The Magus John Fowles Book Cover

The Magus

Author: John Fowles

Release: January 1, 1965

Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company

Genre: Contemporary Literature, Fiction


Main Character(s): Nicholas Urfe, Alison Kelly, Maurice Conchis, Lily Montgomery, Julie Holmes, Vanessa Maxwell

Synopsis: The story reflects the perspective of Nicholas Urfe, a young Oxford graduate and aspiring poet. After graduation, he briefly works as a teacher at a small school, but becomes bored and decides to leave England. While looking for another job, Nicholas takes up with Alison Kelly, an Australian girl he met at a party in London. He still accepts a post teaching English at the Lord Byron School on the Greek island of Phraxos. After beginning his new post, he becomes bored, depressed, disillusioned, and overwhelmed by the Mediterranean island; Nicholas struggles with loneliness and contemplates suicide. While habitually wandering around the island, he stumbles upon an estate and soon meets its owner, Maurice Conchis, a wealthy Greek recluse. Nicholas is gradually drawn into Conchis’s psychological games, his paradoxical views on life, his mysterious persona, and his eccentric masques.

Declassified by Agent Palmer: Timeless Truths and Odd Mysteries Line the Pages of The Magus

Quotes and Lines

The Magus, Magician, or Juggler, the caster of the dice and mountebank in the world of vulgar trickery.

The truth was that I was not a cynic by nature; only by revolt. I had got away from what I hated, but I hadn’t found where I loved, and so I pretended there was nowhere to love.

I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew what I needed. I needed a new land, a new race, a new language; and, although I couldn’t have put it into words then, I needed a new mystery.

Perhaps the one thing in my favor was that I lied very little; I was always careful to make sure that the current victim knew, before she took her clothes off, the difference between coupling and marrying.

I had begun to write poems about the island, about Greece, that seemed to me philosophically profound and technically exciting. I dreamt more and more of literary success. I spent hours staring at the wall of my room, imagining reviews, letters written to me by celebrated fellow poets, fame and praise, and still more fame.

“The novel is dead. As dead as alchemy… I realized that one day before the war. Do you know what I did? I burnt every novel I possessed. Dickens. Cervantes. Dostoievsky. Falubert. All the great and all the small. I even burnt something I wrote myself when I was too young to know better. I burnt them out there. It took me all day. The sky took their smoke, the earth their ashes. It was fumigation. I have been happier and healthier ever since… Why should I struggle through hundreds of pages of fabrication to reach half a dozen very little truths?”

We stood and went in to the music room. As we put our glasses on the tray he said, “There are things that words cannot explain.”
I looked down. “At Oxford we are taught to assume that if words can’t explain, nothing else is likely to.”

“If a person is intelligent, then of course he is either an agnostic or an atheist. Just as he is a physical coward. They are automatic definitions of high intelligence…”

“After a while we turned into a field, thick with mud, and were marched up to some farm buildings. Two hours’ rest before taking up position for the attack. No one can have slept. It was very cold, and fires were forbidden. My real self began to appear, I began to be afraid. But I told myself that if I was ever to be really frightened, I should have known it before then. This is what I had willed to execute. That is how war corrupts us. It plays on our pride in our own free will.”

“All perfect republics are perfect nonsense. The craving to risk death is our last great perversion. We come from night, we go into night. Why not live?
“But the die was loaded.”
“Patriotism, propaganda, professional honor, esprit de corps–what are all those things? Cogged dice. There is just one small difference, Nicholas. On the other table these are real… Not just ratafia in colored plastic.”

All deleria are more or less antisocial, and I speak clinically, not philosophically.

“The human race is unimportant. It is the self that must not be betrayed.”

“We lay on the ground and kissed. Perhaps you smile. That we only lay on the ground and kissed. You young people can lend your bodies now, play with them, give them a we could not. But remember that you have paid a price: that of a world rich in mystery and delicate emotion. It is not only species of animal that die out. But whole species of feeling. And if you are wise you will never pity the past for what it did not know. But pity yourself for what it did.” – Conchis

“Love is the mystery between two people, not the identity.” – Conchis

“The most important questions in life can never be answered by anyone except oneself.” – Conchis

“If I don’t understand why, I begin to understand how”
“You are beginning to understand why. Not how.”

“All noble and honest things are dull. But someone has to do them.”

