Not bad for a first novel, The Magus. Might even daresay one of the best first novels penned during the latter half of the 20th century. And before some unsolicited nitpicker rudely points out to me as some rude unsolicited nitpickers have been prone to do with me in the past, saying something like, "Whoa, Dude, hold on there just a cotton-pickin' stinkin' minute, The Magus was John Fowles' second novel -- The Collector was his first;" well, let me hereby acknowledge and hopefully thwart your correction by stating that I'm already aware that The Collector was Fowles' first published novel -- and do note the emphasis I just placed on "published" -- but The Magus was actually the first novel he wrote, prior to writing The Collector. Clear now? Capiche?
Never mind that nearly every female character in the book Fowles endowed with protean feminist charac- teristics. These are magnificently amoral Super- Women, IronWilled- Women. Think Mary Wollstone- craft, Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem, Susan Sontag. Think.
Has, in The Magus, a more sexually liberated cast of women characters ever been so bluntly depicted in literary fiction in the last fifty years? Fear of Flying doesn't even get off the ground by comparison!
Keep in mind, though, if one is looking strictly for titillation, that The Magus is not erotica per se, not even the so-called "revised version" with the slap-in-the-face ending and added sex scenes (it's not even soft porn, for that matter -- dang!) and if you're that young adult male yearning for some good literary porn a la the Marquis de Sade or Anaïs Nin, you certainly won't find it here in The Magus; all you'll probably experience reading Fowles' book, if I may speak from personal experience (and pardon the questionable t.m.i.), is only partial tumescence during the tame sex scenes.
But just like the feminist movement was never really about sex anyway, rather power and empowerment and equality, it's not the sex per se that so titillates in The Magus, but the woman's utilitarian attitudes toward sex and their sex and gender roles that elicits such a rise out of its male readership. Some males read The Magus for the same reasons they appreciate the artistry and craft of a dominatrix. No kidding.
The sex in The Magus is never sex for intimacy, recreation, or procreation; it's sex as moving a chess piece in a dangerous game of submission these women are determined to win (with no emotion or morality attached) and win indeed they do.
"Check mate me, Mister," they might as well declare in unison, merciless in their collective victories of female domination. Misogynist, The Magus? Puh-lease. If there's a word for "misogyny-committed-against-men-by-women," in the OED, then The Magus might serve as a good working definition of the term, in novel form.
Ah, The Magus, how do I love thee? A novel that's like an ultra-reality-sex-game akin to the Big Bad Sister of TVs The Bachellorette. The Magus, in other words, is sex turned completely upside down with the women using and abusing and manipulating and despoiling the confounded men and, the men, or, latest man, I should say -- the poor pathetic and naive Nicholas Urfe, so easily lured like so many before him in this lush fantasy world of the mysterious (and mystic) Mr. Conchis' making -- who's been duped into playing the weird Dungeons and Dragons-like role-playing competition at a secluded mansion on an isolated Greek isle, ignorant that he's been had! Far out is right! Frank Herbert envisioned similar women as Fowles' a year earlier (1965) in Dune, calling them "female superiors" -- the progeny of his infamous "Bene Gesserit" witches.
If the criticism levied at The Magus is that its women are mostly pleasure seeking, covertly-operating-toward-their-own-ends-"immoral"- nymphs -- haughty hedonists at heart -- perhaps every man's fantasy -- then maybe the criticism should be aimed in a more masculine direction since the women, after all, are only acting clandestinely like your typical philandering man would, out on the prowl.
Therefore The Magus, I believe, is not so much misogynistic as it is an indictment against misogyny; using sex role-reversals to make an outstanding, and unfortunately easily misconstrued, statement for woman's equality.
Sexuality aside, The Magus' impressive imagery -- a labyrinthine metaphysical mystery world walled with Greek Myths, psychopathology, in surrealistic renderings, invokes in this reader both abiding dread and delight. It is a Dark Odyssey, recounting the journey of an immature man-boy (a Minotaur in the making?) who has set off for adventure from England to a distant teaching position in Greece, only to arrive and soon discover that he's the one being taught a lesson or two (but a lesson taught by whom and regarding exactly what?), as he's drawn and ever drawn, increasingly, by degrees, toward obeying the will of some alluring, yet sinister, spell, to the other end of the island and Mr. Conchis' remote mansion -- its interior seemingly decorated by its occupant's deepest dreams and insecurities taking material form in mesmeric manifestations -- where self-discovery and manhood (or maybe madness) awaits.