Read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell Online

Authors: Susanna Clarke

Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Historical, #Literary, #Media Tie-In, #General

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (71 page)

And with that Arabella was obliged to be content.

In the meantime Strange considered where he should send his review. His choice fell upon Mr Jeffrey, the editor of
The Edinburgh Review
in Scotland.
The Edinburgh Review,
it may be remembered, was a radical publication in favour of political reform, emancipation of Catholics and Jews, and all sorts of other things Mr Norrell did not approve. As a consequence, in recent years Mr Jeffrey had seen reviews and articles upon the Revival of English Magic appear in rival publications, while he, poor fellow, had none.

Naturally he was delighted to receive Strange's review. He was not in the least concerned about its astonishing and revolutionary content, since that was the sort of thing that he liked best. He wrote Strange a letter immediately, assuring him that he would publish it as soon as possible, and a couple of days later he sent Strange a haggis (a sort of Scotch pudding) as a present.

1 Les Cinque Dragownes (The Five Dragons). This court took its name not, as is generally supposed, from the ferocity of its judges, but from a chamber in the house of John Uskglass, the Raven King, in Newcastle where the judgements were originally given. This chamber was said to be twelve-sided and to be decorated by wonderful carvings, some of them the work of men and some of them the work of fairies. The most marvellous of all were the carvings of five dragons.

Crimes tried by the Cinque Dragownes included: “Evil Tendings" - magic with an inherently malevolent purpose; “False Magic" - pretending to do magic or promising to do magic which one either could not or did not intend to do; selling magic rings, hats, shoes, coats, belts, shovels, beans, musical instruments etc., etc. to people who could not be expected to control those powerful articles; pretending to be a magician or pretending to act on behalf of a magician; teaching magic to unsuitable persons, e.g. drunkards, mad- men, children, persons of vicious habits and inclinations; and many other magical crimes committed by trained magicians and other Christians. Crimes against the person of John Uskglass were also tried by the Cinque Dragownes. The only category of magical crimes with which the Cinque Dragownes had nothing to do was crimes by fairies. These were dealt with by the separate court of Folflures.

In England in the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries a thriving community of magicians and fairies was continually performing magic. Magic is notoriously difficult to regulate and, naturally enough, not all the magic that was done was well intentioned. John Uskglass seems to have devoted a great deal of time and energy to the creation of a body of law to govern magic and magicians. When the practice of magic spread throughout England, the southern English kings were only too grateful to borrow the wisdom of their northern neighbour. It is a peculiarity of that time that though England was divided into two countries with separate judiciary systems, the body of law which governed magic was the same for both. The southern English equivalent of the Cinque Dragownes was called the Petty Dragownes of London and was situated near Blackfriars.

The Edinburgh Review

January 1815

Essay on the Extraordinary Revival of English Magic, &c
. By JOHN WATERBURY, Lord PORTISHEAD, with an Account of the Magic done in the late Peninsular War: By JONATHAN STRANGE, Magician-in-Ordinary to His Grace the Duke of WELLINGTON. London, 1814. John Murray.

As the valued aide and confidant of Mr NORRELL and the friend of Mr STRANGE, Lord PORTISHEAD is admirably fitted to write the history of recent magical events, for he has been at the centre of many of them. Each of Mr NORRELL and Mr STRANGE's achievements has been widely discussed in the news- papers and reviews, but Lord PORTISHEAD's readers will have their understanding much improved by having the tale set out for them in its entirety.

Mr NORRELL's more enthusiastic admirers would have us believe that he arrived in London in the Spring of 1807 fully formed as England's Greatest Magician and the First Phenomenon of the Age, but it is clear from PORTISHEAD's account that both he and STRANGE have grown in confidence and skill from very tentative beginnings. PORTISHEAD does not neglect to mention their failures as well as their successes. Chapter Five contains a tragi-comic account of their long-running argument with the HORSE GUARDS which began in 1810 when one of the generals had the original notion of replacing the Cavalry's horses with unicorns. In this way it was hoped to grant the soldiers the power of goring Frenchmen through their hearts. Unfortunately, this excellent plan was never implemented since, far from finding unicorns in sufficient number for the Cavalry's use, Mr NORRELL and Mr STRANGE have yet to discover a single one.

