Short summary - The Magus - John Fowles

British literature summaries -

Short summary - The Magus
John Fowles

Nicholas Erfe was born in 1927 in the family of a brigadier general; After a short military service in 1948, he entered Oxford, and a year later his parents died in a plane crash. He was left alone, with a small but independent annual income, bought a used car - this was not common among students and greatly contributed to his success with girls. Nicholas considered himself a poet; he read out with friends the novels of the French existentialists, «taking the metaphorical description of complex ideological systems as a self-instruction manual of correct behavior ... not realizing that the beloved anti-heroes act in literature, and not in reality»; created the club «Les Hommers Revokes» (Rebel people) - bright individuals rebelled against the gray routine of life; and eventually came into life, according to his own assessment, "comprehensively prepared for failure."


After graduating from Oxford, he could only get a teacher’s place in a small school in the east of England; having hardly survived a year in the outback, he turned to the British Council, wanting to work abroad, and so he ended up in Greece as an English teacher at Lord Byron's school in Fraxos, an island about eighty kilometers from Athens. On the very day he was offered this job, he met Alison, a girl from Australia, who rented a room a floor below. She is twenty-three, he is twenty-five; they fell in love with each other, not wanting to confess to this - «at our age they are not afraid of sex - they are afraid of love,» and parted: he went to Greece, she got the job of a flight attendant.

The island of Fraxos was divinely beautiful and deserted. Nicholas did not get close with anyone; he wandered alone around the island, comprehending the previously unknown absolute beauty of the Greek landscape; wrote poetry, but it was on this earth, where in a strange way the true measure of things became clear, he suddenly irrefutably realized that he was not a poet, but his verses were pompous and pompous. After visiting a brothel in Athens, he fell ill, which ultimately plunged him into the deepest depression - even to the point of a suicide attempt.

But in May miracles began. The deserted villa on the southern half of the island suddenly came to life: on the beach he found a blue fins, faintly smelling of women's cosmetics towel and an anthology of English poetry, laid in several places. Under one of the bookmarks, Eliot’s poems were crossed out in red: «We will wander in thought, And at the end of wanderings we will come to Where we left, And we will see our land for the first time.»

Until the next weekend, Nicholas inquires in the village about the owner of the villa Burani. They talk about him not too willingly, they consider him a collaborator: during the war he was a village headman, and the contradictory history of the shooting of half of the village by the Germans is connected with his name; he lives alone, very closed, does not communicate with anyone, and he has no guests. This contradicts what Nicholas learned in London from his predecessor, who told him how he had been at Burani’s villa and quarreled with its owner - though he also spoke sparingly and reluctantly. The atmosphere of mystery, omission and contradiction that enveloped this man intrigues Nicholas, and he decides to meet Mr. Conchis without fail.

Acquaintance took place; Conchis (as he asked to call himself in English) seemed to be waiting for him; a tea table was set for two. Conchis showed Nicholas the house: a huge library in which he did not keep novels, the originals of Modigliani and Bonnard, ancient clavichords; and next to it there are ancient sculptures and murals on vases of a defiantly erotic nature ... After tea, Konchis played Teleman - he played great, but said that he was not a musician, but a "very rich man" and a "spirit man." Materialistically educated Nicholas wonders if he is crazy when Conchis pointedly states that Nicholas is also «called up». Nicholas had never seen such people before; communication with Conchis promises him many fascinating puzzles; Conchis says goodbye, throwing his hands up in an outlandish priestly gesture, like a master - like God - like a magician. And invites him to spend the next weekend,

Now Nicholas lives from the weekend to the weekend that he spends in Burani; he does not leave the "desperate, magical, antique feeling that he has entered the fairy maze, that he has been awarded unearthly bounties." Conchis tells him stories from his life, and, as if by way of illustration, their heroes materialize: then in the village of Nicholas there will be an old foreigner who recommended de Ducane (according to Conchis, in the thirties he inherited from ancient clavichords and his huge fortune), then the ghost of the bride of Conchis Lilia, who died in 1916, comes out for dinner - of course, this is a living young girl who only plays the role of Lilia, but she refuses to tell Nicholas why this performance was started and for whom - th or Konchisa? Nicholas is convinced of the presence of other actors: "live pictures" appear in front of him, depicting the pursuit of a satyr after a nymph with Apollo blowing a horn, or the ghost of Robert Fulkes, author of 1679, «A warning to sinners.» The dying confession of Robert Fulkes, the killer, "given to him by Conchis" read in the future. "

Nicholas almost loses a sense of reality; the space of Burani is permeated with ambiguous metaphors, allusions, mystical meanings ... He does not distinguish truth from fiction, but to leave this incomprehensible game is beyond his strength. Having locked Lily against the wall, he insists that her real name is Julie (Julie) Holmes, that she has a twin sister, June, and that they are young English actresses who came here under a contract to shoot the film, but instead of shooting it, they have to take part in the "performances" of Conchis. Nicholas falls in love with the alluring and elusive Julie-Lily, and when a telegram arrives from Alison, who was able to arrange a weekend in Athens, he renounces Alison. ("Her telegram invaded my world with the annoying call of distant reality ...")

