is a literary suspense novel by John Robert Fowles. First published in 1965, the book follows a young man who befriends a dangerous and alluring millionaire when he accepts a teaching position on a remote island. The Magus
is one of Fowles’s most popular novels, and critics believe it is his smartest work. Fowles was a bestselling author who taught across Europe before he became a full-time novelist. He had a very strict and traditional upbringing. Consequently, he often wrote about escaping from oppressive authority figures. Alongside novels, Fowles wrote numerous critical essays, introductions to other novels, and book reviews.
The protagonist, Nicholas Urfe, doesn’t have a clear purpose in life, although he has everything going for him. He is rich and he graduated from Oxford with a great degree. He is also a teacher who works at a prestigious public school in England. Unfortunately, nothing satisfies Nicholas. Whether a new relationship or a new project, Nicholas always wants something better.
As the book begins, Nicholas spends most of his time teaching and sleeping with various women. He is offered an opportunity to teach English at a remote school in Greece for one year. An adventurer, Nicholas jumps at the opportunity. Before he travels to Greece, he hooks up with an air hostess, Alison. Alison loves sex and they spend some thrilling nights together.
Nicholas lands on the island of Phraxos feeling great about life for once. The Greek island is warm, sunny, and beautiful. Alison tries to contact him, but Nicholas doesn’t care about her anymore; he wants to have a great time in Phraxos.
He tells an old work colleague how brilliant the island is, but the colleague doesn’t react as Nicholas expected. The colleague tells Nicholas that the island is dangerous, warning Nicholas about something called the waiting room. Nicholas must never visit this room. Despite his best efforts, Nicholas cannot convince his colleague to say much else. Nicholas decides that the colleague is jealous and trying to scare him, and so he puts the waiting room out of his mind.
Although Phraxos seems fun at first, there is nothing much to do other than teach the children. Feeling stifled and trapped, Nicholas wants to bed women, but he can’t find any. He decides to explore the island at night when no one is watching. Surely, some women live on the island. Nicholas finds a hidden villa. It seems that women live there; however, when he tries the door, no one answers. Nicholas gives up hope and visits the mainland. He travels to Athens where he sleeps with some courtesans. Although he has a fun night, he develops an STD.
When Nicholas arrives back in Phraxos, he decides it is time to settle down and focus on getting through the year. Despite the health risks, he can always visit Athens again if he must. However, just as Nicholas forgets about women, a mysterious woman presents herself. She sends Nicholas a book of love poetry, inviting him to come to find her.
Nicholas follows the clues back to the old villa he had visited before. When he gets there, Maurice Conchis answers the door. Conchis invites Nicholas inside and offers him dinner. Although Nicholas just wants to find women, he lets Conchis serve him. Conchis tells him all about his life and his past romantic conquests. Nicholas is unimpressed.
Finally, the woman appears. Her name is Lily. Conchis confesses that he once loved Lily deeply, but their relationship is over now. Nicholas finds Lily stunningly attractive, and he immediately wants to bed her. Not wanting to sleep with Nicholas, Lily rejects his numerous advances. She denies leaving the poetry book for him, but Nicholas knows that she is responsible.
Nicholas realizes that, although Lily plays coy, she has been watching him. As the days and weeks pass, Nicholas becomes obsessed with her. He is determined to have sex with her before he leaves the island. Before he has sex with her, he is kidnapped and taken hostage by masked men. He ends up in the elusive waiting room.
The men reveal themselves, stripping Nicholas naked. He is part of a bizarre social experiment. The aim of the experiment is to see if someone can be humiliated and tortured but still forgive his kidnappers. Nicholas desperately wants to kill Lily for leading him on, but he does not give the men the satisfaction.
Nicholas returns to the school, where he discovers that the school is part of the experiment. He returns to England without a job, money, or prospects. Lonely and vulnerable, Nicholas contacts Alison again. She tells him that she cannot see him because she was part of the social experiment. Nicholas doesn’t care. He just wants to see her again. This time, he decides that he is getting his life together.