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Penny vs Penny

Who's your favorite Penny? 40 or 23? We explore who's got the better fashion or who loves the hardest.

By Beth Johnson

Take the Penny 40 Brakebills first-year and the Penny 40 who is Underworld-matured, then throw in Penny 23 and add in a dash of alt-Penny DJ Hansel, and there have been a LOT of different versions of everyone's favorite traveller. (Well done, Arjun Gupta!) Here, take a dive into Penny 40 vs. Penny 23.

How to Watch

Catch up on The Magicians on the SYFY app.


Magicians Season 1 Penny is an open-shirted, often deep-V wearing man whose clothes are loose, open and airy. High fashion disguised as I-don't-care casual but you know that he absolutely spends time on that look. For one thing, there have to be a lot of different scarves in his closet for all of that color-palette-perfect and layer-based accessorizing. When he's not shirtless, that is. But boy does that ever change. Once Penny 40 starts working for the Library, it's gray suits all the way. Showrunner John McNamara has said he was inspired by Cary Grant in North by Northwest. So Library 40 is in washed out colors, detailed-oriented and bespoke. When Josh and Julia first meet Penny 23 in his own timeline, his fashion is similar to early Penny 40. Deep Vs and earth tones -- but with a big army jacket to perhaps emphasize his been-through-bad-Beast-wars apocalypse survivor status.

The Winner: Penny 40. We're crowning Penny 40 the fashion King due to his daring choices because variety is the spice of life.


Penny 40 has a funny as all get-out, cutting humor. He is hella sarcastic (and honestly, kinda mean) and dang, it works. And most of the jokes are at poor Quentin's expense. One example? When Mike -- possessed by The Beast -- goes to attack Quentin, Penny jumps in and protects Quentin. But that doesn't stop him from cruelly digging into Quentin at the hospital. His response is that he gets it; Penny thinks about stabbing Q all the time. And when Quentin laughs, he says: "That was 100% not a joke. Get a knife, I'll stab your right now." Seasons later, Underworld Penny mutters "God I hate you" at Quentin when he's forced to sing for the Unity Key during the Key Quest. Penny 40 teases Quentin when he incepted his dreams. And when he and Quentin are roaming through the Flying Forest of Fillory, a newly-handless Penny cries about the loss of his "stuff-touchers". It's pretty great. On the other side of things, Penny 23 is … maybe funny? He reads more sweet than funny, though he is definitely more happy and prone to smiling. It's a different energy.

The Winner: Penny 40. "Stuff-touchers" is the quip that keeps on giving.


OK, Penny 40 is cranky. There's no sugarcoating here. He does NOT have time for Quentin, and calls him a "hobbit-loving freak" when Quentin excitedly realizes that he was in Fillory. In Penny's defense, he's a bit tormented by the voice in his head that turns out to be The Beast. Penny 23, when we meet him, is very calm, open and curious. And super in love with Julia, who he calls "his soulmate." He definitely has a different demeanor than the Penny we're used to — probably caused by the death of the Julia 23 he was in love with, who he says was killed by The Beast in Fillory. And in Season 4, he basically says as much to Kady:  

In timeline 23, everyone he cared about is dead. This Penny is just happy to be here, away from the desolation of his original timeline, and, again, SUPER in love with Julia. Like, fully devoted, worshipping-her-as-a-goddess-style love, and waiting for her to feel the same. Back to Penny 23… After starting cranky and not socializing with his fellow underworld librarians, it seems that time -- and being dead for a long time -- really mellows him out. When the billion-year Library employee greets Quentin in the underworld in the Season 4 finale, he greets him with a wistful "Been a while. Welcome to the underworld." Penny 40, now Underworld Penny, then kindly and solemnly tours him around. Quentin even notices that he's changed, and when he asks him about it Penny 40 says: "Yes, I'm nicer. All that stuff that we think protects us... Here it just all falls away." An infinitely more mature Penny.

The Winner: Penny 40. Nothing quite humbles you like time spent in the Underworld.

Magical Abilities:

Penny 40's magic starts chaotic. He is a traveller who needs to learn how to control it. Brakebills asks him to limit it, but then Mayakovsky encourages him to let it out and he starts to use his traveling. Sure, he lands in a volcano at one point, but he's fine — if slightly singed. Then there's the whole drama with his hands, due to their removal by The Beast. Penny 40 gets them back -- then they're cursed and stripped of magic -- and then they're gone again. And then finally back! Whew. When Penny 23 arrives, it's after any early growing pains that he might have had learning how to travel. Plus he has the knuckle tattoos and can travel himself and others with ease — as long as magic is flowing.

The Winner: It's a tie! Because we love the knuckle tattoo on Penny 23 AND Penny 40.

And, at long last, Love:

When Josh recaps everything that's happened to a newly-arrived-to-the-gang Penny 23, he does not know who Kady is. What??!! Penny 40 has been in love with Kady from the jump -- so much so that he scares her off and then works hard to stand by her despite her running. Which is a really fun aspect of this otherwise-cranky guy. Penny 40 is refreshingly open about his love for Kady and committed to her. Remember that whole billion-year Library contact was just to help Kady out. Now that's LOVE! Which is why it was so heartbreaking -- for Kady and us -- when Penny 23 arrives -- and in a way is "back"  -- yet so in love with Julia. It will be interesting to see how Penny 23 continues to evolve as he is even more embedded with the gang in Season 5. Will his love for Julia grow and will something really spark there? Time will tell….

The Winner: Penny 40. If our beloved isn't willing to work a billion-year contract on our behalf, like Penny 40 did for Kady, can we even call it love?