The Magus (Novel) – Analysis

The Baphomet image is shown.

By: Jay

The Magus by John Fowles is a peculiar novel. It is not like anything I’d read previously – a kind of mix between the TV show Lost and the Michael Douglass movie, The Game, with a bit of Eyes Wide Shut thrown in for good measure: Imagine Aristotle Onassis with a penchant for psychological warfare.  Its protagonist is a young Oxford graduate named Nicholas Urfe who, having become bored of philandering and partying, undergoes an existential crisis and embarks for a teaching position on the Greek island of Phraxos.  Before leaving England, however, Nicholas breaks the heart of a beautiful Australian girl named Alison, as he quickly adopts an atheistic, nihilist worldview.

As he arrives, he finds that the island is not exactly what it appears to be. Nicholas wanders into the company of a wealthy Greek billionaire Named Maurice Conchis who seems to toy with Nicholas at every turn, befriending him, yet in a distant, disingenuous way.  Nicholas begins to experience strange events that even make him question his own anti-supernatual presuppositions.  He sees what he thinks are Greek gods, as well as playlets that seem to match up to the Marquis de Sade.  Nicholas realizes that these masques become increasingly real, encompassing his entire existence on the island.  Eventually, having partaken of a hallucinogenic drug, and falling in love with one of a pair of twins that appears to be in the employ of Maurice, Nicholas experiences another kind of breakdown, resulting in an initiation of sorts similar to the process one sees in Eyes Wide Shut, as I argued.

The novel is thus not a story of mere intrigue, but of induction into the mysteries.  However, this novel presents the mysteries in a different fashion.  In Fowles’ mind, the initiation is not one wherein Nicholas’ world status changes, adjoining him to the elite, but rather operates as a kind of grand “fuck you,” where Nicholas is forced to come to grips with the fact that there is an entire strata of individuals for whom generations of enormous wealth has occasioned a godlike status on earth.  As such, in Flowles’ construal, the world becomes a kind of grand, global masque and stage.  In fact, the novel is quite explicit that the controllers are the Illuminati.    

They are an Illuminati who are guided solely by science, reason and pragmatism – not some ethereal magickal mysticism.  In fact, the magickal, mystery tour which Nicholas is enveloped in is merely part of the journey.   While at first Nicholas is led to believe that Conchis and his associates think they have experienced metempsychosis and are reincarnated, eventually these facts become irrelevant.  Nicholas is led into a massive psychological game, where it is he who is the subject of all the events.  In this, Jungian psychoanalysis comes to the fore, as well as Sartrean elements of existential crisis.  Meanwhile, Conchis, and his round table of occult gods and deities have engineered all the events of Nicholas’ life after Oxford, including the time spent with Alison, to bring him to the island as the test subject.

The book is spiced throughout with references to Tarot cards, greek deities, Baphomet, gnosticism, ritual initiation, the Eleutherian mysteries, etc.  Conchis eventually reveals to Nicholas, when he’s drugged, captured and placed in the judgment role that the real secret is science.  While Nicholas is supposed to “judge” the rest of the Illuminists present under the sign of the Pentagram and Baphomet, Nicholas ends up confounded as the group of doctors and PhDs present dissect his entire life with psychoanalysis.  Nicholas is then forced to watch a pornographic film with the girl he loves that has been intertwined with his own time spent on the island, recorded by numerous secret cameras.  Here Bentham/Foucault-style Panopticism emerges, as the prisoner is subjected to the all-pervading gaze of the eye of the elite.  Nicholas not only cannot escape their influence and power, he is also held captive to the narrative they may construct about himself and his life.  In short, he is helpless, though he thinks he is “free” in his atheism and nihilism.

Maurice, then, turns out to be a combination of the trickster/magus, as well as the prince/ruler, with his unlimited wealth.  He can hire any actors, recreate any scenes, arrange any events he so desires.  No matter where Nicholas goes, or what he does, he cannot escape Maurice’s designs.  Every time Nicholas tries to construct a “mask” or excuse or identity for himself, he is reminded of the existential dictum that he is “condemned to be free.”  He continues to operate in Sartrean “bad faith” and “inauthenticity” to the end, until he appears to concede that he is helpless.