However, Conchis arranged the circumstances so that he still went to a meeting with Alison in Athens. They climb Parnassus, and amidst the Greek nature that seeks truth, indulging in love with Alison, Nicholas tells her everything that he didn’t want to tell - about Burani, about Julie, - he talks because he doesn’t have a person closer, tells how confession, not selfishly separating her from herself and not thinking what effect this could have on her. Alison makes the only possible conclusion - he does not love her; she is hysterical; she does not want to see him and the next morning disappears from the hotel and from his life.

Nicholas returns to Fraxos: he needs Julie more than ever, but the villa is empty. Returning to the village at night, he becomes a spectator and a participant in yet another performance: a group of German punitive samples of 1943 grabs him. Beaten up, with a cut arm, he suffers in the absence of news from Julie and no longer knows what to think. A letter from Julie, gentle and inspiring, comes at the same time as Alison's news of suicide.

Having rushed to the villa, Nicholas finds only Konchis there, who dryly declares to him that he has failed in his role and must leave his house forever tomorrow, and today, in parting, he will hear the last chapter of his life, for he is only now ready to accept it. As an explanation of what is happening at the villa, Konchis puts forward the idea of a global metatheatre («we are all actors here, my friend. Everyone plays a role»), and again the explanation does not explain the main thing - why? And again, Nicholas is afraid to understand that this issue is not important, that it’s much more important to break through the injections of pride to the truth, which is awkward and ruthless, like a smile of Conchis, and to his true «I», which is separated from his identity, like a mask on his face, and Conchis’s role in this, his goals and methods, in essence, are secondary.

Konchis’s last story is about the events of 1943, about the execution of villagers by punishers. Then the village elder Conchis was given the choice - to shoot one partisan with his own hand, thereby saving eighty lives, or, refusing, to exterminate almost the entire male population of the village. Then he realized that in reality there was no choice - he simply couldn’t kill a person organically, no matter what the reason.

In fact, all Conchis’s stories are about one thing - about the ability to distinguish between true and false, about fidelity to oneself, one’s natural and human principles, about the rightness of living life before artificial institutions, such as fidelity to oath, duty, etc. And before leave the island, Conchis tells Nicholas that he is not worthy of freedom.

Conchis sets sail, and Nicholas on the island is waiting for Julie, as promised in her letter. But before he could believe that the performance was over, he again found himself in a trap - literally: in an underground shelter with a manhole cover slammed over him; he got out of there far from immediately. And in the evening, June comes to him, which replaces the «metatheater» with another explanation - a «psychological experiment»; Conchis is supposedly a retired professor of psychiatry, the luminary of Sorbonne medicine, the finale and the apotheosis of the experiment is the court procedure: first, «psychologists» describe Nicholas’s personality in his terms, and then he has to give his verdict to the participants of the experiment, they are also actors of the metatheatre (Lilia-Julie is now called Dr. Vanessa Maxwell, in it for Nicholas should concentrate all the evil that the experiment caused him, and put a whip in his hand, so he hit her - or not hit her). He did not strike. And he began to understand.

Waking up after the «trial», he found himself in Monemvasia, from where he had to get to Fraxos by water. In the room, among other letters, I found gratitude to mother Alison for his condolences on the death of his daughter. He was fired from school. The villa in Burani was boarded up. The summer season begins, holidaymakers gather on the island, and he moves to Athens, continuing the investigation of what and how really happened to him. In Athens, he finds out that the real Conchis died four years ago, and visits his grave; it is decorated with a fresh bouquet: lily, rose and small plain flowers with a sweet honey aroma. (From the atlas of plants, he learned that in English they are called «honey alison.») On the same day, they show him Alison - she poses under the hotel window, like Robert Fulks once. Relieved that she is alive


Feeling still the object of the experiment, Nicholas returns to London, obsessed with the only desire - to see Alison. Waiting for Alison became his main and, in essence, the only occupation. Over time, much has become clear in his soul - he understood a simple thing: he needs Alison because he cannot live without her, and not in order to solve the riddles of Conchis. And now he continues his investigation with coolness, only to distract from the longing for her. Suddenly it bears fruit; he goes to the mother of the twins Lydia and Rosa (these are the real names of the girls) and understands who has the origins of the "game of God" (as she calls it).

There comes a moment when he finally realizes that he is surrounded by real life, and not Konchisov’s experiment, that the cruelty of the experiment was his own cruelty to his neighbors, revealed to him, as in a mirror ...