Re-reading Magician (by Raymond E Feist)

I’m enjoying rediscovering my fantasy roots. Haven’t gone as far (yet) as revisiting LOTR for the nth time, but I have been back to Midkemia and Tsuruananni in Raymon E Feist’s Magician.
I had forgotten the almost SF feel to the Tsurani incursion into the land of Midkemia that underpins the plot of Magician. With hindsight, I now realise the ‘alien’ feel of Tsuruananni – where the hero, Pug, gets captured and taken as a slave – is because it’s a realm based largely on a stylised version of 16th and 17th century China and Japan.
And I think that’s Feist’s genius; the juxtaposition of the Tolkienian fantasy world of Midkemia – where Pug comes from (complete with dwarves, elves and men) – with the Shogun-esc martial world of Tsuruananni. The mash of cultures in Magician brings conflict and adventure, just as Europe’s incursions into China and Japan did three hundred years ago in our world. Throw in a heavy dash of magic, a space-time rift and presto! you have epic fantasy!
In fact, I wonder if Feist’s creative writing juices were fuelled by the novel Shogun (James Clavell, 1975) and, five years later, the spin-off TV series of the same name, both of which were hugely popular. At the start of the 80’s, Shogun was as culturally important as iconic TV shows such as Game of Thrones, Fargo and the recent Breaking Bad are today.
The story in Shogun throws a European sailor, John Blackthorne, into the alien world of 17th century Japan, ruled at the time by samurai. After immense privations, Blackthorne himself eventually becomes a samurai. This is very akin to Pug, the MP in Magician, being taken to Tsuruananni, where, of course, he becomes a master of that culture, just as Blackthorne did in Japan – Pug’s master magician to Blackthorne’s master samurai.
Who knows? It’s pure conjecture on my part, but with Magician being published in 1982, seven years after the Novel Shogun and just two years after the TV min-series, perhaps not such a surprising source of inspiration for Raymond E Feist. And, if it was, good on him for turning it into such epic fantasy!
Whatever his inspiration for the book was, Feist lets his imagination run riot in Magician, which leaps along at breakneck speed, sometimes even over-loading on information and detail. That said, we never lose sight of Pug, or who is doing what to whom (and why) – and the book has a satisfactory conclusion. For me, it works as a standalone piece, but it is just the first part of the Riftwar Saga trilogy, which concluded with A Darkness at Sethanon in 1986, following Silverthorn in 1985.
I’m not going to re-read the latter two books, one revisit to Feist’s worlds was enough, just to air my roots a little.
No, it’s more modern stuff for me at the moment. I’m now about 3/4 the way through The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss, 2007), on the recommendation of my good friend Joe Wonnacott – who is an epic fantasy writer in his own right! I’m enjoying it very much and will be sharing thoughts in a post soon.

  2 comments for “Re-reading Magician (by Raymond E Feist)

  1. Olly Perry
    May 15, 2014 at 9:42 am

    Jon, I admire your ability to maintain your own ideas and the integrity of your characters and story while reading other people’s work. When I started writing, I stopped reading fiction as I didn’t want any unseen influences to seep into my writing. I am sure they are there anyway as all these stories lie in my unconscious somewhere and there’s only meant to be a certain amount of plots on which all stories are based. However, that said, I am going to start reading some Joseph Campbell – ‘Myths to live by’ is the first one, a series of writings based on talks that he gave between 1958 and 1971, to give me some more fuel to power my imagination!

    • Jon
      May 15, 2014 at 1:46 pm

      Hi Olly, we make great use of Joe Campbell on my MA – the script-writing tutor in particular is a big fan. I’ve watched the videos (where he’s interviewed over 5 or 6 hours on his philosophy by Bill Moyers – at George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch). We have them in the library at Falmouth, but I think you can access online as well. I certainly think Campbell makes a powerful case for the underlying ‘hero’s journey’. Have you seen the Ray Bradbury lecture on the same theme – though, being Bradbury – is done in a rather more light-hearted way! I’ll see if I can dig the link out – it’s on Youtube somewhere…

      I’ve been reading a very good book called 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them by Ronald Tobias – he goes with the idea of a few basic sub-structures, then analyses well known works to come up with his 20. It’s well written, though I must confess I need to come back to it to finish it – not for lack of interest, but all thse ‘must read’ fantasy novels kept calling to me. I blame Neil Gaiman! Oh, and Patrick Rothfuss, and…

      As to the reading whilst writing thing, I felt like that at first, but I now read voraciously whilst writing – in fact, sometimes when I should be writing! Most of the writing mentors I’ve had – and there have been quite a few – certainly encourage it.

      Anyway, thanks for your comment – be very interested to read something of yours too.

      Best, Jon

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