High King of Fillory isn’t King Margo… It’s King Janet. Both characters use wit and brass tacks to succeed in a male-dominated Fillory. In the books, Janet is featured more in the show than Margo is in the books, but the books still give us glimpses of the ice magician, and also feature her iconic journey through the desert, though the story is a bit different.
So while the characters are the same, the change from Janet to Margo was made to avoid confusing fans since Jane Chatwin, Julia Wicker and Janet Pluchinsky all begin with the same letter.
9 Marina And The Hedge Witches
If you’re a fan of the books, then you may have enjoyed watching Julia work her way up the ranks of hedge witches, led by a character named Marina. But if you haven’t read the books, you may be surprised to find that Marina is an original character that was added to the television show—and Julia’s participation in the hedge witch group is not covered in the books.
Instead, readers of the books see glimpses of Julia as she shows up in Quentin’s life over and over again. Getting an insight into what life is like as a hedge witch is one of the most interesting parts of the show.
8 Ember And Umber
When a book is translated to the screen, some things may need to be changed or they could be lost in translation. The Magicians book series is full of imaginative writing and magical realism, supplying the reader with fantastic and sometimes terrifying images that would likely cost a lot of money to portray on screen.
Syfy as a network, to top it off, has been known to produce low-budget sci-fi shows and films, forcing the creators to lean on comedy instead of terror. Where Ember and Umber are comedic in the show, with their half-animal-with-a-beer-belly appearances, they are dark and ominous entities in the books.
7 Kady Versus Asmodeus
In the books, Julia ends up in a similar situation with a group of magicians living on the outskirts of society who are trying to contact a god. Just like in the show, Julia and her friends accidentally summon Reynard the Fox, and Julia sacrifices herself so that Kady can escape Reynard.
In the books, however, Kady is not a character… but the books feature a character who calls herself Asmodeus. Asmodeus is younger than Kady, but she is a hedge witch who survives Reynard’s attack because of Julia. Quentin meets this character in book three; she’s trying to steal a knife with a spell on it that could kill a god, whom readers assume is Reynard the Fox.
6 The Age Of The Characters
In the books, Quentin and Julia are in high school trying to get into college when they receive their invitations to take the Brakebills exam. But in the show, Quentin and Julia are already in college trying to get into graduate school. The age difference between the books and the television show is commented on by both Jane Chatwin and Dean Fogg, though Jane never explains why the timeline viewers are watching featured a more aged group of magicians.
One reason may be the difference in the pacing of the stories: the show has barely covered enough time for the characters to graduate from Brakebills, while the books cover over a decade of Quentin’s life.
5 The Arrival Of The Beast
Int he Brakebills Lab, the night before the Beast appears on-screen, Quentin and Alice did a spell to try to contact her brother, who she believed was in spirit form on campus somewhere. The spell backfires because Alice’s brother is a Niffin, not a spirit, and the next morning the Beast arrives. Alice and Quentin carry this guilt and responsibility for the Beast’s actions with them throughout the first season.
In the books, Quentin also feels guilty for the Beast’s arrival, because it happens moments after he casts a spell to mess with his professor. Quentin believes the spell caused the Professor’s spellwork to glitch, which allowed the Beast to enter the classroom. Later, in a cannon graphic novel from Alice’s perspective, readers discover that Quentin did not cause the error.
4 Julia’s Goddess Transformation
On-screen, Julia went through with aborting Reynard’s offspring, sacrificing her shade in the process. Luckily for show-Julia, Quentin and some of the other Brakebills squad members helped her get her shade back, and as a result, when she had the opportunity to kill Reynard, she spared him and Persephone blessed her with a seed of magic that would turn her into a goddess if she did good acts for other people.
Book-Julia is…different. After Reynard, she’s described as acting, well, like someone would act if they didn’t have their shade, but were able to remain morally neutral. As a result, most readers assume that Julia never regained her shade in the books and therefore completed her goddess transformation.
3 Animal Transformations
If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll always remember the times Quentin and Alice transformed into birds and flew to Brakebills South, where they transformed into foxes, a moment that solidified their relationship. Like Ember and Umber, the animal transformations are something that is more easily pulled off via the written word than it is the screen. In the book series, Quentin heavily relies on animal transformation spells.
Most infamously, Quentin and Plum Chatwin (a character that was introduced to the show in season five, and the books in book three) transform into whales to travel to Brakebills South, mostly just because they can. When whales were drawn into the season five opening credits, fans of the books hoped to see a whale transformation on screen, but the plotline ended up being totally different, and equally fun.
2 Quentin Coldwater’s Fate
If you’re caught up with the show, you know that the characters have spent most of season five grappling with Quentin’s tragic fate at the end of season four. He sacrificed himself to try to change the world for the better for his friends. To the tune of Take On Me, viewers said goodbye to Quentin as they watched him pass on in the Underworld with the help of Penny 23.
Perhaps the best reason to pick up the book series after the show ends is this crucial difference: Quentin does not die in the books. In fact, the books span about a decade from Quentin’s perspective. They feature him not only attending Brakebills but graduating. Fillory is still crucial, but not featured quite so much. In his early thirties, Quentin returns to Brakebills as a professor. And later—another difference—Quentin attempts to use the World Seed to create a new world.
1 The Number Of Main Characters
The books are very much about Quentin. In the second and third books, readers get tasteful glimpses of Julia’s life from her perspective, and long monologues from other characters that feel as if they’re chapters told in first person.
However, the focus on Quentin leaves other characters less fleshed out: Eliot, Fen, Josh, and Alice are especially highlighted in the show. The choice to kill Quentin off at the end of season four may have seemed drastic, but it enabled the tv show writers to create a true ensemble, giving the show a joyous complexity that is missing from Quentin’s limited perspective in the books.
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About The AuthorVirginia Winters-Troche is a late twenties, early to rise New Englander who has watched and rewatched so many shows on Netflix, her neighbors wonder if she ever leaves the house. (She obviously does–that’s how the snacks happen.) Specializing in shows where anyone could bite it at any moment, Virginia channels her constant urge to speak during movies into writing about them. When not watching Netflix, you may find her watching Hulu, HBO, Cable TV, or, rarely, sleeping.
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