By Susanna Clarke
So, last episode! I’m running a little late with this one since I was on vacation last weekend, but better late than never, right? I thought about never, but just couldn’t quite bring myself to leave it hanging. The conclusion in the tv show was very satisfying, but the book conclusion was particularly gripping, I thought. Here are all the final spoilers in a particularly long post, I’m afraid, since a whole lot happened at the end.
We open the tv show with Lord Pole giving his resignation speech from parliament, since he was primarily responsible for involving the magicians in government, one of which is now apparently mad and a danger to London. He states that Jonathan Strange is reportedly returning to England and bringing his curse of darkness with him. I already don’t remember this from the book (and don’t have the energy to check), so the specialized book-amnesia is already beginning.
So, anyway, tv show Lord Pole resigns and goes to visit Lady Pole with his butler, Stephen Black. Lady Pole has gone to sleep and won’t wake. Segundus mentions his belief that she is under an enchantment, but is entirely ignored. Lady Pole is at the fairy ball trying to remind Arabella of her husband and human life. There’s not much about the fairy ball or Lady Pole or Arabella in the later part of the book.
Jonathan Strange returns to England, dramatically whooshing up his black tower, instead of just taking a boat like in the book (I did look this up). In both the book and the show, he leaves Flora in Venice with a mysterious mirror, and I’m just a little sad that the mirror in the show does not match the ornate ugliness described in the book, covered in curlicues and glass flowers.
Mr. Norrell returns home to Yorkshire with Childermass and Mr. Lascelles, his remaining hanger-on, who has taken over the work of Norrell’s publication.
Drawlight, too, returns, with Strange’s messages, and unfortunately gives them to Lascelles, who promptly takes the messages and kills him (in the tv show). In the book, it is actually quite an eerie scene in which Drawlight gets a vision of his own death beforehand, with the forest growing through his body. Lascelles passes along the message to Norrell that Strange is coming but keeps Lady Pole’s finger.
Norrell, Childremass, and Lascelles are all holed up in Norrell’s Yorkshire estate, while Norrell tries to strengthen his magical protections, and Childermass and Lascelles get increasingly antagonistic. Childermass reads his cards, which tell him that Lascelle has something (Lady Pole’s finger) that should be given to him, and demands it. When Lascelle denies it, Childermass calls him a liar, and Lascelle attacks him with the knife he was eating with. It is very dramatic in the tv show, though still slightly less impressive than in the book. In the book, Childermass is apparently struggling to get free (though we learn later that he was actually picking Lascelle’s pocket), and Norrell is actually watching it all happen and doing nothing. Several appalled servants are also there, and while they don’t feel able to intervene, they supply Childermass with his favorite horse and the best wine when he leaves to return Lady Pole’s finger to her.
Norrell is left quite alone and terrified when Strange finally appears, bringing his eternal darkness with him. This was one of my favorite parts of the books, where after all the dramatic build-up, Norrell and Strange promptly sit down together to research how to break his curse and rescue Arabella. It looked for a moment like the tv show was going to do that, too, but they had to add at least a little conflict before that, including a dramatic fire face attack, whatever that was.
I’ll say again that this seems a send-up of academia. Anyone who knows academics will not be surprised at all when animosity completely disappears in the face of a tricky problem that needs research.
Of course, all the drama around Lady Pole being rescued from the ball before she can help Arabella is not in the book because Arabella is extremely smart and capable and not at all amnesiac. Childermass arrives at the estate where Lady Pole is being kept, but he is not able to reattach her finger. Segundus, however, remembers a restoration spell that he is able to perform, which succeeds in reattaching the finger and freeing Lady Pole from the spell. She comes back to the real world furious and determined to expose both magicians, Norrell for his role in her enchantment and Strange for failing to discover his wife’s enchantment. Having completed his task as foretold by the cards, Childermass heads back to Yorkshire to assist Norrell and Strange with fighting the fairy magic.
After Lascelles’ attacks on Childermass, who is by far my favorite character, I now hate him. Having the fairy turn him into living porcelain and shatter him while he remains conscious was a pretty good end for him, but once again the book does better. Lascelles leaves Norrell’s home once Norrell is stuck in the library with Strange and the entire house in plunged into night, and wanders onto one of the newly appeared fairy roads. Down a ways, he is challenged by a human soldier who is under a compulsion to protect a castle. The soldier is in bad shape, both physically and mentally, and when Lascelle kills him, he is then doomed to take his place.
Stephen, meanwhile, is continuing to try to distract the gentleman with the thistledown hair from killing any more people. The thing about the gentleman, which I’ve mentioned before, is that he is just clearly insane, and it makes his character less villainous than in the tv show. He is terrified of Strange, convinced that Strange is out to kill him, and so I had some sympathy for his terror, if not his actions. He also is clearly attached to Stephen, accurately sees the racism he endures, and truly believes he is giving Stephen his greatest dream. Stephen convinces the gentleman not to kill either magician, but unfortunately, at this point in the book, the gentleman runs across Vinculus and hangs him. Lady Pole has been freed at this point, so he heads her way in order to kill her as well, with Stephen following in an attempt to stop it.
