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The Magus by John Fowles Book Review

By Carlos Romero

“Truth be told, despite all appearances and his lofty aspirations—Carlos is really down-to-earth—an all-around practical joker!”

Published August 27, 2021

“Tomorrow let him love, who has never loved; he who has loved, let him love tomorrow.”

I knew that I at some point in my life I was going to read this book. Ultimately, when my turn finally came, I read The Magus for a particular reason altogether. You see, I wanted/needed to compare notes to see if my own forthcoming novel (that I began writing in 2017) had anything in common (or not) with said prodigious work of fiction.

The Magus by John Fowles

I began to read John Fowles’ masterful tale in earnest just recently in 2021. And only after the first draft (and many rewrites/edits) of my own very similar esoteric novel/story had already been completed/finished by 2019.

Yes, I consider myself a writer and I can truly admire this author’s poetic vision for all its worth. Needless to say, I was pleasingly astonished by what I had soon discovered.

The Magus is a novel that has all the rare qualities/motifs of the best in the world that the classical literary tradition could possibly offer (i.e., Cervantes, Shakespeare, Goethe, Balzac, Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Joyce, and so on).

It superseded and defied any and all expectations that I might have had regarding the story itself. In my estimation, this is one of the best books that I’ve ever read!

It started off very slow and deliberate, building up as it went along. But by the time I was about a quarter in—I just knew that this was going to be a very good read indeed!

Now, like every great work of literature; it will always have its detractors and people that will just not get or understand the all-together; truly profound meaning of said novel.

There were those that simply complained about the wordy articulate creative/style of the fluid syntax—like that was a crime in itself. Instead of being grateful that there actually used to be a time when people/writers—could really write and form real sentences and not the gibberish/nonsense that passes for language these days.

And when authors/artists also had the freedom to write and express themselves without the fear of reprisals and censure, which is now the practice/order of the day. In the very least, if it ever happened then, it wasn’t in the draconian/arbitrary fashion that is currently being carried out against anyone/anything that does not tote the line (the official narrative in ‘everything’) of the powers that be/establishment and its myriad of willing—bootlicking cowardly lackeys/vassals the world over!

If anything, the already mentioned use of syntax was a sign of a singular imagination and gift that very few writers will ever possess. The very choice of specific words used at any given time to convey a message/idea is one of the hallmarks of a truly great writer versus a very mediocre one.

And here’s another thing that should pique one’s interest.

John Fowles was supposedly heavily influenced by Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus (like many writers/thinkers of his generation) which would explain the subtle if not overt tone of an ‘existentialist’ theme in The Magus.

Fowles, was also an atheist or so it’s been alleged. Of course; there had never been any doubt as to the avowed position of ‘atheism’ in Sartre (i.e., his claim that existence came before essence was proof enough).

And yet, thankfully, Fowles was also heavily influenced by great storytellers such as Charles Dickens. So, any one-sided influence was balanced and moderated by the other. And, thank God for that!

Now, my point is this; if an individual like myself, who believes in God (a universal consciousness/oneness) a higher spiritual existence and who certainly knows and believes from intuition if not from an empirical notion that essence, has to come before existence.

Yet, I could still appreciate and respect the point of view/opinions that these two individuals had regarding the aforementioned. Because, regardless of my position or my point of view—there were still plenty points of interest/matters that we could all agree on. And there were some points of contention where I had a difference of opinion.

But that’s the beauty of this tale. Just like life; this story seemed to have so many twists and turns that were never-ending. One had to travel the same road/course to get to the bottom of it all.

So, you see, unlike a lot of people today, and their one-sidedness in all things; there was a time in this world when people of different minds/opinions could still agree to disagree.

And believe me, despite his supposed existentialist outlook/influence; there was something truly sublimely ‘spiritual’ hidden between the lines of this novel.

I especially encourage this book to be read by those that can truly think independently for themselves—who have a real kind of thinking, versus that abstract/surreal thinking; that is all the norm in this day and age. Because, everyone will most definitely have to put their ‘thinking caps’ on—before undertaking this extraordinary literary journey.

I have not included any excerpts, like I usually tend to do with some of my past book reviews. I just didn’t want to spoil it for anyone or give anything away. With that being said, the reader will want to tackle this head on, fresh; and with no preconceived notions.

Although, there is one thing I would strongly suggest. If you’re not that familiar/accustomed to heavy doses of Greek mythology, the ancient mystery schools, philosophy, history, geography, secret societies, and various other lofty subjects/topics that anyone who reads a lot would have already encountered at one time or another. Please, make sure to get acquainted with as much as possible on what was just touched upon. Otherwise, lots of things might be missed and go over one’s head.

The story/text itself was filled with so much symbolism, allegory, and metaphor that was then; wrapped inside more of the same.

I highly recommend this fascinating book.

This for me, was an unforgettable and rewarding reading experience. It will hold one’s attention from its seemingly ordinary opening page—right down to its shocking and riveting conclusion. I was only disappointed to see the story come to an end. Unlike some novels/stories—this one did not overstay its welcome! I am so glad that I finally discovered/read The Magus.

I can safely now say, I know or at least I think I understand to know its ‘hermetically sealed’ meaning/message.

I look forward to reading/discovering more books by John Fowles. Godspeed, to one and all. The Magus was originally published in 1965. This review is for the hardcover revised edition (with a foreword by the author) that was published in 1977 by Little, Brown and Company.

Love and Peace,

Carlos E Romero

Image: Wikipedia

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