(Note that I haven't read the books - this question was triggered by the Syfy TV series.)

Watching season 2 episode 2, I found myself wondering why they don't use computers in Brakebills. I mean, I can sorta understand the library card catalog being the old-fashioned actual-cards-in-drawers type: it's probably an enchantment dating from the time when that was the state of the art for libraries. Or something. But then Alice sits there laboriously generating anagrams of "Last Hope Options" one by one with some sort of painful-looking gestures, and I found myself wondering, has she never heard of I, Rearrangment Servant [ahem, sorry] the Internet Anagram Server1?

It'd be easy to assume a Dresden-files-esque "magic and computers don't get along" premise, except that we see hedge witches use the internet extensively - there are scenes where they're using the internet in lieu of a spellbook. Does this apparent contradiction not exist in the books, or is it explained somehow?

1Although there's also the fact that there are actually upwards of 166,000 anagrams of the phrase in question (11,133 if we limit it to max 3 words/min 3 letters per word), rather than the 300 or so that Alice comes up with, so perhaps her method has the advantage of generating a more manageable list... which may or may not contain the solution they're looking for, but let's not quibble over minor details.

  • I edited my answer to incorporate some of what I said about Brakebills vs. hedge witches. It’s really quite analogous to the Hogwarts case, down to the last detail: a single wizard can use a computer just fine, even if they’re casting a spell or two here and there; an ancient school of sorcery is a lot more disruptive.
    – Adamant
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 20:37
  • In S2E13, Q uses a laptop in class after the Plumber "turns off magic". Maybe computers and magic doesn't mix well.. Like there is only a landline pay phone and no cell phones on the school.
    – FuxieDK
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 19:59

1 Answer 1


Magic and computers don’t get along

There certainly is. As with that other famous wizarding school, magic tends not to agree with delicate electronic equipment. It’s not only computers that Brakebills lacks, but (as you note), other modern technology:

The P.A. lab was transformed for the occasion. All the cabinets were open, and every inch of the counters and tabletops was crammed with old instruments made of wood and silver and etched brass and worked glass. There were calipers and bulbs and beakers and clockwork and scales and magnifying glasses and dusty glass bulbs full of wobbling mercury and other less easily identifiable substances. Brakebills was largely dependent on Victorian-era technology. It wasn’t an affectation, or not entirely; electronics, Quentin was told, behaved unpredictably in the presence of sorcery.

The Magicians

Of course, this very much depends on the scale of the magic. Obviously, the mere presence of single magical practitioner will not destroy sensitive electronics, as is the case (for example) in The Dresden Files. We see, for example, that magical practitioners can download spells off the Internet, without causing their computers to explode:

As it turned out, they didn’t know the rainbow spell, so she printed out the scan she’d downloaded from the Internet that one time, it was already two years ago now, and brought it in.

The Magician King

Brakebills is quite a different matter, though. There’s the residue of all kinds of spells:

Hamish initiated him into some of the deeper mysteries of the Brakebills campus. What was really surprising was how much of the stuff that the undergraduates whispered about after hours was actually true. That blank stretch of wall, for example, where there ought to have been a room, and the plaster was a shade lighter—that really wasn’t an air shaft. Back in the 1950s some students had set up a cubic thermal field in their room, possibly to keep beer cold, but having already consumed some of the beer they inverted a couple of glyphs, which had the unexpected effect of driving the temperature inside down very close to absolute zero. The resulting field was so stable that nobody could figure out a way to dispel it.

It was perfectly harmless unless you walked into it, in which case you’d be dead before you knew it. One of the kids who cast it lost a hand that way, or so it was said. Eventually the faculty just shrugged their shoulders and walled it off. Supposedly the lost, frozen hand was still in there.

Likewise, it was true: the clock was powered by a gear made of metal reclaimed from the body of the Silver Golem of Białystok. It was also true that there was a childishly humorous anagram for Brakebills, that it was Biker Balls, and that the chalkboards would squeak painfully if you tried to write it on them. It was true that ivy wouldn’t grow on that one bare patch of wall behind the kitchens because one of the stones had been violently cursed in a really ugly incident involving a student who’d slipped through the admissions protocols meant to screen out sociopaths and other people mentally unfit to handle magic. On humid days it sweated acid.

The Magician’s Land

Look at how many basically permanent spells are described here: spells on the chalkboards, spells on the wall, lethal thermal fields, and so forth. And then there is, of course, the camouflage spell, which affects the whole school, and presumably is always on:

Being an illusionist at Brakebills was, if Plum said it herself, a pretty sweet deal. You got to hang out in a tiny invisible folly castle on the edge of the forest that was quite difficult to find unless you had an illusionist-type discipline.

The Magician’s Land

And of course, there will be magicians performing sorcery around the clock.

Then, too, if the mere presence of magicians, and not merely their spells, affects electronics, it’s easy to see why Brakebills, with many magicians all in one small space, might experience far more difficulty than a single hedge witch. I can’t find anything to indicate whether this is the case, but it’s a definite possibility.

  • But the hedge witches use the internet extensively - they look up spells, they hook up with other hedge witches, etc. Is that something that only happens in the TV series?
    – Martha
    Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 17:37
  • @Martha - But do they do that at Brakebills? An individual practicing magic is a very different thing in scale than a fairly old ancient school of magic. Same thing with Kingsley working with the Muggle PM vs. Hogwarts in HP.
    – Adamant
    Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 17:41
  • Or in the Dresden Files, a powerful wizard like Harry Dresden knocks out electronics, but low key types find them more manageable.
    – Adamant
    Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 17:46
  • It still seems like a contradiction to me - see edited question.
    – Martha
    Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 21:02
  • @Martha - I’m not really sure why it should. On the one hand, you’ve got a single hedge witch in their apartment. Sure, sometimes their computer will glitch out if they’re performing a spell at that moment, but overall they’ll be fine. On the other hand, you’ve got a school with tons of magicians, and where tons of magicians have been performing magic for decades, at least. The school has various powerful spells on it 24/7, such as the camouflage spell, even ignoring the residue of magical accidents. Beyond that, there’s liable to be something magical going on at any given time.
    – Adamant
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 1:00

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