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The Magus
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198 of 205 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I was just looking over the reviews of this book on Amazon. They are by and large excellent reviews written by thoughful, educated readers. This book is for the learned and patient and yes knowledge of obscure literary references, mythology, and languages is helpful but not necessary. The reviews here are very helpful and if you read a few of them I do not doubt you will be inspired to find a copy of the book...
What I wanted to point out is that this book is the edited version. Why did Fowles edit a masterpiece? In reading the forward I deduce this was in many ways a reactionary edit. Fowles must have been over tired of his readers whining about "what does it all mean?"
READ THE ORIGINAL FIRST. Fowles edit of this book seems spiteful and mean spirited. he rips from our hands the original intention of the book in the final pages. making the 600 plus page journey nearly pointless.
We do not need clarification...especially in the way which Fowles pens it in this revised version. The original is the best literary work I have ever read...I cannot fathom the thought of editing it. It doesn't make sense. How often have you heard of such a thing for a work of fiction? It is like drawing a pencil mustache on the Mona Lisa.
Please read the original first.
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178 of 189 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
So infrequently does a work of fiction actually change the reader. This book gets under your conscious mind and toys with your perceptions, and in the end, ensures that you no longer take anything quite for granted anymore. The entire book is a wild ride of changing realities, where nothing is certain but constant change. It's a shame they give so much away in the synopsis on the back of the book, because it ruins a crucial plot point in the novel - one that would have been better had I not been expecting it.

The novel begins with young Nicholas Urfe as he tries to find a living he can at least take some interest in. He meets a young woman that nearly penetrates his outer shell of dispassionate world-weariness. As a gesture of independence, he lets her get away and he takes a job on an Greek island. There, he gets involved with a strange old man and his associates, and finds himself the victim of manipulative games and masquerades. He resolves to penetrate each and every deceit, and is led on a strange journey beyond his wildest imaginings.

After reading this book, I immediately wanted to share it with everyone I knew. It got me thinking about how much of my life I take for granted, how little of my own motivations I truly understand myself. Having read this book, I feel richer for the experience. I hope it can do for others what it's done for me.
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71 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2001
Format: Mass Market PaperbackVerified Purchase
John Fowles describes The Magus, published in 1965, as his first novel. The protagonist is Nicholas Urfe, a young, middle-class Englishman, an Oxford graduate. The book begins in England, describing Nicholas' confused affair with Alison. They part and Nicholas takes a job teaching at a private boys' school on a beautiful Greek Island, Phraxos. On one of his island wanderings, he comes across a remote villa, owned by Conchis, the Magus or magician of the story. Conchis, an elderly man with enormous wealth, hypnotic presence, and mysterious background, entices Nicholas into a series of surreal, often fascinating, often bewildering events, the reality and meaning of which continually elude both Nicholas and the reader. Alison reappears in the story along with many new and mysterious characters, most notably a phantom-like young woman with whom Nicholas falls in love.

In an illuminating foreword, written in 1976, Fowles acknowledges the "obvious influence of Jung." Jung theorized that human behavior is based on archetypes -- characters or patterns found in humankind's collective unconcious, embodied in its myths. One of the more fundamental archetypes is the character of The Magician - a archetype related to the shaman, or trickster, or even the divine fool -- an entity capable of moving between worlds and manipulating reality. The Magus explores this archetype both through the character of Conchis, but also through the author himself who plays trickster to his readers, with plot twists, misdirection, and ambiguity. The character Nicholas is a curious blend of archetypal patterns -- the emotionally regressed adolescent, the sophisticated intellectual, the callow seducer of women, the "mark" ensnared by his own stupidity and questionable motives. The object of Nicholas' idealized love might easily be viewed as his anima, a term Jung uses to describe the man's interior female.

I had some problems with this book. Like many other reviewers, I found that it sometimes seems overwritten. Also,it is filled with obscure and distracting literary allusions and untranslated passages in non-English languages. (More tricks?) Nevertheless, I found the book remarkable in several respects. For me, the most stunning feature of the novel was Fowles' ability to so effectively, vividly, evoke the "soul of place" of Phraxos, and the island's profound impact on the character of Nicholas. The island itself evokes the archetype of the magical wilderness, a place of haunting natural beauty and dark secrets like the psyche itself. Fowles' prose conjures a sense of profound grief, which I suspect harkens back to the lost enchantment of ancient Greek pagan culture and its mythopoetic richness. It's interesting to note that, while Fowles disavows the notion that this is a biographical work, he reports that he spent a short period teaching at a private boarding school on a similar Greek island, Spetsai. There, by the way, he encountered a villa on which he based "Bourani," the mystical villa of his story. Fowles also notes that this is a book that especially invites readers to project their own meanings and interpretations. Like many Trickster works of art, the reader finds himself both provoked and thrilled. The Magus' manipulation of Nicholas seems at once benevolent and at other times sadistic and unconscionable. One of the variations of the Magus archetypal is the magician as guru-teacher, e.g. the Zen master or Don Juan in the Castaneda works, who ruthlessly manipulate their students in order to bring enlightenment.

