Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 503
Narrated in the first person by Nicholas Urfe, a cynical Oxford graduate who has drifted into teaching, the novel proceeds from bohemian London to the mysterious island of Phraxos off the coast of Greece. There Nicholas’ quest for foreign adventure lands him in the clutches of the enigmatic Maurice Conchis....
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- Critical Essays
Narrated in the first person by Nicholas Urfe, a cynical Oxford graduate who has drifted into teaching, the novel proceeds from bohemian London to the mysterious island of Phraxos off the coast of Greece. There Nicholas’ quest for foreign adventure lands him in the clutches of the enigmatic Maurice Conchis. The magus or sorcerer of the title, Conchis is an alleged erstwhile Nazi collaborator who stages a series of unorthodox “encounters” ostensibly, yet inexplicably, aimed at awakening Urfe’s true feelings.
Unable to fall in love, or even to sustain more than the most fleeting romantic attachment, Nicholas has chosen Greece over a recent involvement with Alison Kelly, an attractive yet vulnerable Australian seeking work as an airline hostess. Fleeing Alison, yet unable to break with her completely, Nicholas is still searching for true love. Having willed himself to fall in love with a young woman whom he has glimpsed on Conchis’ property, he is vulnerable to the psychodrama that Conchis has prepared for him. This drama is replete with costumed actors and vertiginous plot twists that at times parallel the true (or invented) facts of Conchis’ own life.
Thwarted, frustrated, even maddened by the tricks continually being played upon him by the mysterious mastermind Conchis, Nicholas loses his teaching job on Phraxos and begins to play detective, trying to strip away the masks of the people he has met there. Only toward the end of his grueling, mazelike search does Nicholas begin to detect some connection between his recent experiences and the abandoned Alison Kelly, long since presumed dead (thanks to Conchis). Apparently, all of Nicholas’ recent trials have been mounted to cure him of selfishness and awaken his latent love for Alison--who will return to him only when and if he deserves her.
Set largely during 1953, the novel is notable not only for its dizzying plot structure--no mean feat in the “uninformed” first person--but also for its evocation of British society during the years of postwar transition.
Garard, Charles. Point of View in Fiction and Film: Focus on John Fowles. New York: Peter Lang, 1991. Important because three of Fowles’s novels—The Collector (1963), The Magus, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969)—have been made into films and because Fowles’s narrative techniques are often cinematic in nature.
Huffaker, Robert. John Fowles. Boston: Twayne, 1980. A fine introduction to Fowles and his work, including a critical bibliography.
Onega, Susana. Form and Meaning in the Novels of John Fowles. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1989. Includes essays on Fowles’s novels of the 1980’s. Notes that the structures of the novels always reflect their meanings.
Palmer, William J. The Fiction of John Fowles. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1974. A brief but stimulating reading of Fowles’s novels in the light of philosophical, social, and cultural contexts.
Wolfe, Peter. John Fowles: Magus and Moralist. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1976. Especially interesting in that the author applies the concepts of magic and ethical behavior, two concerns of The Magus, to all of Fowles’s fiction.