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The Magic Christian Paperback – June 11, 1996
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From the Inside Flap
One of the funniest, cruelest, and most savagely revealing books about American life ever written, The Magic Christian has been called Terry Southern's masterpiece.
Guy Grand is an eccentric billionaire--the last of the big spenders--determined to create disorder in the material world and willing to spare no expense to do it. Leading a life full of practical jokes and madcap schemes, his ultimate goal is to prove his theory that there is nothing so degrading or so distasteful that someone won't do it for money. In Guy Grand's world, everyone has a price, and he is all too willing to pay it.
A satire of America's obsession with bigness, toughness, money, TV, guns, and sex, The Magic Christian is a hilarious and wickedly original novel from a true comic genius.
"This is at once the most profoundly satiric and wildly comic account of our life and times in years."--Nelson Algren, The Nation
"Terry Southern is the most profoundly witty writer of our generation."--Gore Vidal
"Mr. Southern is wonderfully prodigal of comic ideas.... An enormously funny and satisfying satire, done with a great thrifty distinction."--The Spectator
"Terry Southern writes a mean, coolly deliberate, and murderous prose."--Norman Mailer
Terry Southern was the author of Flash and Filigree, Candy (with Mason Hoffenberg), Blue Movie, and Red-Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes. He was also an Oscar-nominated screenwriter whose credits include Easy Rider, Dr. Strangelove, and Barbarella, as well as an adaptation of The Magic Christian.
From the Back Cover
One of the funniest, cruelest, and most savagely revealing books about American life ever written, The Magic Christian has been called Terry Southern's masterpiece.Guy Grand is an eccentric billionaire--the last of the big spenders--determined to create disorder in the material world and willing to spare no expense to do it. Leading a life full of practical jokes and madcap schemes, his ultimate goal is to prove his theory that there is nothing so degrading or so distasteful that someone won't do it for money. In Guy Grand's world, everyone has a price, and he is all too willing to pay it.
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A comment of this book is not complete without a nod to the 1969 movie of the same name. Believing that most readers of this book will come to it by way of the film, I think there may be some disappointment. This is no massive epic (the novel is only 148 pages) that had to be pared down for screenplay treatment, so there's just not that much more to enjoy. Most of the sketches from the movie are directly out of the book, the only real change being the story's placement in late 1960s mod Britain, not 1950s Eisenhower-Middle America. This change of venue works very, very well for the film, with its English cast and contributors, including lead Peter Sellers, hippie Beatle Ringo Starr, Monty Python studs John Cleese and Graham Chapman, and ubiquitous party-boy Who drummer, Keith Moon as an addled nun. The only thing missing from the film is the novel's quiet satire.
It's not a horrible book, but really is pretty tame and predictable. The author seems to line up the right targets, generally looking to scratch off the paper-thin veener of class and respectability paraded around in 1950's American culture (like the affectations of gourmands, dog shows, and safari hunters; the self-seriousness and self-importance of TV and movie dramas; and the supposed luxury and exclusivity of huge cars and expensive cruises). However, the schemes that the author comes up with feel mostly like just one ham-handed misfire after another.
The big tricks are just kind of obvious and stupid. As an example, there is a lot to smack away at with the pretensions of 1950s gourmands (and their current-day "foodie" equivalents), but I fail to see how eating sloppily and then running around a restaurant screaming is much of an indictment of anyone other than the perpetrator. As another example, yes, people who conspicuously consume luxury goods to lord over others (such as extravagant sea voyages) certainly deserve ridicule and some sharp satire pointed in their direction, but the scheme the protagonist comes up with (holding them hostage on an increasingly failing ship) really doesn't apply much acid to those it is looking to satirize. In contrast, the targets appear to react pretty reasonably to having been inconvenienced and tricked; most of the pranks utterly fail to advance the book's theme of everyone having a price.
There are also a couple of tricks that just don't make any satirical sense (e.g., smashing crackers with a sledgehammer?). I guess that's kind of funny in a 1950's Bob Hope/ Peter Sellers way, but it doesn't really translate very well half a century later.
In any case, it's not horrible and I did catch myself laughing pretty well once in a while. Just don't expect anything too insightful or cutting.