"Can a magician kill a man by magic?" Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. "I suppose a magician might," he admitted, "but a gentleman never could."
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is Susanna Clarke's highly acclaimed 2004 novel about magicians and fairies in alternateBritain of the Regency era.Centuries ago, magic thrived in England. John Uskglass, a human who had been raised in Faerie, waged war against England and took the northern half for his kingdom, becoming known as "The Raven King." Uskglass himself was the greatest magician to ever live, and his 300-year reign was the golden age of magic in both halves of England—the union of fairy power and human organization.By 1806, England has been reunited, and magic is primarily the domain of scholars and theorists. The Learned Society of York Magicians sets out to discover why magic is no longer practiced in England, and finds that there is one practicing magician: the reclusive Mr. Norrell, who has very particular views on what is and is not proper for an English magician.When Norrell goes public, this sets in motion a chain of events. The young landowner Jonathan Strange discovers that he has a natural talent for magic, and begins practicing as an amateur. He becomes Mr. Norrell's first and only student, but as Strange begins to rival Norrell in ability, their differences in opinion intensify until they become bitter rivals.The activities of the two magicians, and the revival of interest in magic spurred by them, causes one fairy, the gentleman with thistle-down hair, to take a renewed interest in England. In particular, he becomes convinced that Jonathan Strange is his worst enemy ...Now on track to being a BBC One drama.
Contains examples of:
All Myths Are True: An interesting variation - only some myths are true, Merlin was explicitly stated to be true while magic mirrors are false (any mirror will do). The characters themselves aren't sure what myths are true.
Beings from Christian theology also show up in this universe; the Raven King is said to have been on good terms with most angels and demons, but quarreled with Zadkiel and Alrinach. Also in a footnote, Merlin is described as being half-demon.
Hermes (Trismegistus, specifically) also has a passing mention near the end as the "God of all magicians" implying that while Christian theology is focused on, there may be other realms which Christians are unaware of, ignore or simply lump in with Faerie.
Be Careful What You Wish For: Played straight when Norrell deals with the gentleman with thistle-down hair but when he tries to invoke this against Strange it goes horribly wrong.
Black Magic: Strange practices some during the Napoleonic Wars, using it to raise slain bandits from the dead as horrible, sapient zombies in order to get information from them. They are then burned "alive" after the living soldiers are too creeped out to be around them. As a rather dark Historical In-Joke, this act is suggested to have inspired the artist Goya's production of hellish paintings of war and witchcraft.
Blood Knight: It can be inferred that the new champion of the Castle of the Plucked Eye and Heart will be more enthusiastic about his duties than the previous one, seeing as Lascelles murdered Drawlight and the old Champion quite willingly.
Alternatively, it's an implied deconstruction of Blood Knight mixed in with Fridge Horror; it's implied that the Castle of the Plucked Eye and Heart's champion begins by murdering the previous one and continues on with nothing to do but to kill or be killed until they've forgotten their own name.
Blood Magic: As Mr. Norrell has hoarded all of the magical texts in existence, Jonathan is forced to resort to this, in addition to many other strange tactics, in his attempt to summon the fairy king.
Blue and Orange Morality: The gentleman with the thistledown hair seems entirely unable to comprehend regular human morality or ethics, and seems to lack any kind of empathy. He's casually sadistic, yet also cannot comprehend racism.
The Fair Folk also consider Christianity to be this - a footnote mentions that centuries ago, someone left a pair of boots in a fairy's castle, and they were regarded as objects of dread for fear that in some inscrutable way, Christian morality might hold the fairies responsible for their theft.
Broken Pedestal: Norrell means well, but it doesn't change that he's a secretive, mousy, banal and selfish man who is pretty much lacking in sympathetic traits, is constantly sarcastic, of a condescendingly, backhanded sort and spends his time making sure he is the only magician in Britain, by first using his connections to the people in power to have other magicians (even theoretical scholars) outlawed, as well as using his magic to destroy all copies of the book about the Raven King that Strange has published after his estrangement with his former mentor.
Byronic Hero: Strange becomes one, then gets over it. Since Strange and Lord Byron are friends some nice Historical In Jokes come from this. Strange explains the phase as something he picked up from Byron. Lord Byron himself actually isn't one because he's a secondary character.
