ST. LOUIS — Fantasy novels play well with children, who haven’t yet become too cynical to believe in magical worlds. Just ask J.K. Rowling, who’d be quite well off financially even if her Harry Potter books hadn’t been made into movies.
But what about adults? Is it possible to address their concerns through a genre that’s largely associated with wizards and witches, hobbits and Hogwarts? Can fantastical tales address the edgier aspects of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll?
Lev Grossman thinks so. His novel “The Magicians” (2009) nimbly crossed the drawbridge to become a hit with adult readers and earn critical acclaim. With his new book, “The Magician King,” Grossman catches up with “Magicians” protagonist Quentin Coldwater, a young man who’s infatuated with magic but whose adventures bump up against themes far more mature than those along Potter’s path.
In a recent interview from New York, where he’s a book critic and senior writer at Time magazine, Grossman, 42, said the sequel wasn’t part of his original plan.
“I had written ‘The Magicians’ to be a one-off,” he says. “When I put the period on the final sentence, that was the last that I ever intended to write about those characters.
“But when you’re writing a novel, you get into the habit of asking yourself, ‘What happens next?’ And after I let ‘The Magicians’ sit for a month or two, I started asking myself that question again.”
One of the challenges of writing a fantasy novel is creating an imaginary world that makes sense.
“It does have to have an internal logic for it to feel real,” he says. “For the readers to feel like they can just step into that world and believe in it. But you also want it to be mysterious.”
Grossman didn’t start out as a fantasy writer; his novel “Codex” (2004) was a literary thriller. The switch in genres came about naturally, Grossman says.
“When I got to the age of 35, I started thinking about what my most intense and enjoyable reading experiences had been,” he said. “And they really had been as a kid, reading young-adult fantasy novels. I realized that I wanted to try to re-create that feeling of just being lost in a book.”
The magic isn’t over: Coldwater’s story is likely to be a trilogy, Grossman said.
“That’s my plan at this point,” he saod. “I have something else percolating that I’d like to move on to.”