Nicholas Urfe, an intelligent young man, conventionally educated at Oxford, accepts a position as schoolmaster on the remote Greek island of Phraxos. He is bored with England and the latest of a steady diet of love affairs. He has developed an effective technique of cultivating and then gracefully extricating himself from entanglements with women. The most recent is a wandering Australian girl, Alison Kelly. She is emancipated in her sexual habits but is potentially a loyal and devoted companion and lover.
From this rather mundane and self-centered existence, Nicholas becomes enmeshed in the most fascinating and mysterious initiation experience of his life. In spite of its spectacular setting, the school itself is even less inspiring than England—until he meets a cultivated, wealthy Greek named Maurice Conchis, who orchestrates a fantastic psychodrama about illusion, love, and human responsibility. It is a live play with Nicholas himself as both audience and central participant, never knowing where the action will take him next. What begins as a marvelous entertainment gradually closes in around him, actively engaging his mind and emotions, damaging his self-image, inspiring both his aesthetic love of the beautiful and his lust and tendency to exploit women, and forcing his moral judgment of social action and ultimately his fear and an unwelcome sense of powerlessness in the face of potentially evil forces.
Conchis, the Magus (or sorcerer) who runs the show, is ambiguously known to the native islanders as a doctor or a retired...
(The entire section is 637 words.)