Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, part 5

By Susanna Clarke

Book Cover: Strand & NorrellAlright, I am in Volume III now – titled “John Uskglass” (the mundane name for the Raven King, remember). I am now wholeheartedly enjoying reading the book, but am not quite enjoying trying to recap all the characters and events. I am about two-thirds of the way through the book (Chapters 45-52), and so much craziness is happening now that I’m in awe of the screenwriters. They are practically having to rewrite huge chunks of the book in order to fit it into the seven episodes. Anyway, here’s part 5, with spoilers:

The written volume starts with the prologue to Strange’s book, which is an account of John Uskglass’s rise to king of the northern half of England. I don’t know – there’s kings and fairies and battles, and it is all less interesting than it sounds.

We jump right to Childermass, writing letters for Norrell. In the TV show, Rebecca and I have started to wonder with Norrell’s servant Childermass might turn out to be the Raven King in disguise (they’ve tried to make the actor all raggedy looking, but he is still strikingly handsome), and this chapter adds to that suspicion. Childermass, writing letters, starts to have visions of ravens over an ancient but somehow familiar landscape (bom bom BOMMMM).

It’s all very ominous, and he thinks that someone is casting a spell on him. Norrell is away, so Childermass himself casts a minor spell that would allow him to see any magic that is being performed in his sightlines. This scene plays out similarly to the tv show (two episodes ago, where it appears I completely forgot to recap it – I’m getting all confused with the different timelines between the book and show), where he sees Lady Pole approach Norrell, arriving home in his carriage. There’s more magical stuff with the landscape vision, but in essence it is the same: she pulls a gun, Childermass blocks Norrell, and she shoots Childermass. I have to admit to some pretty strong disappointment at this point that she didn’t get Norrell, especially once Childermass wakes from his injury to Norrell berating him for performing any magic at all.

I hated watching the men drag Lady Pole into the house and sedate her, so was once again glad to not have to read it. We go immediately to Stephen escorting her to the country asylum, which brilliantly and hilariously turns out to be run by Segundus and Honeyfoot. I have tentative hopes that Segundus might be able to get to the bottom of Lady Pole and Stephen’s enchantment, and thus become the superior magician!

In the book, Stephen has a long trip back home where someone tries to whip him and injures his horse instead, his horse has to be shot (boo!), and then he catches a ride with a farmer, who just so happens to also be giving a ride to Vinculus, the London street magician that Norrell tried to run out of town. The show cleverly cuts through all this by having the farmer just bring Vinculus to the asylum, where gives his prophesy to Stephen.

Strange is putting the finishing touches to his book (his illustrations are not done by Arabella in the book, but by two engravers that of course get their own extended backstory). His friends are concerned with his new recklessness, but he really just seems to be his same flaky self to me. Once the book is complete and with the publishers, he leaves for Italy, where he gallivants around with Lord Byron for a bit, before attaching himself to an eligible young Englishwoman who is traveling with her father and aunt. I was really looking forward to seeing both Venice and Lord Byron in the show, so am disappointed that it looks like they are cutting it all out.

Instead, Strange, distraught over the death of his wife (making him more sympathetic in the show), begs Norrell for the spell that brought back Lady Pole. When Norrell refuses, Strange attacks him in his house and gets thrown in jail. It is while in jail that he comes up with his idea that madness will allow him to see fairies. The episode ends with Strange using a puddle to escape prison in the same way he was previously traveling by mirrors. The book does mention this is possible, but no one actually does it.

—Anna

2 comments on “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, part 5

  1. Kinsey says:

    I totally agree about Childermass–why hire that guy to play the role of a raggedy servant if something else more exciting is going to happen with him? (I have read this book, but do not remember one single thing about it, so I can play along with with everyone else guessing about what’s going to happen!)

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