Tuesday, April 16, 2013

How to Impress your English Teacher while Avoiding Extreme Boredom

W. Somerset Maugham is a writer with a fancy name. Writers with fancy names are known for writing books which are not all that exciting. W. Somerset Maugham's book The Magician, however, is an exception.

While it's true that much of Maugham's writing is about stormy relationships between husbands and wives living during the early part of the twentieth century -- not your typical guy fare -- The Magician is about a betrothed couple, the dull Arthur Burdon and the stunningly beautiful Margaret Dauncey, whose lives are invaded by a strange and rather unpleasant character in the form of professed magician George Haddo. Besides being unpleasant, entirely full of himself and showing a proclivity for putting down those around him, Haddo is difficult to read. It's hard to tell when he is joking and when he is boasting. He also claims to be a magician and seems to exude some sort of supernatural aura. He upsets docile animals just by standing near them and takes a snake bite from a cobra without being affected in the least by its venom. Arthur, an accomplished surgeon and man of science, dismisses Haddo's shenanigans as mere tricks. Margaret is disgusted by him.

Nonetheless, within a few weeks of their meeting Haddo manages to entrance Margaret and get her to marry him, leaving Arthur devastated and ineffectual until he discovers that his former fiancé's life might be in danger. Set in Paris, The Magician is early urban fantasy and while some of the language and certainly some of the dialog is a bit high minded, if you quote from it with an English accent, you can impress everyone around you even as you're insulting them. All that, and it's a gripping tale of magic and suspense. Plus, if you download the eBook from Project Gutenberg, it's completely free. I can't bring you better literary bargain.

Oh, and Maugham based Haddo's character on Aleister Crowley, one of the last century's freakiest dudes and a major influence on fantasy, alternative religion and rock and roll. Not at all bad stuff to know about.

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