Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 425
John Fowles was deeply interested in the theories of Carl Jung when he was struggling with this book—and it was a struggle, as he freely admits in his preface to the revised edition in 1977. He was continually rewriting and abandoning drafts as inadequate to the myth he wished to...
(The entire section contains 810 words.)
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this The Magus study guide. You'll get access to all of the The Magus content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.
- Critical Essays
John Fowles was deeply interested in the theories of Carl Jung when he was struggling with this book—and it was a struggle, as he freely admits in his preface to the revised edition in 1977. He was continually rewriting and abandoning drafts as inadequate to the myth he wished to express. The confusion of many readers suggests that perhaps he never did get it quite right. Nevertheless, that the story is somehow analogous to what Jung called the process of individuation seems quite clear. The immature person naively assumes that the conscious Ego is the Self, the center of being. In order to be whole, such a person must explore the unacknowledged part of the psyche—in symbolic terms, a journey into the underworld of the subconscious. That world is haunted by archetypal forms, primitive drives, images derived perhaps from racial memories but intuitively perceived as applicable to one’s own emotional and moral state. Only thus can the adolescent psyche acquire mental and emotional maturity and assume moral responsibility.
The modern, empirical, pseudoscientific orientation of masses of people tends to breed individuals who look only at “things,” especially among men. (Conchis points out to Nicholas that men look at things, but women look at the relationships between things, which he implies is a better orientation.) The more poetically inclined soul, such as that of Nicholas, is aware of the symbolic forms through literature but tends to escape their moral or social significance by slipping into a purely aesthetic view of life. Nicholas speaks of absorbing the fact of Alison’s suicide by edging it “out of the moral world into the aesthetic, where it was easier to live with.” This is, he judges, a process of
disguised self-forgiveness, the belief that suffering in some way ennobles life, so that the precipitation of pain comes, by such a cockeyed algebra, to equal the ennoblement, or at any rate the enrichment of life, by this characteristically twentieth-century retreat from content into form, from meaning into appearance, from ethics into aesthetics....
Such a process can lead to indifference, possibly even to cultivated sadism.
This is not the only meaning of this complex novel, but it is one of the most important questions it addresses. Surely, one of the darkest observations of modern times is that education in the “humanities” does not necessarily lead to greater humaneness, a fact illustrated by some of the more cultivated Nazis. Neither untutored ignorance nor cultivated good taste is any guarantee of humanity. The fate of civilization is, as always, at risk.