Episode 7: “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell”
This last installment of Susanna Clarke’s novel is the largest departure from the original story, and while I was delighted with this series, I have mixed feelings about some of the changes to Clarke’s book. Some differences, like Lascelles’ demise for instance, were necessary to wrap everything up neatly. On the other hand, there were some special effects that, in my opinion, could have been traded in for a few more lines of clever dialogue that this episode contained.
Sir Walter Pole opens this last episode as he reads letters from his county to the House of Lords. They have forgotten how helpful the magicians were in times of war, and now are threatened by Strange’s return to England in his dark vortex and the influx of magic spilling from Faery through the broken mirrors of England. Sir Walter, having lost everything (including his wife) to magic, tenders his resignation in shame of having ever supported such a cause.
Pole: “It is not treason, exactly, what Strange has done. It is a form of revolution.”
Lascelles is sent to retrieve Drawlight, who has been spying on Strange, and bring him back to Norrell’s house at Hurtfew. However, after hearing the messages that Drawlight was assigned by Strange to deliver, Lascelles is afraid that these messages may go against him and kills Drawlight in cold blood. He takes the finger box from Drawlight and throws away the instructions for Childermass that accompanied it. When he returns to Norrell’s house in Yorkshire, he twists the message to fit his own devises, and presents Strange’s return as a threat to Mr. Norrell. Norrell reinforces the magical labyrinth around his library in defensive preparation of Strange’s visit.
Childermass suspects Lascelles of treachery and provokes Lascelles into attacking him with his knife, providing him an opportunity to pick Lascelles’ pocket and retrieve the package meant for him: Lady Pole’s finger. Recognizing what is meant to be done with it, he parts from Norrell’s service to return her finger, leaving Lascelles and Norrell in the library to await Strange’s return. As the house is shrouded in darkness brought on by the arrival of the black tower, Lascelles is lost in the labyrinth and Norrell, now alone, finds Strange searching through books in his library. Strange is reading all the historical accounts of fairies stealing men and women. None of these people, to his dismay, were ever recovered.
Finally, Strange and Norrell can have an honest discussion without the poisonous interjections from Lascelles. Aside from the somewhat disappointing “Wizard of Oz” fireworks that Strange conjures to keep Norrell from escaping, this was a strong turning point in the story. Norrell comes to realize that despite the warnings from Lascelles, Strange does not mean him harm, but has come to ask for his help to destroy the Gentleman fairy and break his enchantments on these victims.
Norrell: I have plotted against you; why are you not angry?
Strange: Because I do not have the time.
Strange surmises that only the Raven King knows how to kill the creature, and that they must summon him for help. But how to summon someone who’s true name is not known? “The Raven King,” “John Uskglass,” and “The Nameless Slave” are all imprecise references to the magician they intend to summon. They debate and decide on “The King” as their reference while using the elements familiar to Raven King history that will recognize only him as King to call him forth.
Pole visits his wife, who has been sleeping for days on end at Strange’s request. She is to instruct Arabella, who still has amnesia, about how to escape Lost Hope when the enchantment is broken. Childermass arrives at Starecross Hall, still bleeding from the knife wound, to return the severed finger to its rightful owner and break the spell.
Honeyfoot (to Childermass): What has happened to your face?
Childermass: Someone mistook it for an apple.
Unfortunately, without the instructions (discarded previously by Lascelles), Segundus re-attaches her finger too soon, and she is awoken before she can deliver Arabella to safety. This is one scene really bothered me. When Childermass realizes the importance of breaking the enchantment at the right moment, he shouts, “Stop! Stop!” Segundus seems to have plenty of time to pull the finger away from Lady Pole’s hand before the spell is complete, but the next shot shows a slow, deliberate move to put it into place before it mends back to the Lady’s hand. A little discretionary editing would have saved this scene, to make it appear that the mend had already occurred before Childermass’ warning.
Lady Pole’s spell is broken and she disappears in the middle of a dance with the Gentleman. He is furious, taking Stephen with him to Starecross and vowing to kill them all. Strange also notices that Lady Pole is now unexpectedly missing from his looking dish and realizes that they must act now to save Arabella. They call forth John Uskglass himself, who appears briefly in the Library before abruptly leaving, leaving the two magicians a bit befuddled. They work on a spell with an offering to gain his favor and bring him back.
The Gentleman fairy is on a rampage. He shows up at Starecross to kill Lady Pole—he explains to the distressed Stephen that no person can escape Lost Hope without being punished. He finds that Lady Pole can now speak freely and he is taken aback when she tells him off.
Lady Pole: “You are a bore, sir! With your tasteless clothes and your hair like… THISTLEDOWN!”
Gentleman (unsure if that was an insult): “Thistledown?”
The others in the house threaten to attack; however the Gentleman seals Segundus’ mouth shut, makes Honeyfoot’s ears fly away, blinds Sir Walter, and causes a rose to grow from Lady Pole’s mouth. Stephen is helpless to stop him, and a sword appears in his hand to that he may kill them all on the Gentleman’s behalf. At that same moment, Jonathan Strange commands his offering for all of the magic in England to yield itself to “The Nameless Slave,” meaning John Uskglass; however, the magic finds Stephen (also a nameless slave) instead. So by sheer coincidence, and just in the nick of time, Stephen is endowed with magic and whisked away to the Library where Strange and Norrell await John Uskglass’ arrival. They are dumbfounded when Stephen appears.
