The Beach Wizard was one of my favorite new books of 2022. It’s a brilliant comic novel with some real heart and even some philosophical weight to it. It’s a great book. An instant classic, in my opinion.
So when I saw Shatzer had written a sequel, I was filled with a mix of excitement and trepidation. Could he match what he achieved with the original? It seemed a tall task, but of course I had to find out.
The story begins with the Beach Wizard suffering from a personal crisis brought on by a long spell of rain at Benford Beach. Finally, in attempt to restore sunshine to the party town, he uses Wettington’s Trident, a powerful magical artifact discovered at the end of the first book. But the effort goes awry, and he accidentally unleashes chaos upon the town, from turning one of the streets into tomato soup, to revivifying a long-dead pirate, to, most disastrously, creating an ever-growing hole in the ground that threatens to consume the entire city.
Needing help to rectify his mistake, the Beach Wizard enlists the aid of the Benford Beach Surfing Club to help him find another magic set who can set things right. But the wizard in neighboring Beansville is not of a mind to help, given his dictatorial ambitions and arrogant personality.
The book is full of crazy and off-the-wall misadventures and comical happenings, and when it ultimately arrives at its expected conclusion, it proves to be a very satisfying trip. If you enjoyed the first one, you’ll like this one, too.
I could just leave it at that. If I were a normal person, I suppose I would just leave it at that. But zis is Ruined Chapel! Ve don’t “normal” here!
What we need to ask, of course, is “Does The Beach Wizard’s Big Mistake have themes?” Let’s start by examining the Beach Wizard’s rival, Piddleman. Piddleman is introduced as a man who, years before the events of this book, once briefly ruled Toledo, Ohio, as a dictator before he was arrested by the Council of Magic.
However, since his days as a unitary executive, Piddleman has refined his approach to power. As he says:
“I came to see the error of my ways. Democracy is the way to go… To simply seize control is akin to cheating. What I am doing now is different. It is the people of Beansville who have given me the chance to impose my elegant vision on them by electing a mayor who is willing to act as my puppet.”
This is pure Machiavellianism, but not at all unusual in the world of politics. Indeed, it is arguably the most common fate of a democracy to vote to install some powerful person as ruler. As John Adams said, “There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
Yet, as the Beach Wizard reflects, he is not so much better than the conniving Piddleman. For he himself chose to wield the powerful trident, and in his quest for power, became corrupted. Or at least really screwed up his beloved beach town.
And here is where we find the theme of The Beach Wizard’s Big Mistake. It is the same as the theme of The Lord of the Rings: namely, the malignant effect of power on the human soul. Wettington’s Trident might as well be The One Ring for all the power and danger it holds.
And as the Beach Wizard says to the consummately easygoing mayor of Benford Beach, John Smacks:
“The reason you’re so popular as Mayor, despite your lack of enthusiasm for many of the duties of your office, is because you have no desire to wield power over anyone.”
This is why, no matter what calamities befall him, Mayor Smacks always seems to maintain an even keel. We can’t help but be reminded of Tom Bombadil, who, as Wikipedia tells us Tolkien scholars claim, “is entirely free of the desire to dominate, and hence cannot be dominated.”
The Beach Wizard’s mistake is the desire for power, and the beach can only be saved when he surrenders his wish to control it.
Of course, I’m making all this sound way heavier than it actually is. I can’t help it; I got hooked on political theory when I was in college, and like any recovering addict, even the vaguest scent of the stuff is liable to make me relapse. In fact, like any truly good book, the themes are only there for those who want to find them. If you just want to enjoy a good comedic story about a bunch of wacky characters, then you can, and pay my wannabe Discourses on Livy-style reading no never-mind.
Any way you slice it, The Beach Wizard’s Big Mistake is a funny novel and a worthy sequel to The Beach Wizard.