Dan Sandman

39: The Magician by W. Somerset Maugham

In Books, Fiction, Horror on 26/09/2014 at 12:00 pm

The Magician by W. Somerset MaughamArthur Burden is a sensible doctor with a scientific mind who does not believe in magic. In a bohemian Paris cafe, Arthur meets the enigmatic Oliver Haddo, a deceptive magician and practitioner of the dark arts. In between the two men stands the virginal Margaret, innocent victim of Haddo’s horrific actions. As the story develops, moving from Paris to London to Monte Carlo, Haddo tightens his evil grip upon his victim Margaret. Back at the magician’s country estate, in a remote place called Skene, the horror reaches its exciting climax.

Writing at the start of the twentieth century, W. Somerset Maugham was first trained as a doctor. It was not until the success of his first novel Liza of Lambeth that Maugham decided to commit to working as a writer. To write this novel, Maugham drew on his experience as a doctor and spent many hours studying the occult. The writing comes across as well informed, purposefully constructed, and influenced by the popular gothic horror stories of the past. Apparently, the evil Oliver Haddo is based upon the infamous, real life character Aleister Crowley – who wrote a wrote a review of the novel in Vanity Fair, which he signed ‘Oliver Haddo’.

In conclusion, I found The Magician to be an intriguing novel, with memorable characters and a strong story line. For me, it successfully sets the pretensions of polite society against the decadence of bohemian society. With great style, W. Somerset Maugham focuses his descriptive skills on creating a realistic setting, which the writer then upturns by introducing supernatural elements to the story. In this way, Margaret’s delicate sensibility represents all that is good in the world, a goodness which is corrupted by the evil powers of Haddo. I think Maugham believed that Aleister Crowley was a fraud, but thought that giving Crowley real magical abilities would be a great idea for a novel.

Escapism at its very best and an absorbing page turner.

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