Strange and Norrell are back in the library, trying to summon the Raven King in order to ask him how to break the fairy’s spells. In this case, the show and the book are very close; they don’t know his true name – apparently John Uskglass was likely a pseudonym – so they elect to just run the spell for the ‘nameless slave,’ a title given to him by the fairies when they first captured him. Their spell is to remind the trees, rocks and rivers of England of their allegiance to the king and to bring him to them.
Uskglass, of course, does not appear, but instead turns all of the books in the library into ravens, which fly around making a mess, before turning back into books, now all thrown about the library. They also soon discover that they have somehow both gotten trapped into the spell of eternal darkness, so neither magician can go more than about a block from the other.
Childermass, still on his way, runs across Vinculus, strung up on the tree. He sees the lettering on Vinculus’ body and recognizes it as the book of the Raven King, so cuts him down in order to bring the body back with him. While he is getting his horse ready to carry the corpse, he sees a stranger bending over the body, and rushes over to lay his claim. The stranger, of course, is Uskglass, though Childermass never realizes that; Uskglass resurrects Vinculus and heals Childermass’ cut face, but also wipes their memories of the encounters. It makes me sort of sad that Childermass, who has been such a staunch loyalist to the Raven King, never got a chance to actually profess his fealty, and in fact would have been mortified if he realized he had tried to challenge his king. It made me even sadder that Childermass didn’t turn out to be the King himself, like I had been hoping.
In a sort of gruesome but sweet scene, Vinculus slowly recovers from his hanging, with Childermass breaking out the wine the servants gave him. As soon as Vinculus is recovered enough to speak, the two begin sniping at each other. Childermass finds himself defending Norrell, claiming that he was instrumental in returning magic to England, and Vinculus announcing that both magicians were simply part of Uskglass’ spell.
Childermass ends up dragging Vinculus to the original York Society of Magicians (from the very first chapter), now reinstated by the woken magic of England, in order to lead them in learning to decipher the words on Vinculus’ skin. The magicians are both intrigued and appalled by Vinculus, and the show captures that scene beautifully. I would totally watch a season 2 of just Childermass and Vinculus, quite frankly.
Just as Stephen and the gentleman with the thistledown hair reach Lady Pole’s residence, Strange and Norrell’s spell takes affect, and the sky, trees, and ground offer allegiance to Stephen Black, born on a slave ship, never knowing the name his mother intended for him, as she died in childbirth. Stephen is suddenly given all the magic of England and he commands the stones to crush the fairy gentleman. After this one command, the magic of England realizes that Stephan is not in fact the king to which it owes allegiance, so it just goes away. The show makes Stephen a little more…materialistic, I guess, and less purely honorable. In the book, he kills the man with the thistledown hair in a desperate attempt to prevent him from killing any more people, and only learns later that he has become king of the gentleman’s lands to his surprise. Upon learning that he now rules the fairy estate, though, Stephen’s first point of order is that all the fairies of the land are going to work to repair the decrepit house and grounds, which I think will be a big shock to the poor fairies that have spent the last few centuries dancing at balls.
The fairy’s enchantment was broken on his death, so Arabella is able to escape the fairy realm and return to the human world via Flora’s mirror. I don’t love the show’s cheesy romanticism of Arabella’s memory returning (or as she even describes herself “I’ve just woken up”) at love’s true kiss by Jonathan Strange; in the book, Jonathan is only tangentially related to her rescue. My other favorite part of the book is that neither Arabella or Jonathan seem at all eager to reunite.
In the show, the magicians have been magically whisked to another realm in the eternal night tower. Arabella sees Jonathan in the reflection in a well and they have a very touching scene. He is lost in some kind of limbo, and Arabella is despondent at his loss, but is brave about it. (She and Flora have really adorable little umbrellas, however.)
In the book, the two magicians are just studying magic in England, while Arabella stays with the Greysteels in Italy. She is sort of like, “oh, I’m sure I’ll be Mrs. Strange again, but for now, it is just so nice in Venice, and the Greysteels are such pleasant company.” After several weeks, Jonathan shows up briefly, now magically trailing both eternal night and Mr. Norrell. They sort of update each other on their well-being, and then part ways again. Arabella is understandably completely disinclined to spend the foreseeable future in eternal night with both Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.
Hahahaha! That’s awesome! And there Arabella was offered the opportunity to have a possibly the most boring and awkward threesome ever.
Do we think the TV show is going to have a second season? I do realize that there isn’t a second book, but the end of the show felt sooo cliff hangery. If I were just watching this as a newcomer without knowing a thing about the book (which with my complete lack of memory about the book I sort of am) I would assume they were setting things up for more story. Which I would watch! I liked it at the beginning, but my affection and interest really grew as the story went along. Even if my white-guy blindness never got any better.
I kind of doubt that they’ll do a second season, though I would love it, and I agree that they could definitely get away with one, considering how little we all remember the source material. I also keep forgetting that Susanna Clark wrote a collection of short stories set in the same world that I’ve been meaning to check out.