Of more dubious value is the second half of his lordship's book, wherein he leaves description behind and begins to lay down rules to determine what is, and is not, respectable English magic - in other words what shall be called White Magic and what Black. There is nothing new here. Were the reader to cast his eye over the offerings of the recent commentators upon Magic, he would begin to perceive a curious uniformity of opinion. All recite the same history and all use the same arguments to establish their conclusions.

Perhaps the time has come to ask why this should be so. In every other branch of Knowledge our understanding is enlarged by rational opposition and debate. Law, Theology, History and Science have their various factions. Why then, in Magic, do we hear nothing but the same tired arguments? One begins to wonder why any one troubles to argue at all, since everyone appears to be convinced of the same truths. This dreary monotone is particularly evident in recent accounts of ENGLISH MAGICAL HISTORY which are growing more eccentric with each retelling.

Eight years ago this very author published
A Child's History of the Raven King
, one of the most perfect things of its kind. It conveys to the reader a vivid sense of the eeriness and wonder of JOHN USKGLASS's magic. So why does he now pretend to believe that true English Magic began in the sixteenth century with MARTIN PALE? In Chapter 6 of the
Essay on the Extraordinary Revival of English Magic, &c
., he declares that PALE consciously set out to purge English Magic of its darker elements. He does not attempt to present any evidence for this extraordinary claim - which is just as well, since no evidence exists.

According to PORTISHEAD's present view, the tradition which began with PALE was more perfectly elaborated by HICK- MAN, LANCHESTER, GOUBERT, BELASIS
et al
(those we term the ARGENTINE magicians), and has now reached its glorious apogee with Mr NORRELL and Mr STRANGE. It is certainly a view that Mr STRANGE and Mr NORRELL have worked hard to perpetrate. But it simply will not do. MARTIN PALE and the ARGENTINE magicians never intended to lay the foundations of English Magic. In every spell they recorded, in every word they wrote, they were trying to re-create the glorious Magic of their predecessors (those we term the Golden Age or AUREATE magicians): THOMAS GODBLESS, RALPH DE STOKESEY, CATHERINE OF WINCHESTER and, above all, JOHN USKGLASS. MARTIN PALE was the devoted follower of these magicians. He never ceased to regret that he had been born two hundred years out of his proper time.

One of the most extraordinary characteristics of the revival of English Magic has been its treatment of JOHN USKGLASS. Nowadays it seems that his name is only spoken in order to revile him. It is as if Mr DAVY and Mr FARADAY and our other Great Men of Science felt obliged to begin their lectures by expressing their contempt and loathing of ISAAC NEWTON. Or as if our eminent Physicians prefaced every announcement of a new discovery in Medicine with a description of the wickedness of WILLIAM HARVEY.

Lord PORTISHEAD devotes a long chapter of his book to trying to prove that JOHN USKGLASS is not, as is commonly supposed, the founder of English Magic since there were magicians in these islands before his time. I do not deny it. But what I do most vehemently deny is that there was any
tradition of Magic
in England before JOHN USKGLASS.

Let us examine these earlier magicians that PORTISHEAD makes so much of. Who were they? JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA was one, a magician who came from the Holy Lands and planted a magic tree to protect England from harm - but I never heard that he stayed long enough to teach any of the inhabitants his skills. MERLIN was another but, as he was upon his mother's side
and upon his father's
, he will scarcely do for that pattern of respectable English Magic upon which PORTISHEAD, NOR- RELL and STRANGE have set their hearts. And who were MERLIN's pupils and followers? We cannot name a single one. No, for once the common view is the correct one: Magic had been long extinct in these islands until JOHN USKGLASS came out of Faerie and established his Kingdom of Northern England.