“Any fool can invent a plan for a more reasonable world. In ten minutes. In five. But to expect people to live reasonably is like asking them to live on paregoric.” – Conchis

The world began in hazard. And it will end in it.

Which are you drinking? The water or the wave?

“Why must you always know where you are? Why have you no imagination, no humor, no patience? You are like a child who tears a beautiful toy to pieces to see how it is made. You have no imagination . . . no poetry… That is why you are so treacherous.”

“The solution of the physical problems that face man–that is a matter of technology. But I am talking about the general psychological health of the species, mn. He needs the existence of mysteries. Not their solution.”

And we did make love; not sex, but love; though sex would have been so much wiser.

“Never think of your mind as a castle. It is an engine room.”

“He could not see the objective truth, that destiny is hazard: nothing is unjust to all, though many things may be unjust to each.”

“That simple phrase, I do not know, was my own pillar of fire. An ultimate, a metaphysical, I-do-not-know. For me, too, it revealed everything. For me too it brought a new humility akin to fierceness. For me too a profound mystery. For me too a sense of the vanity of so many things our age considers important. I do not say I should not have arrived at such an insight one day. But in that night I bridged a dozen years. Whatever else, I know that.”

I knew documents can lie, voices can lie, even tones of voice can Iie. But there is something naked about eyes; they seem the only organs of the human body that have never really learnt to dissimulate.

“I think intelligence is terrible. It magnifies all one’s faults. Complicates things that ought to be simple.”

I was tired, tired, tired of deception; tired of being deceived; tired of deceiving others; and most tired of all of being self-tricked, of being endlessly at the mercy of my own loins; the craving for the best, that made the very worst of me.

…however large an aviary the fancier builds, the aviary’s purpose is still to imprison.

“I suppose I was fortunate. It took me only five years to discover what some rich people never discover–that we all have a certain capacity for happiness and unhappiness. And that the economic hazards of life do not seriously affect it.”

“…I like very few people. And no longer any of your sex and age. Liking other people is an illusion we have to cherish in ourselves if we are to line in society. It is one I have long banished from my life. You wish to be liked. I wish simply to be. One day you will know what that means, perhaps. And you will smile. Not against me. But with me.”

“In what Americans call a ‘man’s world.’ That is, a world governed by brute force, humorless arrogance, illusory prestige and primeval stupidity.”

“On the contrary. That experience made me fully realize what humor is. It is a manifestation of freedom. It is because there is freedom that there is the smile. Only a totally predetermined universe could be without it. In the end it is only by becoming the victim that one escapes the ultimate joke–which is precisely to discover that by constantly slipping away one has slipped away. One exists no more, one is no longer free. That is what the great majority of our fellowmen have always to discover. And will have always to discover.”

The profoundest distances are never geographical.

“We are entering an amoral and permissive era in which self-gratification in the form of high wages and a wide range of consumer goods obtained and obtainable against a background of apparently imminent universal doom will be available, if not to all, then to an increasingly large majority. In such an age the characteristic personality type must inevitably become auto-erotic and, clinically, auto-psychotic. Such a person will be for economic reasons isolated, as for personal ones the subject is today, from direct contact with the evils of human life, such as starvation, poverty, inadequate living conditions, and the rest. Western homo sapiens will become homo solitarius.

…there are times when silence is a poem.

“Silliness and intelligence are not incompatible…”

“How shall I explain to you? If Maurice were here he would tell you that sex is perhaps a greater, but in no way a different, pleasure from any other. He would tell you that it is only one part–and not the essential part–in the relationship we call love. He would tell you that the essential part is truth, the trust two people build between their minds. Their souls. What you will. That the real infidelity is the one that hides the sexual infidelity. Because the one thing that must never come between two people who have offered each other love is a lie.”

“The days of simple experiments are over.”

An answer is always a form of death…questions are a form of life.

“Certain leaps were taken. Certain gaps bridged. I imagine–don’t you?–all new discoveries happen like that. Very suddenly. And then you spend years trying to work them out to their limits.”

The smallest hope, a bare continuing to exist, is enough for the antihero’s future; leave him, says our age, leave him where mankind is in its history, at a crossroads, in a dilemma, with all to lose and only more of the same to win; let him survive, but give him no direction, no reward; because we too are waiting, in our solitary rooms where the telephone never rings, waiting for this girl, this truth, this crystal of humanity, this reality lost through imagination, to return; and to say she returns is a lie.