The Chosen One: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, as prophesied by Vinculus.
Clipped Wing Angel: While in his death throes the gentleman with the thistle-down hair starts taking on what we are to assume is a terrifying true form. Given that all the rocks, trees, earth, water, and shadows in England are working together to kill him it doesn't make a difference.
Door Stopper: Don't drop the hardcover version of this book on your foot.
Encyclopedia Exposita: Done a lot, with characters often debating the relative merits of the various books.
Enigmatic Minion: Norrell's "Man of Business" Childermass is loyal but shows a surprising degree of autonomy and his motives aren't quite clear.
The Fair Folk: They're so self centered that if it wasn't for their powerful magic they'd quickly end up extinct. It's debatable whether the Gentleman even understood the concept that other people might have different opinions. It's stated that Julius Caesar once served as judge of the Fairies, because at the time every Faerie alive stood accused of some crime or had close ties to an accused, so none were fit to stand in judgment.
Genius Loci: Absolutely everything! Every single tree, river, stone and even odder things like the dawn or various winds. All magic comes from making deals and alliances with various Genius Loci either directly or, in the case of most English magicians, indirectly thanks to deals made by the Raven King. The fact most humans don't realise these things are intelligent and thus don't learn how to talk with them is a serious impediment to their magical ability.
Gentleman Wizard: The titular characters, as well as the magic societies, if you consider them wizards despite not actually doing any magic. Magic is considered the realm of the idle gentry, and Mr Norrel is not pleased to learn that Strange intends to teach a Jew.
The Ghost: The Raven King is only seen in flashbacks until he finally has a short but impressive cameo in the third to last chapter, where he talks to Childermass (who is made to forget right away) and brings Vinculus back to life. Strange and Norrell, who try to summon him, only get to see a giant raven eye instead.
Here There Were Dragons: At the novel's opening, magic has faded from Britain (it's still studied, but not practiced) and great magicians and fairy servants are only a memory.
I Have Many Names: The Raven King, aka John Uskglass, aka the Black King of the North, aka the nameless slave (from his changeling childhood, though rarely used), etc. This actually figures into the plot when Strange and Norrell try to magically locate the Raven King but can't figure out which name to use in the spell. Norrell speculates that The Raven King did this on purpose, because names are such an important part of magic. Without his true name, it gets difficult to do anything related to the person you're trying to target.
I Know Your True Name: Played with. The end of the book is the result of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell thinking that they have figured out the Raven King's true name but being wrong.
In Spite of a Nail: In spite of the fact that Northern England was formerly a separate country, ruled by a magician-king for 300 years, England and Europe at the time of the novel are almost exactly as they were in history. Sir Walter Scott, Lewis Carroll, Francisco Goya, and Lord Byron all show up, and are shown or implied to be just as they were in Real Life.
Karmic Death: Lascelles, though his was more of a Karmic Fate Worse Than Death, The Gentleman with thistledownhair whose death ultimately ends up making Stephan into a King as he promised and Lawrence Strange.
Drawlight once threw a cat out a third-floor window.
Mr. Norrell's treatment of Arabella at the book auction. Even in-story people thought that was pretty harsh.
Klingon Promotion: The reason the gentleman with the thistle-down hair wants Stephen to kill the King of England. Stephen tries to explain it doesn't work this way. But in the fairy world it does, so when Stephen kills the Gentleman, he gets his kingdom.
Not Quite Dead: Vinculus after the hanging. He even makes a point of telling the gentleman with the thistle-down hair that he's pretty hard to kill, but of course the fairy doesn't listen.
Obliviously Evil: The Gentleman with the Thistle-Down Hair has no idea that what he's doing to his human "friends" is anything but kind and generous.
One Steve Limit: Averted with John Segundus, John Childermass, Jonathan Strange and John Uskglass.
Oop North: The Raven King formerly ruled Northern England as a separate kingdom from his capital at Newcastle. It's also stated that as a result of this the North of England is intrinsically more magical than the South. Both Norrell and Childermass are Northerners.
