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Literature / The Magus

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Nicholas Urfe: Am I ever going to be told what you really think you're doing?
Lily de Seitas: You have been told
Nicholas Urfe: Lie upon lie.
Lily de Seitas: Perhaps that's our way of telling the truth.

The Magus is the first novel John Fowles wrote, though it was his third to be published. Originally in 1965, but Fowles published a revised edition in 1977. It's notorious for its confusing and highly unpredictable plot concerning the British graduate Nicholas Urfe, who lands a teaching job at the remote Greek island Phraxos and falls victim to the psychological "Godgame" of wealthy islander Maurice Conchis.The story is said to be influenced by Fowles' own tenure as a teacher on the Greek Island Spetses.

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The book was adapted for film in 1968, starring Michael Caine and Anthony Quinn. While the book was received well, the film was widely critically panned. Interviews with cast and crew suggest that no one really understood what the story was about.


Provides examples of:

  • Author Appeal: John Fowles spent two years teaching English on the Greek island Spetses.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Or rather multilingual. There are significant bits in Greek and French, but fragments of German and Latin also pop up. If you're a bit more liberal, the Australian and Scottish accents could count as well.
  • Distinguishing Mark: Lily/Julie has a scar on her wrist. Her twin sister does not.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Lily/Julie qualifies. So does Rose/June.
  • Magic Realism: Though not completely, there are quite some traces of the genre. Especially in Conchis' scenes.
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  • Manipulative Bastard: Conchis. Lily/Julie and Rose/June aren't much better. It is later implied that their mother may be just as involved with the manipulation as Conchis.
  • Meaningful Name: It is suggested that Conchis' name should be pronounced as "conscious".
    Conchis: Anglicize my name. I prefer the "ch" soft.
  • Mind Rape: Nicholas is constantly subjected to this by Conchis. However, "The Trial" and the events leading up to it are so over the top and extreme that they deserve a special mention.
  • Mind Screw: Oh boy! It is constantly unclear which parts of the story are real and which aren't. The reader is constantly left in the dark on who is in on Chonchis' conspiracy and who isn't. It depends on your deduction skills if all your questions are answered in the end or not.
  • Mockspiracy: One of the scenes implies that all the novel's events were orchestrated by a group of psychotherapist as a part of an elaborate psychological tests. This also turns out to be a ruse, like everything before.
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  • Never Suicide: Alison
  • No Ending: Instead of The Reveal, there is a line from the Latin Poem Perviglium Veneris.
    Cras amet qui nunquam amavit; quique amavit cras amet.
    (Translation: Let him who has never loved, love tomorrow; and let him who has loved love tomorrow)
  • Properly Paranoid: Nicholas understandingly becomes this.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Plot!
  • Shout-Out
  • The Walrus Was Paul: Both in-universe and in Real Life. Since it's unclear who the reader can believe, it's still uncertain if the provided explanation is actually true. Nicholas goes through a similar process with Mrs. De Seitas.
  • Title Drop: The title appears only once in the novel. It refers to a Tarot card. The Magus is strongly implied to be Conchis.
  • Theme Twin Naming: Lily and Rose. Both are flowers.
  • Trickster Girlfriend: Lily/Julie; subverted, since it seems that she was only faking her feelings for the purpose of Conchis' game... or was she?
  • Trickster Twins: Lily/Julie and Rose/June. Obviously.
  • Twin Switch: Rose/June attempts to seduce Nicholas. It doesn't take him long to find out he's being fooled.
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