I think I always had the wrong idea about John Fowles, that he was some kind of middle-brow airport writer. Wasn’t “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” just a version of “The English Patient”?
It pains me to expose my ignorance thus. “The Magus” is wonderful. Its protagonist is me when I was Nicholas’s age: in my mid-twenties, smart, insensitive, needy for girls, utterly self-centred, operationally, if not psychologically, selfish.
And Alison was the girl I was unknowingly looking for, while being all-too-ready to diss her and drive her away. Hyper-logical Nicholas, as one reviewer describes him, understands neither himself nor others. He's a slave to his own dominant drives for knowledge and power, the latter being an overriding desire for autonomy of the self. In short he's a quintessential INTP.
Here is Michelle’s synopsis:
“Nicholas Urfe is a not-very-good schoolteacher with romantic ideas of himself as a solitary heart and poet. (Really, he’s kind of a womanizing bastard.) He accepts a teaching job on a breathtaking but isolated Greek Island and meets Maurice Conchis, an eccentric, wealthy man who interacts with few outsiders. Conchis tells Nicholas stories of the past, weaving reality and fiction while claiming powers verging on the supernatural. When Conchis reveals a beautiful young woman staying with him – claiming she is a ghost – Nicholas’s infatuation draws him into Conchis’s mysteries and deceits.”
Fowles was deeply drawn to Jung (there’s a Freudian analysis of Nicholas at the end, woundingly accurate) and I read the ‘GodGame’ as an extended type-developmental schedule in which Nicholas is forced deeper inside himself, past his dominant Introverted Thinking function to seek his shadow: Extraverted Feeling. Only then can he actually engage with his own feelings and lay a foundation for genuine, reciprocal, kindly relationships. Think Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea.
And Fowles tells us - obliquely - that in the end this is what happens.
The book is not kind to the sensibilities of the Woke. Nicholas is an unpleasant, fairly insufferable human being (as was I, and many of us in our twenties). It’s an old fallacy to beat up on the author for portraying human rather than ideal characters.
This is a large, complex novel which speaks to NTs, and NFs - who will be offended, and will bore to shreds those of a Sensing disposition.
I have been thinking about it for days now, and have added more from Fowles to my stack as well as his inspiration, “The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes)” by Henri Alain-Fournier (Author), Adam Gopnik (translator).