INTERVIEW: Lev Grossman, author of “Endgame”

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

Glibly put, “Endgame” is a story about a magician who is bored. She’s an excellent sorcerer, but her world — which is the same world as ours — just doesn’t offer her much to do with her powers.

There’s no Sauron or Voldemort or White Witch. So to keep herself occupied, and her skills sharp, she turns to wargaming.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

The story takes place in the same universe as my novel The Magicians. The wargaming scene was a peripheral detail in that book, but I promised myself that I’d go back and dive into it a bit. I wanted to know more about who played those games, and how they worked.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

Most of what I write these days is from a youngish male point of view. So writing in Poppy’s voice was hugely fun, and liberating. Like literary cross-dressing. Usually composition is slow and laborious for me, but this story actually flowed quick and easy.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

Oh, this is a very personal story for me. I’m a gamer. If I could work magic, in the world we live in, I think I’d want more excitement, more adventure, than this world currently offers. I’d go looking for it, and I’m sure I’d wind up gaming.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story? 

None!

What is the appeal of wizard fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers love it so much?

Stories about magic are stories about power and knowledge. And who doesn’t want those? They’re about being able to change the world in ways that it’s usually resistant to change, and they’re about discovering a secret world behind the world we see every day — a brighter, more interesting, more meaningful, more satisfying world.

What are some of your favorite examples of wizard fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

There are so many, but the one I want to single out is Larry Niven’s Warlock stories, which I think are criminally under-rated. Niven is of course best known as a writer of hard SF, but he brings that very practical, concrete, rule-bound worldview to the task of describing magic and making it feel real. The results are sensational. Niven was also interested in working through, as a thought-experiment, the ways in which magic affects the people who wield it, and the society in which they live. There’s a thought-through quality to his fantasy that I don’t see much elsewhere.