I am almost certainly like any other reader in projecting my own subjectivity onto this complex and often mesmerizing tale. For me, the point can be found late in the book, when Nicholas stumbles across a fable left behind after Conchis departs - a story of a young prince who lives in a kingdom with "no islands, no princesses and no God." Without depriving the reader of finding and reading the fable for him or herself, I'll simply say that, for me, Fowles could have ended the book with the fable (or even simply told the fable rather than writing the book). The point of the fable: There is no truth beyond magic and, with that realization, we all can become magicians.
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I finished "The Magus" a few days ago and I'm still turning the images over and over in my mind. It refuses to leave my psyche, even while I'm trying to read a new book.
"The Magus" is about a young English man named Nicholas Urfe who gets a teaching job at a private school on a small Greek island. On a remote part of the island, he discovers a luxurious villa owned by a mysterious wealthy man named Conchis who apparently keeps to himself. The two of them meet and strike up an odd friendship, whereupon Conchis invites Nicholas to visit his villa on weekends.
In the course of these visits, Nicholas realizes that Conchis is not as solitary as he had been led to believe. Conchis tells Nicholas the story of his life in gradual installments, but because Conchis's world is so illusory, Nicholas doesn't know how much, if any, of it he can believe. Conchis likes to play mind games, dropping bizarre clues about himself and staging impromptu "scenes" designed to look like hallucinations. He is the consummate magician, pulling ever more unpredictable things out of his hat with which to puzzle and torment Nicholas. Nicholas is not sure why Conchis is doing these things, but he keeps returning to the villa because the bemusing games provide an interesting diversion from his boring life at the school. Also, there is the evasive beautiful young woman who is often found in Conchis's domain and who, Nicholas is sure, holds the key to his fate...
The plot unfolds like an elaborate, surrealistic con game, the kind David Mamet makes films about ("The House of Games" and "The Spanish Prisoner"). The difference, and what makes the story so perplexing to me and, I suspect, many other readers, is that Fowles intentionally blurs the definition of "good guy" and "bad guy," so that it's difficult to know what the outcome of the story "should" be. Fowles transforms the reader's ideas of literary convention the same way that Conchis transforms Nicholas's ideas of perception and morality. Nicholas begins the novel as somewhat arrogant and selfish, and by the end of his dealings with Conchis he learns a little humility (one would hope).
Combining the epic richness of a Dickens novel with the macabre touches of a Poe, Lovecraft, or Kafka story, and set to an exotic, luxuriant backdrop of a beautiful Greek island, "The Magus" is one of the most enchanting, fun, and lovingly frustrating novels I've ever read, one I'm not likely to forget.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I first read *The Magus* in 1965. Since then I have read it again every five or ten years. It is one of the most intelligent, most stimulating books I have ever read. Like a country you revisit, each tour is different, deeper layered, flawed by age and familiarity, perhaps, but always, at the same time, new.
My own maturity has affected the way I have read this palimpsest and mirror; I remember being shocked, on second reading, to recognize what a callow, shallow creature Nicholas was. Now, myself Conchis' age if not his equal in wisdom, I can scarcely bear this vain British poetaster with his self-absorbed despair and self-serving rationalizations.
On my first reading, I was sure the monsters were on the balcony, staring at Nicholas and Alison. On my second, I was sure they weren't, and weren't monsters either. Last year, I understood that it doesn't matter; it is not knowing that matters, but doing. It is not what is done to us, but what we do, that matters.
I have adopted as my own motto, "Cause no unnecessary pain." What better gift can another mind give us, than a single motto to live by? This great book; it is an exercise in learning wisdom.
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I've read this novel three or four times and it never ceases to fascinate me. Recent films like The Matrix have explored the idea that what we assume to be real may not be. If you really want to delve into this kind of reality questioning in depth, read The Magus. The narrator, Nicholas Urfe, is a young Englishman who has recently graduated from Oxford. He has a rather arrogant and cynical view of the world, seeing himself as a sophisticated intellectual. He is drifting along with no definite plans, having casual affairs with women while doing his utmost to avoid any kind of commitments. This aimlessness leads him to accept a teaching job on Phraxos, a remote Greek island. While he quickly finds this job as tedious as his previous existence in London, he meets a mysterious older man named Maurice Conchis, and his life is forever altered. Conchis invites Nicholas to his estate for weekends, telling him long tales about his life that may or may not be true. Soon people and events begin to occur that mirror those in Conchis' stories. Nicholas falls in love with a beautiful young woman who is involved in these machinations. Her name may be Julie or Lily; she may be only pretending to return Nicholas' affections. Nicholas finds himself immersed in an increasingly complex web of lies and deception where it becomes impossible to tell truth from lies, reality from fiction. Conchis may be a psychiatrist conducting an elaborate experiment; he may be the director of a new kind of theater; or he may be a sadistic madman out to destroy Nicholas' sanity. The Magus can be understood in several ways. It is a very suspenseful tale with powerful literary, romantic and erotic elements. We can see Nicholas a victim who haphazardly falls into the lair of a lunatic. Or we can see Conchis as a true magus --the term is derived from the Magician of the tarot--who initiates a younger apprentice. However you interpret it, the book will keep you wondering until -and beyond-the very end. John Fowles revised the novel in 1978; I've read both versions and can't say I noticed any great difference. In the forward to the revised edition, Fowles makes some rather uncharitable remarks about his own book and those who admire it. He calls the novel one of "adolescence." While it may be true that this book tends to appeal to younger readers, this is probably because in this materialistic and rather mundane culture people tend to "outgrow" intellectual, moral and aesthetic inquisitiveness once they leave college. It's unfortunate that someone as talented as Fowles would succumb to the notion that this is a good thing. However, I like the book enough that I can forgive this bit of churlishness on the author's part. This is one of my all time favorite books and I highly recommend it.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on March 11, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
