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Literature / Sorcerer Conjurer Wizard Witch

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"Sorcerer Conjurer Wizard Witch" is a novella in the Diogenes Club series by Kim Newman.

It is the 1930s, and dark mutterings are coming from Europe, where Hitler has recently come to power. For the Diogenes Club, however, that's a problem for another day; they're engaged in a covert struggle against Colonel Zenf, the Great Enchanter, a Diabolical Mastermind gathering his forces for a secret Wizarding War.

Charles Beauregard, the Chairman of the Diogenes Club, receives a troubling message from an unexpected source, warning that there is a Rat in the ranks: one of the Ravens, the four powerful magic users who are the linchpins of England's magical defence, has gone bad and sold out to the Great Enchanter. Edwin Winthrop and Catriona Kaye are dispatched to discreetly investigate and identify the Rat: is it Sorcerer, Conjurer, Wizard, or Witch?

This story contains examples of:

  • Actor/Role Confusion: All of Madame Tussaud's waxworks of famous murderers are magically animated and sent out into the city to sow havoc. In a bit of secondary havoc, a drunken man attacks the actor Ivor Novello, mistaking him for a waxwork of the serial killer depicted in the film The Lodger. Novello angrily points out that not only was it only a film, he didn't even play the serial killer, but the innocent man who was falsely accused.
  • All Part of the Show: Murderous Mannequins attack Margery Device, the Witch, at a cocktail party she's holding. When she successfully fends them off with the help of Edwin and Catriona, most of the guests assume it's one of her famously elaborate floor shows.
  • Ambiguously Human: The Men in Black who work for the Undertaking. They appear to be human, but they all have strange physical or behavioural quirks (not to mention whatever is hidden behind the Sinister Shades), and theories about them vary from "they were humans before they were recruited, then something happened during their training" to "new Undertakers aren't recruited, they're grown in vats fertilized by the remains of their predecessors".
  • And I'm the Queen of Sheba: Charles says that if Colonel Zenf is really the great peacemaker he's publicly reputed to be, Moriarty was just a humble professor of mathematics.
  • Area 51: The Mausoleum seems to be a shout out, rather fittingly considering whose base it is. It's located in rather desolate heathlands, about as close to the Arizona desert as the British Isles can get.
  • Army of The Ages: The armies of Shadow London. The Great Enchanter has all the mythical Barbarians at the Gate: "Vikings, French infantry, Roman legionnaires, ragged cavaliers, fire-spreaders, shaggy Anglo-Saxons, Martian squid-vampires, rowdies from the country and Prussian Uhlans". The good guys have "redcoats with muskets, knights in armour, tommies in tin hats, roundheads and cavaliers shoulder to shoulder, bloods and blades, pearly kings and queens, costers, tarts, loafers, brawlers, football fanatics with scarves and rattles, the haut ton and the demi-monde, air-raid wardens, firemen, peelers, bobbies, Bow Street Runners, Chelsea pensioners, dandies, strollers and — yes! — Dick Whittington's Cat."
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The list of sinister activities Zenf has been associated with includes arms dealing, fascism, riots, scandalous deaths, pornography, ethnic cleansing, and the musical career of George Formby.
  • As Long as There Is Evil: This seems to be the case for the Great Enchanter; whenever one Great Enchanter is killed or incapacitated, a new one arises to take over.
  • Batman Gambit: Mycroft's contingency plan to deal with the Great Enchanter Colonel Zenf is based on people doing certain things if they believe certain facts to be true. It proceeds pretty much exactly according to plan, despite the fact that when Zenf emerges, Mycroft's been dead for fifteen years.
  • Bewitched Amphibians: Played with — Margery Device, the Witch, is rumoured to have turned a badly-behaved guest into a toad. Edwin says what actually happened is that he contracted a rare tropical skin condition that gave him a toad-like appearance.
  • *Bleep*-dammit!: The Earl of Emsworth's profanity-laced tirade is dashed out, as it would have been in a work of the period if it were included at all. However, the first and last letter of each word is left in, and there's exactly one dash for each omitted letter (e.g. "b----r") so any reader can fill in the blanks if they have the vocabulary.
  • Book Ends: The story begins with Charles visiting the Undertaking's Extranormal Prison to question Geneviève, and ends with him visiting the prison to start the questioning of Zenf. It's even mentioned that Zenf has been given the same cell Geneviève was held in.
  • Call-Forward:
    • Pondering the history of the Great Enchanters, Charles wonders if they don't "crawl full-grown out of filthy water, bereft of a past". We don't learn if this is true of Zenf, but it's exactly how his successor, Derek Leech, makes his entrance in The Quorum.
