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This is going to bug me... I was reading A book from the 80s/90s with a stage magician and a couple women and it reminded me of a trilogy of books I read in the late 1990s as discarded paperbacks from my local college (the bookstore would "destroy" remainder inventory by cutting the covers off to indicate that they could not be resold and then giving them away). I could have sworn that the trilogy was titled something like The Magicians, but of course, it's hard to find anything with a title like that due to the popularity of Lev Grossman's books. The protagonist is a wealthy middle-aged white man, maybe British, who witnesses what he believes to be true magic, and the trilogy follows his initiation into the rites, which as I recall it, always keep just to one side of it being a scam and/or a matter of personal improvement rather than actual magic. I remember that he had to travel to various places in the world in search of the esoteric wisdom he was seeking, and that at one point, maybe in the third book, he winds up trapped in a cave, and has to get out via a narrow passage, resulting in a scene where he exits the small hole naked and covered in a mix of mud, blood, and his own fecal matter (having lost bowel control during a time when he thought he was stuck) with the book either explicitly stating the parallel to childbirth, or it just being very heavily implied. I honestly don't remember if the magic turned out to be real or not.

Since the books were part of a college bookstore's inventory, they might have been recent books that were meant to be part of a literary analysis class. They were all fairly thick paperbacks, larger than the typical pocket paperback, but smaller than a coffee table book, in my memory at least 300+ pages each. What I could see of the cover artwork looked colorful, although as noted, much of it had been removed to "destroy" the book. I have a vague memory of the titles being named after mythological creates like gryphons, sphinxes, or basilisks.

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As it turns out, the question I linked had an answer provided, and I recognize it as my set of books, with a plot very different from what I remembered.

The Deptford Trilogy, by Robertson Davies, are the books that I was thinking of. It's a set of three interlinking books about the snowballing effects of a childhood incident where a thrown snowball (containing a rock) hits a pregnant woman, causing her to give birth prematurely.

The three books each follow a different individual, and my memories of the protagonist were a meld of the three. The first book follows Dunstan Ramsey, who is an older white man at the time that he writes his narrative as a response to a newspaper article that he felt was unkind. Dunstan has a mystic fascination, hagiology, the study of the life of saints, resulting in part by his belief that Mrs. Dempster, the pregnant woman who was hit by the snowball, has been able to enact miracles through her prayers, and he winds up travelling with the Bolandists, a set of Jesuit scholars who are studying the lives of saints, and later joins the retinue of the enigmatic stage magician, Magnus Eisengrim. The second book, The Manticore, is the story of David Staunton, the son of the boy who threw the snowball containing the rock, and his search for a sense of purpose and meaning through Jungian psychology, culminating in a scene where his mentor and lover, Liesl, takes him to an underground cave, and he's forced to escape by a narrow passage, professing his rebirth at the end. The third book follows Magnus, originally Paul Dempster, the result of the premature birth, and his journey as a stage magician after being abducted and sexually assaulted by his teacher. There, we learn that none of the magic he does on stage is real, although the point is made that the world is full of wondrous things, and that real magic comes from recognizing those elements, and a great deal of hard work, as with his stage magic, which requires extensive preparation and the help of others.

So, in short, I remembered several scenes over the three books, melded some of the characters together, and came up with a completely different story.

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