“My entire life, ever since I first read Fillory and Further, I’ve been waiting for some powerful being to come down and say ‘Quentin Coldwater, you are The One.’ Every book, every movie, it’s about one special guy. Chosen. In real life, for every one guy, there are a billion people who aren’t. Almost none of us are The One.”
I am Quentin Coldwater. If you waited for your Hogwarts letter on your eleventh birthday or secretly wished your closet led to a magical world, you’re probably Quentin Coldwater too. If you’re familiar with Lev Grossman’s The Magicians book series or Syfy’s show of the same name, you might be slightly offended at being compared to Quentin. You shouldn’t be, though, because Quentin, sometimes called Q, is the representation of a generation that grew up with Harry Potter. He’s all of us, because he chose to see himself as the hero.
Season one of The Magicians follows Quentin’s discovery of magic. Unlike Harry Potter, whose discovery of magic came at eleven years old, and therefore reveals itself as pure wonderment, Quentin learns of magic as a grad student. There’s still wonderment and awe, but it’s quickly undermined by reality. Q may be attending a magical school, but it’s still school. The disillusionment of magic throughout The Magicians works as a metaphor for the real world. As we become adults, the magic of childhood drifts away from our conscious, or rather, the stress and anxiety of adulthood takes over. This whole idea is so front and center in Grossman’s book that I could barely make it past 50 pages. But the Syfy series lets magic and the realities of adulthood knock against each other, sometimes allowing one to overpower the other, not unlike how we often experience high and low moments in our own lives.
When we first meet Quentin, he’s finishing a stay in a psychiatric hospital. His depression is only occasionally referred to throughout the series, but it’s a clever introduction to a character whose motivations are always tied to his favorite fantasy series, “Fillory and Further,” The Magicians version of The Chronicles of Narnia, with a bit of Harry Potter thrown in. Once he’s accepted into Brakebills, a Hogwarts stand-in (though it looks more like a Division 1 university campus), Q is convinced he’s on his path to destiny. He knows he’s the hero of this story, even before there’s really a story. When his best friend, Julia, doesn’t get accepted into Brakebills, his reaction is to basically tell her she’s not good enough to be a part of the magical world he’s suddenly found himself in. And as soon as the school comes under attack by The Beast, he’s even more convinced he’s the one that can stop him. The Chosen One, so to speak.
It’s not totally his fault. Throughout all of season one, people keep telling him he’s the one that needs to go up against The Beast. Jane Chatwin, the central character of “Fillory and Further” tells him that, Dean Fogg mentions it a time or two, and even his friends begrudgingly admit it. It’s mentioned often enough that Q begins to believe it himself. And it makes sense Q is that person. As Margo puts it:
“There’s this thing about you, Q. You actually believe in magic.”
“So does everyone.”
“No. We all know it’s real, but you believe in it. And you just love it, pure and simple.”
The reason Q is so identifiable is that he hasn’t let go of his belief in magic, or in stories. Q is us if we suddenly stepped in to our favorite fantasy story. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the hero. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the magic in our lives. But what makes someone stand apart from those brash and daring heroes of legends is when to know this isn’t just your story, and maybe it’s someone else’s turn for glory.
Q’s moment of heroism isn’t when he stands up to The Beast. He’d already done that several times before, in timelines that were being reset because Q was never successful. So he changes it. To Alice, he explains it’s the adult part of him that’s telling him Alice is The One, because she’s the stronger magician. Quentin was never the Chosen One. Rather, his part in the 39 time loops of season one was to die. His part in the last timeline, however, was to grow up. His maturity throughout season one ends with the restoration of his friendship with Julia. Before, when it was made clear to Q Julia didn’t belong at Brakebills, he figured he was meant to be apart of this magical world, while Julia wasn’t. To him, it was destiny. Of course, Julia was supposed to be at Brakebills all along, and in the 39 other timelines, she was. As Q unfolds the mystery of The Beast, he comes to terms with the parts other people, his friends, play in the larger narrative. It’s not just about him. When Julia and Q enter Fillory together for the first time, they’re transported back to their childhood, and all of a sudden, they’re the best friends they were before magic ever happened.
It’s a strong, quiet moment of full character realization. In the following two seasons, Quentin still manages to hold on to his innocent view of magic, sometimes to the detriment of the others around him. When the group is presented a quest in season three, Q’s adamant he’s the one to take on the quest and return magic to the world, forgetting the fact he’s the one who inadvertently lost all the world’s magic. It’s these contradictions, though, that make Q the most human out of everyone. Because sometimes heroes are just regular people, and their intentions may not always be pure, but they can be heroic all the same. That need to be someone important lies in all of us. From our perspective, we are the heroes of our own story. It’s other people, though, that help that story along. Keeping in mind that, to them, they’re on their own quest to discover magic or a dragon or two.