In a recent press call with two of the creative minds behind Syfy’s The Magicians, the new fantasy series was shown to be quite different from but still true to the spirit of the novels that inspired it. Networks love television shows based on proven properties, but in adapting a novel or other work, it can be difficult to please fans of the written story while making necessary changes to fit the form. Co-showrunner Sera Gamble and Jason Ralph, who plays Quentin Coldwater on the show, shared their impressions.
“We didn’t want to change anything from the books that we didn’t have to,” explains Gamble, “so we sat down with Lev Grossman, the author, and we kind of hashed it out what that change would mean… I think throughout the season, we’ll be hitting a lot of the sort of greatest hits of book one.”
One of the first things viewers who have read the books will notice is that the characters are slightly older. “Quentin is 17 when you meet him in the book, and he’s more like 22 in our television show,” admits Gamble, calling Brakebills University more of a graduate school. “We have the same general roadmap but we sometimes take slightly different roads than Lev did in the books.”
A major difference centers around the accelerated tale of Julia, whose story outside of the university from the second novel is now told alongside the initial Brakebills storyline. Gamble clarifies, “I think when you read the books, you first and foremost are kind of inside the experience of Quentin Coldwater, but because we spend many, many hours in this world, we get to spend a lot of time in Julia’s point of view and a lot of time in Alice’s point of view.”
Jason Ralph assures fans of the books that he makes every effort to be true to the original character of Quentin Coldwater. “Something just sort of spewed out that is my Quentin Coldwater,” he says. “And at the same time, from an academic perspective,… re-reading the sections from the books that we happen to be shooting that day, to bring the spirit of him through the filter of me… I tried to be as faithful to the books and to the scripts as possible.”
To be true to the Quentin character, Ralph had to learn two very important skills: how to perform sleight of hand, since Quentin is a traditional performance magician as well, and how to contort his fingers for the intricate motions required for “real” magic. “All of the sleight of hand magic you see is totally 100 percent real,” assures Ralph.
Gamble described the finger contortions for spell casting as having been inspired by “finger tutting,” a hip-hop dance style of sorts using choreographed finger moves. “We were searching for a way to kind of codify the language of magic which is very specific and arduous and difficult and intensive,” Gamble says, adding that when they saw finger tutting videos on YouTube, “it felt really fresh and good to us, and we hired a choreographer to work with the actors.”
In the end, with author Lev Grossman being directly involved with the writing, fans have little to worry about, according to Gamble. “Lev is an active part of the making of the show. He reads the scripts before our bosses do and he sees the cuts before our bosses do. So we’re very transparent with him about the process and we ask for his advice at times, and he sends us really thoughtful, interesting, good notes.”
Whether you read the books or not, you can enjoy The Magicians on Syfy starting on January 25th at 9pm EST.