    • The guests at Margery's party include a railway magnate named Lord Kilpartinger who appears to be under some kind of curse. His story is told more fully in "The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train".
    • Another of Margery's guests is the notorious Colonel Moran, with Charles remarking that he's surprised Moran's not dead yet. The story of his eventual death is also in "The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train".
    • One of Margery's bits of celebrity gossip involves vigilante Dr Shade acquiring a new sidekick, Intrepid Reporter Penny Stamp. In "The Original Dr Shade", written earlier but set later than this, Penny Stamp is recalled as Dr Shade's sidekick during the Nazi-thumping phase of his career.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Diogenes Club has a collection of contingency plans bequeathed to it by the late great Mycroft Holmes. Charles goes through it to see if Mycroft foresaw anything applicable to the current situation, but finds nothing. Much later, it is revealed that Mycroft did write up a contingency plan for just this occasion, but gave it to someone outside the Diogenes Club because part of the plan was for the Diogenes Club to be caught off-guard so the Great Enchanter would believe things were going his way.
  • Circle of Standing Stones: The Undertaking's headquarters is built in a meteor crater surrounded by a circle of standing stones, "the Neolithic equivalent of the 'Danger—Keep Out' signs put up at the site of a bad fire or a subsidence in the road".
  • Cluster Bleep-Bomb: Lord Emsworth unleashes an expletive-filled rant (dashed out) when faced with somebody who has no interest in pigs. Edwin reflects on how much P. G. Wodehouse must tone down the language in his books.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • During his visit to the Undertaking's Extranormal Prison at the beginning of the story, Charles recalls the Club's earlier encounters with them in "Angel Down, Sussex" and "The Gypsies in the Wood".
    • The list of Zenf's known associates includes Declan Mountmain, the villain Charles Beauregard tangled with in "Seven Stars".
    • There are several mentions of the Splendid Six and their leader Blackfist, who featured in "Clubland Heroes".
    • One of Zenf's and Persano's predecessors was Leo Dare, the villain of "A Drug on the Market". Another was Nicholas Goodman, from "Mildew Manor".
    • At a point where all hands are being metaphorically called on deck to help deal with the developing crisis, there's a cameo by the protagonist of The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School.
  • Cool Car: Beauregard has a Bentley and the Undertaking has a Black Mariah (a contemporary police vehicle, usually used as a hearse).
  • Cool Bike: Dr Shade's motor cycle, which Edwin borrows, has built-in boosters, flamethrowers, and flare guns, and is specifically engineered with counterbalance systems and leg protectors and so on to permit extreme leaning turns and other such stunts.
  • Creepy Crows: There's a small flock of friendly ravens (the ones who live in the Tower of London) and a much larger flock of murderous crows commanded by Zenf. It's noted that there isn't really an actual difference between ravens and crows.
  • Direct Line to the Author: At least one edition of the story includes explanatory endnotes that at one point are blanked out with a note saying that a portion has been omitted by order of the current Chair of the Diogenes Club.
  • Enemy Mine:
    • The previous Great Enchanter was such a grave threat that the Diogenes Club and the Undertaking formally joined forces, with the lead MIB being temporarily inducted into the Ruling Cabal of the Club and Charles temporarily serving as an MIB himself, and at the final push "no fewer than fifteen of the world's premier magicians, occult detectives, psychic adventurers, criminal geniuses and visionary scientists set aside profound differences" to work together and defeat him.
    • In the current crisis, the Diogenes Club and the Undertaking again pool resources, though the crisis is averted before it gets serious enough for the same degree of formal alliance.
  • Externally Validated Prophecy: One of Margery Device's items of gossip involves Wallis Simpson's relationship with the Prince of Wales; at the time this story is set, it's just getting off the ground, but Margery correctly predicts its future course.
  • Extranormal Prison: The Undertaking's Mausoleum, originally founded during the reign of Elizabeth I to house a couple of evil magicians who refused to go quietly even after their heads were cut off. They're still in residence, along with the other prisoners the Undertaking have acquired in the subsequent centuries.
  • Fake Faint: Zenf's female accomplice covers his exit from a meeting with Charles by pretending to faint and knocking Charles over.
  • Fame Through Infamy: In a conversation with Geneviève about what the Diogenes Club knows of Jack the Ripper, Edwin says that this was the Ripper's motivation.
    Geneviève: Who was he?
    Edwin: No one. That was his problem... A pathetic, vicious little man became a legend.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Played for laughs. Colonel Zenf, at a gathering of underground figures, reaches into his pocket for his cigarette case and casually remarks that some pickpocket seems to have triggered the poisoned blade booby trap built into it. At that exact moment, the poison takes effect and a man standing nearby collapses, foaming at the mouth.
