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Magic, Myth and Forces Beyond Reason: IFOA 2011

At the International Festival of Authors (IFOA) with Lev Grossman, Erin Morgenstern and Simon Toyne

The mood on stage was light.  Perhaps because, as author Lev Grossman would later explain, there is a difference between writers of literary fiction and those of fantasy. Literary writers, he said, seemed to (need to) maintain a kind of distance. Fantasy writers do not - one got the sense that the three authors on stage would have been comfortable being addressed by their first names.

In the hour to follow Harry Potter would be challenged (and revered), magic would be grounded, the origin of myth would be defined, and the question of why we go to books in the first place would be debated.



Host, YA author Lesley Livingston, opened the evening by asking her panel to give their quick “elevator speech” summation of their book. Lev Grossman, author of The Magician King, was up first. The Brooklyn-based author might be rather folically challenged, but he does not pull punches, saying to summarize in two minutes the work they've spent years on might be an author’s least favourite kind of question to be asked. Still, with great aplomb he managed to explain that his latest book, the sequel to his wildly successful The Magicians, is a “hyper-realistic, gritty re-telling of” a modern myth. He said that in his magical world, characters drink a lot, have sex and terrible things happen to them.

It was Erin Morgenstern’s turn next. Not missing a beat, the author of what might just be the hottest selling book of the year, The Night Circus, said she wanted to stay in Lev’s elevator. Morgenstern described her debut novel as being set at a nocturnal circus. The story is a competition between two magicians. It is also a love story. She would later reveal that the biggest influences on The Night Circus were Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and the novel The Prestige (she was a fan of the movie version as well).

With the help of a British accent (always helpful in a North American setting; we’re suckers that way) Simon Toyne, whose graying hair and good looks could have put him on one of TV shows he spent 15 years producing before becoming a novelist, described his Dan Brownian thriller, Sanctus, with tongue thankfully in cheek. After streaming off a shopping list of what his book was about including monks, guns, secrets, the myth of the origin of religion and a woman’s search for her identity, he said, “What’s not to love?”

For the rest of this article click Myth and Magic at the IFOA