Set Visit Report: MuggleNet Meets “The Magicians” – Part 1
If you’ve ever been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando or the Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter in London, you know a bit about the magic of stepping into the world of a book you’ve loved. Earlier this month, MuggleNet had the opportunity to do just that for another series we love – The Magicians by Lev Grossman, which is soon to be a series on the Syfy channel. Since the first book of the trilogy came out in 2009, I’ve been pushing it on basically every person I know, especially if they’re a fan of Harry Potter. If you haven’t read the books, they follow Quentin Coldwater, a teenager from Brooklyn, after he discovers that not only is magic real, but he will also be attending Brakebills University to study it. So long, Princeton.
As a life-long nerd and lover of Potter, Narnia, and Grossman’s in-universe creation, the Fillory novels, Quentin feels like his acceptance to Brakebills is the news he’s been waiting for his entire life, but The Magicians is no children’s book, and Quentin’s life is no fairy tale. Grossman imbues Quentin’s journey with gritty reality, pushing to the limits that late-night musing of all who have ever wanted to disappear inside a book: “But what if it were real?” For Potter fans, the timing of the series couldn’t be more appropriate. I was 7 when Sorcerer’s Stone came out and 16 at the release of Deathly Hallows. Two years later, in 2009, I was just entering college and still crazy for everything Harry – a book series where someone like me was basically whisked off to Hogwarts was just what I needed – and The Magicians provided that. The final installment of the Magicians trilogy was released in 2014, and in just a few weeks, in January of 2016, the very first episode of the television adaptation will air on Syfy. The fact that the production team chose to age Quentin and his classmates up from teenagers to characters in their early 20s, starting grad school instead of college, and that I’m currently applying to grad school is probably just a coincidence and not a sign that I should go trudging through the woods in upstate New York looking for a school of magic – but what I do with my spare time is beside the point. The point is that for me, and for many other Potter fans of my age, The Magicians feels like it’s for us, like it’s about us, and that is a wonderful thing.
With that being said, it’s probably an understatement to say that I was both excited and nervous to visit the set of The Magicians. Would they get it right? Would it feel like the books? If it does – man, that’s going to be cool. I’m happy to report that The Magicians does not disappoint in any regard. When we first arrived on set, we were led on a tour by Sera Gamble, executive producer, and writer for the show. She first took us to the Brakebills Lab, a classroom and workshop where, well, the magic happens. The set designers and crew of the show have spared no detail in ensuring that this part of Brakebills looks and feels real.
At first glance, you might mistake it for a classroom at any other prestigious university – portraits of eminent men hang on the walls, there’s a periodic table of elements hanging on one wall, there are desks and lab equipment and books galore. But on closer inspection, you begin to see that there’s more to this space than meets the eye. The Brakebills crest, a bee, and a key is positioned high above a stonework fireplace; the periodic table of elements is a magical periodic table of elements; there are posters depicting the correct way to hold your hands when casting certain spells, and the portraits hanging on the wall are of magicians. This is the set where Quentin – and his classmates Alice, Penny, Eliot, and Margot – will have many of their lessons, and I get the feeling that I’m standing in a room that soon enough I’ll be watching on my television thinking, “It would be so cool to be there.” Possibly you will be, too, and you can take it from me – it is. Here are a few images of what we saw:
We’re taken next to a set near and dear to the hearts of lovers of the Magicians books: the Physical Kids’ Cottage, where Quentin, Alice, Eliot, and Margot live, work, and play (as university students are wont to do). Think of the place in college where you and your friends spent all your free hours, drinking, talking, cramming for exams, falling in love, wondering about the future, and generally being young idiots – that’s the Cottage for Quentin et al. As we walk through the infamous front door, which new members are required to break through (whether by force or magic) before entering the cottage for the first time, I can’t help but wish that the other journalists would disappear so that I can try it for myself. “It’s probably better that they don’t,” I think as I doubt the production team would have appreciated it.
Inside, the cottage is a hedonist’s delight – Gamble mentions that in creating the space, the team was inspired by the decadence of 19th-century opium dens. Indeed, the room feels plush, comfortable, and indulgent. There are drinking glasses and empty cans, ashtrays and goblets stuck to the ceiling, leftovers from a magical drinking game. There are warm hardwood floors and plenty of cushy places to lounge, and the walls are lined with all kinds of fantastical art, both of the whimsical and enigmatic kinds. There’s a pool table and shelves and shelves of books. If Quentin and his classmates felt that they’d made it to Hogwarts when they learned they’d be coming to Brakebills, then this is their common room, the heart, and soul of why going to Hogwarts would matter at all.
There’s a power that comes with being young; you’ll hear it described as people saying that the young feel invincible, but it’s more like a passion – for life, for your friends, for love, for everything that is good and exciting – that bleeds off of you and touches everything. Imagine that power combined with knowing that you can do magic. This cottage is a place for that feeling. See for yourself:
After we leave the cottage, it’s time to speak with not only Gamble but also the series’s core cast and author Lev Grossman about bringing The Magicians to the screen. Stay tuned for what we learned in the next installment of our set visit report!