An Analysis on The Magician by Jeff Vandermeer

This is an essay i found that I had written at the age of 15…



Jeff Vandermeer boldly introduces the focus of his short story with the common noun “The Magician” and in reading the story; the title becomes much more meaningful and mysterious as “The Magician” becomes a proper noun: it’s his name, his personality and this unfamiliarity is a threat as he invades the lives of a few prisoners. This essay is my stylistic interpretation of Vandermeers short story focusing on his foregrounding techniques (through deviation and parallelism)

Vandermeer structures his short story almost into a stream of consciousness as the narrator starts in medias res “There was a magician, of course” followed by a parenthetical “I say ‘of course’…”  With no introduction to his surroundings or himself we are directly thrown into this narrator’s piece of memory. Almost like a diary entry or a piece of discourse, what is also very intriguing about the following parenthetical sentence is the narrators contradiction with himself. Usually, we would expect “of course” to be stated when something is inevitable, however on the contrary he states that they had “no right to expect a magician, or anyone else” maybe this was stated in a sarcastic tone, but these discoursal deviation therefore are a foregrounding feature as its unusuality is instantly appealing and interests the reader. Parallel to the introduction, the ending of this short story (also parallelised by tripling) is also ended in media res, which gives a haunting sensation, almost like he has been caught or indeed has died as the story suggests his captivation will lead to. “And so we waited. Waited for the next. And the next.”

Vandermeer seems to have a particular comfort with parallelism as it is the most common feature in this short story. Some scholars have stated that “Coordinated elements (e.g., elements joined by the conjunction, and) are the prototypical environment for parallelism and it is well-known that language comprehenders (i.e., listeners and readers) prefer coordinate structures to be parallel.” And indeed this seems to ring true as I am pulled in with his haunting sounds and pace created by the use of parallel features such as listing, tripling, repetition and etc. Fraizer et al.1984 researched and found that coordinated sentences were read faster when they were parallel to the first conjunction in terms of syntactic structure which Vandermeer faithfully shows by varying from short abrupt sentences to elongated sentences of asyndetic listing which speeds up the pace of what is being read. From the disassociated description of the magician “He smelled inexplicably, of lime. His coattails were muddy…He gave Sewel a lisp and a moustache” to the violent rape of privacy “Things about our families, about our past, about our very blood. Our ID tags began to change. Our opinions on a myriad of topics began to change” Vandermeer successfully conveys various emotions through his stylistic techniques.

On the idea that this piece of text being a stream of consciousness like the narrator is pondering a certain scarred memory, the anthypophora used does support this idea “Why should there be?” This deviant feature is foregrounded as it attempts to involve the reader or listener but the narrator instantly takes control of his question with no time to answer, it is his frantic memory, as if talking to himself, he parallelises his and his friends wants and needs “We had not asked for a magician. We wanted our tongues back. We wanted our words. Our lives.” Structuring them in such a way that desperation reads of every single word.

The magician is the narrators’ focus of this short story but, the narrator is our focus. There is an epic story behind the magicians reveals and unconventionally, while reading this story, I am the magician. I want to know more, want to invade this narrators life further but he is very conservative, even when telling us about the magicians psychological ‘terrorism’ “…we began to tell him things we didn’t want to- things we’d never even told the guards when they were torturing us”. On the other hand, for all we know about the characters, the narrator and the few others could be the terrorists. The magician is cunning, a professional mentalist “The stupid, sad tricks that dripped from his hand…these were just the decoys”. The drastic juxtaposition between our first impression of the amateur magician to the professional one is foregrounded by the dashes used “half-these were just decoys…we didn’t want to-“. These dashes are also a visual change to the settings and the characters, they distinguish the story board from everyday normal people at maybe some kind of club to prisoners in a jail surrounding “-things we’d never even told the guards when they were torturing us”.  Vandermeer foregrounds the magicians’ abilities or inabilities with many techniques, one such as personification “stupid, sad tricks” or the haunting metaphore “The doves lived for a day…our need to preserve that memory was stronger than our hunger” which emphasises the prisoner’s solitude, captivity and torture.

Vandermeer presents the cohesion of foregrounding through various stylistic techniques fitting so many different complex styles through unconventional expressions and metaphorical conceit, all in all conveying the possibilities of so many emotions illustrated through a short story.

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