Order Versus Chaos: The conservative Norrell represents order, with the more likable Strange being more allied with chaos, given his interest in fairies and willingness to move parts of Spain and Belgium while helping the British in the Napoleonic wars. However despite his personality Norrell's viewpoint is shown to have merit: magic is dangerous and should be handled with care. There is also a theme of reason versus madness. Strange deliberately goes mad for a while to gain deeper insight.
Pet the Dog: It's hard to dislike Jonathan Strange after he is kind to a mother cat during one of the battles with the French.
Possession Implies Mastery: Subverted. Strange only has access to books about magic while Norrell owns all the books of magic, yet Strange proves himself to be Norrell's equal (if not his superior) in magical power. Also, both men are portrayed as having an inflated perception of their magical prowess which is minimal compared to earlier English magicians.
Power Born of Madness: Insanity has several advantages to a magician, however there are other methods that don't require actual madness.
Psycho Serum: Strange deliberately drinks essentially "distilled madness" out of the logic that since lunatics can see fairies, he needs to become insane to be able to see the gentleman with thistle-down hair (Strange's summoning spells worked, as the Gentleman himself admits to Stephen, but since the Gentleman did not wish to speak to Strange he remained invisible to him. The madness allowed Strange to see past the glamour).
Pulling Himself Together: Attempted by the gentleman with the thistle-down hair after being defeated, but prevented by the magic of the land.
Shewn Their Work+Painting the Medium: The book is written in a faux 19th century style and uses historical persons and events. In universe, the text is annotated in order to give context to artifacts or persons mentioned in passing. The style is a first-rate emulation of Jane Austen's at many points, down to the variant spellings ("shew", "surprize", "chuse", and so on).
Spell Book: Many, both books about magic and books of magic. Norrell is hoarding the latter.
Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: Magic is treated both as a mysterious force and an unusual field of study. The actual nuts and bolts of the magic are largely glossed over, since the story is character-driven, but we learn enough to know that it is really complicated.
There are however significant hints as to how magic really works; and the Gentleman With Thistledown Hair even says so outright in a blink and you'll miss it moment. Magic all comes down to making requests of genius loci (everything is a genius loci). The Gentleman With Thistledown Hair and some Aureate magicians cultivate friendships with genius loci; most English magicians make use of the Raven Kings treaties and alliances instead.
Teleportation Sickness: Childermass experiences this when Lady Pole is around, causing him (or his perceptions) to travel between this world and Faerie.
There Can Be Only One: Norrell makes it his special project to make sure no one practices magic except him. Even the theoretical magicians who meet in York are apparently too much of a threat.
Those Two Guys: The fops Drawlight and Lascelles, at least at first. Honeyfoot and Segundus had a short run near the beginning.
Took a Level in Badass: The heartbreak of his wife's death coupled with the Gentleman's attempts to drive him crazy allow Strange to turn from a nice Peter Wimseyish guy into a powerful and frightening Byronic Bad Ass. This is kind of lampshaded, as after rescuing his wife from Fairyland, he becomes a bit more like himself and attributes his earlier behavior to spending too much time around Lord Byron.
Where I Was Born And Razed: At the end of the novel, Strange destroys his house before journeying into Faerie with Norrell. Technically, both Strange's and Norrell's houses become "lost", not destroyed. Sometimes people claim they can see Norrell's house from afar, while Strange's cat still finds Strange's house, slipping between the neighboring houses into another realm where humans can not follow.
With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: It's noted how fairies who have the most powerful magic often have the same level of sanity as humans in madhouses. On the other hand, Norrell and Strange weren't insane when they performed their greatest feats of magic, and neither were the Aureate magicians of the time of the Raven King.
Xanatos Roulette: The Raven King, and how! According to Vinculus, the events of the entire book were orchestrated by him, he's able to run three countries at the same time, and he has enough magical power to rival Satan himself explicitly including spells to foretell the future.
You Kill It, You Bought It: Lascelles eventually follows a fairy bridge and ends up in Faerie, where he kills the Champion of the Castle of the Plucked Eye and Heart to prove he is braver than Childermass but instead is forced to take up the knight's place until someone kills him.