In April of 1966, shortly after The Magus was published in the U.S., a high school senior living in New York wrote to John Fowles and asked about “the meaning of the book.” I’m sure Fowles received hundreds if not thousands of such letters over the years asking the same question, which is understandable to anyone who has read The Magus. Equally understandable, given the nature of the book and the nature of Fowles himself, is that answers were not forthcoming. This particular student, however, received a very unique reply. Fowles begins with the usual disclaimer but then, amazingly, directly discusses two interpretations of the book. The letter now resides in the Fowles archives at the University of Texas at Austin Ransom Center, and is reproduced here with permission of its original owner. Below are her recent comments about the letter, along with a copy of both it and Fowles’ response.
“I wrote the letter to John Fowles, 3 months before my 18th birthday, and a few months before I graduated General Douglas MacArthur HS in Wantagh, New York. I remember being haunted, obsessed, confused, and horrified by the book. It was, and remains, the only letter I’ve ever written to an author. It’s been many years since I read the book. I’ve just found a used copy of the revised version, and plan to read it again.
I have spent a good deal of my life on a similar journey of spiritual exploration, spent several years living in Scotland, traveled extensively in Greece, and now reside in Alaska working as a psychotherapist with victims of trauma. I have kept Mr. Fowles’ letter among my diaries and special papers and every couple of years rediscover it and wonder at how the patterns and discoveries in my life have intertwined with the versions of reality and eleutheria presented in that book I read as a high school senior.
The tenor of the reply letter always seemed quite personal and kind. Given that the 60’s predated computers and home copy machines, I appreciate that he wrote on and returned my original letter. Having a context makes the reply that much more connected and parallels the relationship between young seeker and mage.”