  • A Foggy Day in London Town: Shadow London, where the mythical places and characters of the city live on, is naturally shrouded in fog. Edwin notes the difference between the fog of Shadow London, "thick mist, odourless but damp, arranged in artful drapes", and the real London's fog, which is "yellow-green and foul".
  • Gadget Watches: It's strongly implied that there's something interesting about Charles Beauregard's pocket watch "with the intricate crystal workings." The Undertaking refuse to let him into their HQ while carrying it, and he certainly refuses to let them look after it while he's there. Sadly, the glossary page explaining what it does has been censored by the current Diogenes chairperson.
  • Ghostapo: There's a passing mention that Hitler has revived the Thule Society, an occult group that often features in this trope.
  • Historical Domain Crossover: The villain magically animates waxworks from Madame Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors, including Burke and Hare, Dr Crippen, Charlie Peace, George Joseph Smith (the "Brides in the Bath" killer) and — this being the Diogenes universe — Rodger Baskerville and Varney the Vampire.
  • Indy Hat Roll: Edwin escapes under a lowering portcullis in the nick of time on a motor cycle, leaning over so far to fit under that he'd certainly have fallen off if it hadn't been a Cool Bike borrowed from a sinister vigilante who had it designed specifically to be able to pull off stunts like that.
  • Inspiration Nod: The fellow cabal member Charles butts heads with over the future running of the Diogenes Club is named Tarr, which is also the name of the character in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy who brings the warning that one of four highly-placed people is a double agent.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Edwin is perplexed that Dr Shade is so paranoid as to have "an ingenious hobbling device" padlocked to his motor-cycle, as if something so hard to fence would be stolen.
  • Landmarking the Hidden Base: It is mentioned that one of Dr Shade's secret lairs is in the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster.
  • Legacy Character: The Ravens — Sorcerer, Conjurer, Wizard, and Witch — the mystic guardians of London, are the latest to stand in roles that have existed since the 11th century.
  • Magicians Are Wizards: The Great Edmondo, "Conjurer", is a stage magician who also possesses real and powerful magic.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: One of the Men in Black, under attack by murderous crows who have already torn a strip of skin off his face, merely comments, "Ouch."
  • The Men in Black: The agents of the Undertaking dress all in black and always wear dark glasses. It's rumoured that they're not entirely human, and on at least some of them the glasses hide something horrible. They monitor paranormal activity and maintain an Extranormal Prison.
  • Missing Reflection: The vampire Geneviève appears in mirrors as a shadow or a smudgy and vaguely human-shaped cloud of smoke.
  • Mister Strangenoun: The agents of the Undertaking include Mr Hay, Mr Bee, Mr Eye, Miss Jeye, Mrs Elle, Mr Arrh, Mr Esse, and Master Wuh.
  • Murderous Mannequin: A group of wax figures from Madame Tussaud's is magically animated and sent out to cause trouble as a distraction.
  • Mythology Gag: This story features the first meeting and team-up of Charles Beauregard and Geneviève Dieudonné in the Diogenes Club timeline, and as such includes several nods to their different history in the Anno Dracula timeline, where they met and became friends in the 1890s during Dracula's invasion of England. There are several moments where they ponder what might have been had they met in different circumstances, and a scene where Geneviève talks about Dracula's scheme and how it failed in this timeline. When Charles is going through the Club's collection of contingency plans created by the late great Mycroft Holmes, he finds one labelled "In the event of the marriage of the sovereign to an evil consort with supernatural powers"; just such a contingency occurred in Anno Dracula, and Charles was a key player in Mycroft's plan for dealing with it. Among other protections, Charles carries a silver scalpel in his notecase; a silver scalpel played a key role in the case in Anno Dracula. In Anno Dracula, Charles and Geneviève first teamed up to crack the mystery of Jack the Ripper; a scene in this story has Geneviève discussing the (completely different) solution to the mystery in this timeline.
  • Ninja Brat: Master Wuh is the Undertaking's British-style version of one.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Geneviève, a vampire suspected of being in the service of the Great Enchanter, is found by Edwin and Catriona kneeling over a man they've come to interview, liberally splatted with the blood spurting out of his neck. "You probably think this looks suspicious," she says. She's actually trying to save his life.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: Isadore Persano, the previous Great Enchanter, was planning to destroy time and space itself. It's not clear what he expected to get out of it, and after the plan was thwarted he wasn't in a condition to answer questions.
