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The Viking Press

The Student News Site of The Village School

The Viking Press

The Magnus Archives: an innovative triumph in indie horror

The Magnus Archives’s podcast cover alongside The Magnus Protocol’s podcast cover

March 24, 2016, was the advent of one of the most beloved and ingenious creative projects in memory. It was the first episode of a narrative horror fiction podcast called The Magnus Archives, and would go on to spawn a massive and thriving fanbase, win multiple awards, attain a perfect five star rating on Spotify and become its distributor, Rusty Quill’s, most popular product. January 18 of 2024 will hopefully be the beginning of another groundbreaking project—The Magnus Protocol, an expansion of the original’s storyline. Before it comes out, let’s take a look back at what made the original so deserving of another installment. 

The Magnus Archives is a collection of fictional recordings made by Johnathan Sims, the head archivist of The Magnus Institute. The Magnus Institute collects, investigates and attempts to explain reports of paranormal phenomena, and Sims has been tasked with sorting through and documenting heaps of personal paranormal accounts. The podcast is slow to start, building up immense mystery patiently and methodically—the first episode has Sims reading out a statement from someone who claimed to have witnessed some kind of eerie creature shrouded by darkness causing people to go missing. For a while, the series simply entails Sims reading out statements of various eerie phenomena to document on a tape recorder, while his assistants research possible logical explanations for the accounts. As is expected, logical explanations become harder and harder to find, and the quiet mystery underlying every episode begins to grow to cosmic proportions. 

Speaking of which, The Magnus Archives is really, really good at selling mysteries. It’s clear from the types of anomalies encountered that these aren’t your usual ghost or cryptid mysteries—it’s much bigger than that, and it can be felt even in the slow, early episodes that things are spiraling out of control. It’s not just one thing that’s unknown, it’s a sprawling conspiracy that you don’t understand. And full disclosure: You won’t for a while. The Magnus Archives is one of those stories that creates a pool of mysteries, and simply lets you swim around in it for a while. It is a masterclass in setting up an intensely intriguing mystery, revealing it intelligently and paying off an extremely satisfying explanation. This is why many fans warn newcomers: Don’t do any more research on the lore of this series. Go in as blind as possible, the less you know, the more you can enjoy the mystery—the unknown is perhaps this podcast’s most powerful tool. One classic pitfall of paranormal mysteries is that essentially anything can be explained with magic, so it’s unclear when you are meant to theorize deeply and when you are meant to suspend your disbelief. But The Magnus Archives completely sidesteps this problem with creative and sound explanations for even the oddest events—everything answers to a logic, which is unique and innovative without being unreasonable. 

Let’s talk about writing—this podcast has some of the most engaging, immersive and spine-chilling fiction I’ve ever seen. For a story about paranormal encounters, its characters’ reactions to these events are extremely realistic. The descriptions play perfectly not just on your fear, but on many different kinds of fear—a common joke regarding the series is that if you have a phobia, The Magnus Archives will eventually have an episode tailored specifically to freak you out. Keeping with constant quality, we’ve seen characters hunted by shadowy figures in a slasher-esque style, swarms of grotesque and disgusting monsters, unique takes on urban legends, encounters with what seem like Lovecraftian horrors, and more. This podcast knows how to take a simple idea, such as an innate fear or gross image, and effortlessly crank it to an eleven.

Early on in the series and a good portion later, an entire episode might simply consist of an audio recording of a statement. These episodes have one character, who may or may not return later in the series, recounting some kind of strange experience that they had. These episodes do offer important worldbuilding, introduce important information for the plot and are all around fantastically written, but they feel a lot of the time as standalone short stories that simply happen to take place in the same universe. The Magnus Archives is often introduced as an anthology series with an overarching plot, a collection of stories that don’t interact much. Though I highly regard the series, it’s undeniable that this is not for everybody—if you want to jump right into the greater plot, learn about characters and see some action, you simply aren’t going to get that. As mentioned before, The Magnus Archives allows you to soak in the mystery for a long while, but for some it can feel frustratingly slow with its storyline. It’s notable that it picks up exponentially in action as time goes on, but always somewhat keeps to its slow, methodical roots—the first half of the first season doesn’t really have a plot at all, and feels more like a worldbuilding podcast. 

The Magnus Archives is a 10/10 regardless of these shortcomings. It captures horror and mystery in a perfect balance, emerging as one of the most successful and entertaining explorations of its genre out there. If anything I’ve said sounds appealing to you, I urge you: don’t do any more research, just give it a listen and see if you like it.

As for the Magnus Protocol, we don’t really know enough to make any judgments about it. From the trailer on Rusty Quill’s Youtube channel, we can already see the iconic hints of intrigue and unnerving tones that made the original so successful. We’ll have to wait and see, but fans including myself are optimistic for new heights and scares.

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About the Contributor
Duy (DJ) Nguyen
Duy (DJ) Nguyen, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Duy (DJ) Nguyen is a senior and this year's Co-Editor-in-Chief. Aside from writing and editing articles, they love making or listening to all kinds of music. As stated, they love words - writing, reading, editing, anything really. They also enjoy playing video games and generally hanging out with friends. In addition to Viking Media, they are part of The Bifrost Bots FTC Robotics Team, Judicial Committee, a music producer, and a mentor for Village's Intro To Robotics class.

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