John Fowles has had a rich and rewarding literary career-and deservedly so. Hi is an author from the old school of writing-the one where the term "literature" had specific connotations, such as a mastery of language, characterization, plot and scene. In other words, these are books for the introspective and contemplative reader, not someone who reads for light entertainment.
The Magus is by far Fowles most controversial work. It is an deeply suspenseful novel of overt psychological and sexual bondage and sadism. The general outlines of the plot don't seem that gruesome-a young Englishman, fleeing an unsuccessful relationship, takes on a teaching assignment on a remote Greek Island and befriends a wealthy resident of that locale. But this is no ordinary fellow, He's a sociopath of a very disturbing type and he slowly ensnares the young Englishman into a web of psychotic manipulation and deceit.
The suspense level is high, the emotional distress level is intense-this is a wrenching book. The meek and easily offended would be wise to seek refuge elsewhere.
Fowles is a master writer and this is his masterwork. Serious students of literature ought to read this book. It will not just challenge you-it will change you. Isn't that what real literature is supposed to do?
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Where to begin with this masterpiece. Allowing for a relatively slow start, this book is the most mind bending piece of literature I have ever encountered. The reader is baffled at every turn. I found myself actually questioning where the book ended and real life began, such is the level of involvement one is compelled into. Following the journey of Nicholas Urfe, a young English teacher, who decides to journey to the Greek island of Phraxos in an attempt to remove himself from a failing relationship in England. Little did he know that his encounter with the Island recluse Maurice Conchis would lead him on a journey so deep into his own subconcious that his very sanity would be in dire jeopardy. Written around 1966/7, and set in 1953, the language is of a classical nature, and can take a bit of concentration, but after reading this I feel our contemporary writers have left behind a richness of expression which I can only suggest is lamentable. If you have a poor grasp of European languages, particularly French and Greek, a translating dictionary may prove a valuable friend during the course of this novel. My version (paperback) was 650 pages long, and I finished it in a week, so difficult was it to put down. Don't expect a light read, but don't be put off by it either. Fowles is particularly wordy, but from the halfway mark onwards, it is as though he puts his foot hard on the accelerator and the punch in the back is breathtaking. Do read this book, if you read no other this year.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2007
Format: Paperback
I first read this novel at sixteen years old and remember reading the book for two days straight to finish. I was entranced by the imagery and by the protaganist, Nick Urfe, who is one of my favorite flawed characters of all time. Even as an adult, I still enjoy re-reading this novel because I discover new tidbits every time. One thing that is interesting is that The Magus actually had TWO editions, both of which I have read. The first edition is much less detailed in the relationship between Nick and Allison. From interviews with Fowles that I have read, the ending is meant to be ambiguous and open-ended though to appease readers, he fleshed out the ending more and added the Latin quote at the very end to give a glimmer of hope. Roughly translated, the quote is "Tomorrow let him love, who has never loved; he who has loved, let him love tomorrow." For those who find the ending dissatisfying, I would assert that the journey of the book is what makes it a great book, and the ending somehow allows that journey to continue through the questions it raises.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Reading this the first time at age 15, I couldn't put it down. I've re-read it so many times since, and have enjoyed discussions about it as well as giving it as a gift to special friends. This is a unique and special book. But I've been intrigued to read the personal reviews here on Amazon, the ones that wonder if the main character treated Allison badly - he did. His cold upbringing by frigid and distant parents completely sabotaged his ability to give Allison anything, and she was worthy of so much more. She opened up to him, gave him her trust, and he, giving the best he had to offer as a self-centered young college educated male of his times, betrayed her completely. As to the punishment for his crime, and whether he deserves it, why yes, he did. Don't we all? For being cold, thoughtless, heartless, self-centered, egotists? Isn't Conchis a metaphor for life, or the belief/hope that there is some wisdom behind the scenes of life that teach us so many lessons in so many harsh and bitter ways? The two hands that life holds out to us, the one filled with candy offering us the sweet allures, the other balancing our experiences with the bitter, almost poison. Finally, as to the reviewer who can no longer appreciate the length of the book or the time it takes to read it, I suggest you cut back on your Starbucks, find a rustic retreat, take a few books, a pair of hiking shoes, and relax - learn to appreciate the subtle deeper grander experiences of life once again. Time will pass you by too quickly.
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