Warning! The Magician never really pulls a rabbit out of his hat. In fact, most of the Magician’s time and effort is spent delving into the mysteries of the occult sciences and spiriting beautiful young virgins away from their true loves.
At first you make the connections and comparisons between Maugham’s The Magician and Du Maurier’s Trilby. Interestingly the two titles cast a slightly different aspect on their narratives: I can accept that Margaret would not be as enticing as Trilby, but Svengali puts The Magician to shame.Basically the two novels are concerned with an evil man gaining control of a young, beautiful woman. Svengali makes use of mesmerism, or hypnotism, while Oliver Haddo (the Magician) seems to cast ancient spells or perhaps even uses some mind-altering potions.
The biggest difference is actually a good question for the proverbial reading group: Svengali is a scary fellow, perhaps a cross between Rasputin and Fagin, but the Magician is a fat slob, growing chin after chin in his quest for power: but is he scarier than Svengali? Oliver Haddo is no Casper Gutman and despite all the evil sorcery, I kept imagining Victor Buono as King Tutt.
W. Somerset Maugham’s novel is a standard late-nineteenth century sensational thriller. It includes many themes: sorcery, occult sciences, arcane knowledge, creation of life (reminding me of Tristram Shandy), a big spooky house, and a final cleansing fire.
While not one of the author’s strongest works, it’s a casual read, if only to add to the understanding of the genre that might include such novels as Dracula, Frankenstein, Trilby, and Carmilla.
Speaking of The Fat Man …