I first became familiar with this franchise after the first season had already come out. A friend of mine recommended it to me some time back and after finally starting it, I had it finished within a couple days. It took watching three seasons before I finally got around to reading the book trilogy that the series is based upon.
So after finally finishing the books before the fourth season airs, I thought I would take a moment to go through the differences between the two and let you know what I think about them. But before I go too much into that, let me just give you a quick summary of the story.
Quentin Coldwater finds out that after years of believing in magic and tales of the Magical Kingdom of Fillory, it’s all real. And after the same years of loneliness and slight depression went by, an older Quentin gets to enroll into Brakebills: a school that teaches magicians. During his time there Quinton befriends fellow students Alice, Elliot, Janet and Josh. But his only friend from before his time at Brakebills, Julia, doesn’t pass the entrance exam and doesn’t make it into Brakebills.
Once Quinton is enrolled in the magical School we get to see him learn everything that it takes to master and become a real magician. And like any good fantasy story, there are many great quests that this group must take.
The changes that are made to the overall story from book to the TV series can be vast in some aspects. But I feel for the most part, a lot of them are done very well; especially when you consider the differences between the two mediums of a novel and a TV series.
With the first book most of the story follows Quentin and his friends at
Brakebills, as well as his fellow classmates up until their graduation. During book one there is hardly any mention of Julia, other than her being sprinkled throughout the novel to let the reader know she exist. It’s not until the second novel do we learn more about her. In the show, though, they tell both her and Quentin’s storylines at the same time, which I think works way better in a TV show format than it would have in the books.
Quentin’s girlfriend, Alice, in the book sacrifices herself to save the group from an attack once they are done at Fillory. We don’t see her again until the final book of the trilogy—which in that time seven years had passed in the story. The same happens in the TV series, but obviously they can’t have the actress gone for as long, so she’s brought back a lot sooner.
Elliot for the most part is pretty similar in both the novels and TV series. The only main difference being that once he becomes High King of Fillory in one version of the story, he’s not able to ever leave and is forced to have a bride—which is complicated due to him being gay.
Janet in the book, is named Margo in the TV series. They were worried that the audience might get her and Julia confused, so they changed the name. In the book she is kind of held to a bit-part compared to the TV series. Though, in both versions she ends up sleeping with Quentin, which causes a lot of drama. She is also High Queen in both versions.
Josh, who is pretty much used as the comic relief, doesn’t show up in the show until close to the end of the first season or the beginning of the second (it’s been awhile since I watched it). In both cases, I feel like Josh is a bit of an unsung character and is pretty enjoyable for the role he plays in the story.
Janet, (Quentin’s childhood friend) after not being accepted into Brakebills, was supposed to have her mind-wiped but it didn’t work. She finds herself joing the underground magic movement which leads to some very unfortunate events. In the book she becomes a demigod, but in the show they haven’t fully gone in that direction as of yet.
There are some different changes to Quentin from the books to the TV series as well. In the books he is in high school getting ready to go to college before he enters Brakebills, while in the show they’ve aged him and all the other characters so that they’re in more of a grad school age range. A lot of fans of the novels don’t like this change because it makes it a little hard to believe he’d still be so obsessed with these Fillory books in his 20s.
I really enjoyed both versions of the stories. I kind of look at it like an alternate universe type of deal. The show is not a direct adaptation of the books, but they do such a good job of getting the feel and everything for these characters and settings that they really expand on the universe where they didn’t in some aspects of the books.
So if you haven’t already, I really recommend that you at least try to either read the book series or watch the TV series (if not both). They are a fun journey with some great storytelling, and this is coming from a guy who’s not even a big fan of the fantasy genre. Trust me, you won’t regret checking out The Magicians.