  • Poison Is Corrosive: A poisoned drink is knocked out of the hand of the person about to drink it, and the liquid starts eating into the floor.
  • Pronouncing My Name for You:
    • The headquarters of the Undertaking is the Mausoleum — "by tradition, 'Mouse-o-lay-um' not 'Maws-o-lee-um'".
    • Margery Device, the current Witch of London. Edwin makes clear that her name is pronounced more like "Davis".
  • Ramp Jump: During the pursuit in Shadow London, the antagonists start raising Tower Bridge to block the motor cycle with Edwin and Geneviève on it, and Edwin does a ramp jump to clear it. Because Shadow London is a realm of myths and legends, it's taken to an extreme where the ramp is up nearly vertical when the motor cycle's wheels grab air, and it still clears the distance and sticks the landing.
  • Secret War: The various Weird Wars. Every so often an evil Great Enchanter arises, and it's the Club's job to put him down again.
    If won, it would only be written of in the secret histories. If lost, there would be no more histories, secret or otherwise.
  • Silver Bullet: Edwin is armed with silver bullets in case Geneviève is less friendly than she appears. He's told that in field tests the bullets have been demonstrated to stop "vampires, zombies, your common shapeshifters, ghouls, sundry revenants, and some of the more physical species of ghost" — not to mention normal people.
  • Sinister Shades: The agents of the Undertaking all wear dark glasses. Charles has seen what they're hiding behind them, and has no desire to see it again.
  • Someone Has to Do It: This appears to apply to the Great Enchanter — whenever one Great Enchanter is incapacitated (not necessarily killed — the Great Enchanter who was defeated in 1903 is still around, but incurably insane), another one soon appears to take his (or occasionally her) place. When the heroes manage to capture Zenf alive at the end of the story, they decide to try keeping him in a comfortable cell in the Extranormal Prison in the hope that along as he's alive and well they won't have to deal with a successor. (A later story in the series reports that Zenf lived on for another thirty years before peacefully popping his clogs, and that the next Great Enchanter showed up immediately afterward.)
  • Spring-Heeled Jack: Jack is among the wax statues brought to life for a Historical Domain Crossover. Edwin drops a quick throwaway line about how much trouble he was to put down in real life.
  • Stock Unsolved Mysteries: During a discussion of Shadow London, where the mythical places and characters of the city live on, Edwin says that not only does Jack the Ripper live on in Shadow London, but it's actually the man himself, who used his murders as part of a ritual that gave him immortality as a legend. When the ritual succeeded, Jack ceased to exist as a real person, all evidence of his existence disappearing. Mycroft had apparently figured out who he was, but failed to prevent him completing the ritual, and now nobody else will ever solve the mystery because there's literally nothing to go on.
  • A True Story in My Universe:
  • T-Word Euphemism:
    • Lord Emsworth has a lengthy dashed-out complaint about a fellow guest at the party who "shows no f——n' interest" in pigs.
    • The Great Edmondo also has a bit of a mouth on him off-stage (though nothing like Emsworth's level), letting out a "b——r" and referring to his predecessor as a "slippery b——d".
  • Unequal Rites: The Ravens all have specific job titles.
    • "Witch" is a gossipy high society lady who sometimes does tea leaf readings. Her role is to know all the city's stories and secrets.
    • "Conjuror" is a stage magician and apparently The Big Guy of the group. Magicians Are Wizards appears to be the theme, as his predecessor was a carnival performer.
    • "Sorcerer" is the deputy Astrologer Royal (despite Cat's correction, Edwin seems quite sure that "Astrologer" is the appropriate term here, not "Astronomer"). He apparently keeps a tab on various Eldritch Abominations who might be roused should the stars become right.
    • "Wizard" is an old kook who watches the literal ravens at the Tower of London. He can access and protect London's "shadow", a parallel universe where all local legends are real.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Colonel Zenf has a public reputation as an international diplomat and philanthropist, with honors from several nations including Great Britain, which limits what the Diogenes Club can do openly to act against him.
  • We Didn't Start the F├╝hrer: Nodded to and averted; Zenf has nothing to do with Hitler, although when Edwin tells Catriona the Great Enchanter is an Austrian former soldier, she thinks at first he means Hitler and asks if that isn't a bit obvious.
  • We Would Have Told You, But...: When the existence of Mycroft's contingency plan to deal with Zenf is revealed at the end, it includes a letter to be delivered to Charles after it's all over, apologising for leaving him out of the loop and explaining that the Diogenes Club's part of the plan was to be genuinely caught off-guard so that Zenf would believe things were going his way and not anticipate an attack from the people to whom Mycroft entrusted the active part of the plan.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: To Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.