Norrell: That is not the Raven King — that is Sir Walter Pole’s BUTLER!”
Lascelles, having returned from the labyrinth, shows his ignorance of the situation and his bravado toward those he considers beneath him, and shoots Stephen in the back.
Norrell (shocked): We have channeled all of England’s magic into a butler….AND SHOT HIM!”
The Gentleman, who has followed Stephen to the library at Hurtfew, kills Lascelles in revenge of Stephen’s death by turning him into fragile china, which cracks and breaks into thousands of pieces. He takes Stephen’s body back to Lost Hope, and the two magicians follow them through a door created by Norrell. As they step into Lost Hope, Norrell takes it all in with child-like wonder.
Norrell: “Why have I not done this before?”
In Lost Hope, Stephen wakes and realizes that he is now full of the world’s magic in the largest case of mistaken identity ever. Tired of a life of compliance and more recently, coercion, he finally grows a pair and finishes off the narcissistic fairy by having the tree from his Lost Hope ballroom devour him. The look on the Gentleman’s face is priceless when he realizes that Stephen intends to do away with him.
Stephen: “It is foretold that I shall become King. I should kill the king and take his place. And now I see that YOU are that King…”
Yep, the butler did it.
Arabella’s enchantment is broken. She and Jonathan are reunited briefly in Lost Hope and he sends her through a mirror into the safety of the Greysteel’s apartment in Venice. His goal accomplished, Strange bids farewell to Norrell and leaves the library; however, he enters again from the other side in a Pac-Man-esque way. Norrell finds that he, also, cannot leave, trapped by the vague terms of the magic used to create the dark prison.
The Gentleman is dead, and his enchantments are broken, so why does the tower remain? Vinculus explains that Strange and Norrell themselves are the spell that the Raven King has cast. If you remember when the Gentleman banished Strange to the dark tower, he was drained of energy. To complete his spell, he invoked other magic — possibly that of the Raven King himself, and in doing so, bound the spell beyond the limits of his own life.
Lady Pole announces her plans to leave her home with Sir Walter in order to help Arabella. In Clarke’s story, she is quite independent after the enchantment is broken, spending her time writing to publishers and the country’s leaders against the magicians and their doings. She even goes as far as to assure Mr. Segundus that his own personal letter to her husband would suffice in telling him the news of her release—she had much more important things to attend. It was her dowry that saved Sir Walter from financial ruin, so she was never truly in need of his protection or support. You go, girl.
Lady Pole: “I will not go from one kind of helplessness to another.”
Flora and Arabella are in Venice, and visit the house where Jonathan first cast his spells under the influence of madness and broke all of the mirrors, unleashing magic on the greater world. In the center of the courtyard, he appears in the reflection of the well to talk with her and explain his predicament. He exists, but he does not know where, and assures her that he does not suffer and is happy to see her safely out of Lost Hope. She promises that she will wait, which he rejects, and they say their goodbyes. (Not very storybook, is it?)
But what of the other characters? After he was summoned and left the Library at Hurfew, the Raven King went to the hanging tree where Childermass was retrieving Vinculus’ body, to preserve the book that was written on his skin. Uskglass suspends Childermass in time and proceeds to change the text on Vinculus’ skin. He then revives Vinculus, releases the hold on Childermass, and disappears.
Vinculus (looking at his body): I’ve changed…this is not what I said before.
Childermass: What do you say now?
Vinculus: I dunno—a book cannot read itself.
In the closing scene, Childermass returns to York with Vinculus and rounds up all of the theoretical magicians and students of magic. He informs them that their previous agreement preventing them from practicing magic is void. He solicits their help to decipher the only book of magic left in England: the one written on Vinculus’ body by the Raven King himself.
Honeyfoot: What are you now sir?
Vinculus: I dunno–maybe I’m a receipt book. Perhaps I am a novel. Perhaps I am a collection of sermons!
The room of would-be magicians are full of questions, not the least is about the fate of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, who have disappeared along with Norrell’s expansive library.
Segundus: Where have they gone?
Childermass: I do not know, sir. Where ever magicians used to go, perhaps. Beyond the sky, on the other side of the rain.
So we are left knowing that Strange and Norrell will resume their work together in the dark tower until their enchantment is lifted, Lady Pole and Flora Greysteel will continue to aid Arabella, Stephen is left to govern Lost Hope, and Childermass (neither a Strangite nor a Norrellite, but a true follower of John Uskglass) is destined to guide the future of English magic with the single, undeciphered writing from the Raven King himself.
If you are looking for a traditional happy ending story, stick to Disney. I recommend this mini-series if you have not seen it, the delights far outweighed the disappointments. I will likely re-watch some of my favorited scenes, like the horse-sand sand horses, the water ships, the mud hand, and the scene with Mrs. Delgado and the dead mouse. Kudos to those who contributed to this great work of entertainment and storytelling: to Peter Harness for his adaptation of this wonderful story by Susanna Clarke, to the casting and acting, to the sets and costuming staff, and to those who developed the superb special effects.
If you have a favorite character, scene, questions about the story, or wish to share some insights that I’ve overlooked, please post them here. Of course, if you are an avid reader: read the book. It will give you more back-story and some additional insight into the characters’ motivations.
For me, I have only one question for Susanna Clarke: When is the sequel?