PORTISHEAD seems to have had some doubts upon this point himself and in case his arguments have failed to convince his readers he sets about proving that JOHN USKGLASS's magic was inherently wicked. But it is far from clear that the examples he chuses support this conclusion. Let us examine one of them. Everyone has heard of the four magical woods that surrounded JOHN USKGLASS's capital city of Newcastle. Their names were Great Tom, Asmody's Citadel, Petty Egypt and Serlo's Blessing. They moved from place to place and were known, upon occasion, to swallow up people who approached the city intending harm to the inhabitants. Certainly the notion of man-eating woods strikes us as eerie and horrible, but there is no evidence that JOHN USKGLASS's contemporaries found it so. It was a violent Age; JOHN USKGLASS was a mediaeval king and he acted as a mediaeval king should, to protect his city and his citizens.

Often it is difficult to decide upon the morality of USKGLASS's actions because his motives are so obscure. Of all the AUREATE magicians he is the most mysterious. No one knows why in 1138 he caused the moon to disappear from the sky and made it travel through all the lakes and rivers of England. We do not know why in 1202 he quarrelled with Winter and banished it from his kingdom, so that for four years Northern England enjoyed continual Summer. Nor do we know why for thirty consecutive nights in May and June of 1345 every man, woman and child in the kingdom dreamt that they had been gathered together upon a dark red plain beneath a pale golden sky to build a tall black tower. Each night they laboured, waking in the morning in their own beds completely exhausted. The dream only ceased to trouble them when, on the thirtieth night, the tower and its fortifications were completed. In all these stories - but particularly in the last - we have a sense of great events going on, but what they might be we cannot tell. Several scholars have speculated that the tall black tower was situated in that part of Hell which USKGLASS was reputed to lease from LUCIFER and that USKGLASS was building a fortress in order to prosecute a war against his enemies in Hell. However, MARTIN PALE thought otherwise. He be- lieved that there was a connexion between the construction of the tower and the appearance in England three years later of the Black Death. JOHN USKGLASS's kingdom of Northern England suffered a good deal less from the disease than its southern neighbour and PALE believed that this was because USKGLASS had constructed some sort of defence against it.

But according to the
Essay on the Extraordinary Revival of English Magic
we have no business even to wonder about such things. According to Mr NORRELL and Lord PORTISHEAD the Modern Magician ought not to meddle with things only half-nderstood. But
say that it is precisely because these things are only half-understood that we must study them.

English Magic is the strange house we magicians inhabit. It is built upon foundations that JOHN USKGLASS made and we ignore those foundations at our peril. They should be studied and their nature understood so that we can learn what they will support and what they will not. Otherwise cracks will appear, letting in winds from God-knows-where. The corridors will lead us to places we never intended to go.

In conclusion PORTISHEAD's book - though containing many excellent things - is a fine example of the mad contradiction at the heart of Modern English Magic: our foremost magicians continually declare their intention of erasing every hint and trace of JOHN USKGLASS from English Magic, but how is this even possible? It is JOHN USKGLASS's magic that we do.

The two magicians

February 1815

F ALL THE CONTROVERSIAL pieces ever published in
The Edinburgh Review
, this was the most controversial by far. By the end of January there scarcely seemed to be an educated man or woman from one end of the country to the other who had not read it and formed an opinion upon it. Though it was unsigned, everyone knew who the author was - Strange. Oh, certainly at the beginning some people hesitated and pointed to the fact that Strange was as much criticized as Norrell - perhaps more. But these people were judged very stupid by their friends. Was not Jonathan Strange known to be precisely the sort of whimsical, contradictory person who
publish against him- self? And did not the author declare himself to be a magician? Who else could it possibly be? Who else could speak with so much authority?

When Mr Norrell had first come to London, his opinions had seemed very new and not a little eccentric. But since then people had grown accustomed to them and he had seemed no more than the Mirror of the Times when he said that magic, like the oceans themselves, should agree to be governed by Englishmen. Its boundaries were to be drawn up and all that was not easily comprehensible to modern ladies and gentlemen - John Uskglass's three-hundred-year reign, the strange, uneasy history of our dealings with fairies - might be conveniently done away with. Now Strange had turned the Norrellite view of magic on its head. Suddenly it seemed that all that had been learnt in every English childhood of the wildness of English magic might still be true, and even now on some long-forgotten paths, behind the sky, on the other side of the rain, John Uskglass might be riding still, with his company of men and fairies.

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