Overall, the book is worth reading, and ends on an open note, where the reader is invited to interpret Nicholas’ final interaction with Alison as he or she wants.  This fits well with the meta-narrative theme of the work, where the reader is also in a sense, playing a game, as well as part of the grand masque that is reality.  Fowles wants the reader to realize that his or her reality is also part of this play that we call reality, that includes a heavy dose of fiction.  And that fiction is largely manipulated by the Illuminati – namely, those billionaires and world-controllers who have an entirely different code of ethics.  A code whereby the manipulation of reality and world events is not seen as something inherently evil, but instead a kind of game or labyrinth.  As such, the novel becomes one of the top “Illuminist” novels ever written, akin to Atlas Shrugged.

The movie is no good, but it gives a decent visual idea of what is going on:

8 thoughts on “The Magus (Novel) – Analysis

  1. I also thought The Game was heavily based on The Magus, especially given the open-ended ambiguity of the final scene in the film. No-one was commenting on this at the time, which seemed strange.

    Just on your review, I’d argue that Nicholas does not operate in bad faith throughout the book. He is definitely a cad at the start, but by the time he returns to English we can see that his character has grown through suffering, especially in the way he treats the younger girl he meets (can’t remember her name) who throws herself at him: he cares for her but refuses to take advantage of her even though he can.

    • Disagree completely. He does NOT change. He BUYS Jojo’s companionship in the same way that he previously bought sex from prostitutes. Then acts surprised when she wants anything back from him. He treats Allison, when he finally sees her again, with anger, accusations, and physical violence. He has NO sense of remorse in how he treated her, never offers an apology, and is still unable to use the word ‘love’.

      The book is interesting in that it gives the expectation that the protagonist will and does change – and yet he does not change in the end. What he is, is as inevitable as him breaking the plate he was given.

      • Kinetachien, I think that you may be right about Jojo. Kemp calls him on his farce. She says you treat us like this and then you are shocked that we are human and going running back to the Bourgeoisie. We later find that Kemp is part of the Conchis or “conscious” group.

        There is certainly something of a Sado-masiochistic relationship between Nick and Alison. I guess it depends on what judgement the reader puts on that type of relationship. It is marginally acceptable by the standards of a mainstream society. And yet this same society sets up a standard between men and woman in its tradition that contains the roots of this persuasion (or if you want -perversion).

        I think that Nick desperately wants to convince someone to love him. He wants to be lovable. But he detests himself so much that he cannot respect anyone that loves him. Its like, in choosing HIM the woman he convinces is automatically “less than” worthy of his adoration. The more the woman is unattainable the more he respects her because if she deems to love him she is an idiot. He sets himself up in a trap that requires that he become unlovable and alone. This is pointed out during the trial.

        But I don’t think that Fowles meant for Nick or Alison to change in nature. I think it is more interesting than that. It is more about: Can we love -each other -ourselves when we are left with just our honest selves, i.e. despite our honest selves with all our idiosyncratic indelicacies -in a wholly amoral perspective. Remember a masochist needs a sadist as much as a sadist needs a masochist. Alison did come back to Nick and in a sense she did so because she needed what he gave her. She did not let him just walk away because again she needed what he gave her. She also came back against the advise of Conchis’ group.

        But here are some things this relationship -this work -brought to mind:
        1. We have hurt and will hurt again if we continue to love -love and hurt are intertwined. If not physically then emotionally.
        2. we hurt because we care. if we did not care we would not hurt.
        3. Caring and loving are similar -they often require personal sacrifice and with sacrifice and suffering come compassion and understanding.
        4. Can we love and care for each other when our amoral truths are revealed to ourselves and others? despite those amoral truths?

  2. I have an entire page on my John Fowles web site (www.fowlesbooks.com) about the similarities between The Magus and The Game. I spoke with John Fowles shortly afetr The Game was released, and he told me that he had discussed the possibility of suing with his lawyers, but ultimately decided against it. It’s particularly shameless that the Michael Douglas character is actually named “Nicholas.”

  3. Pingback: Diamonds Are Forever (1971) – Esoteric Analysis | Jay's Analysis

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