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Series / Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

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Two magicians shall appear in England.

"All magicians lie, that one more than most."

A seven-part Miniseries by The BBC, broadcast in 2015, and adapted from the book by Susanna Clarke.

Centuries ago, magic thrived in England. The Raven King, a human who had been raised in Land of Faerie, waged war against England and took the northern half for his kingdom. The Raven King 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 long 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 Gilbert Norrell, who has very particular views on what is and is not proper for an English magician. Norrell's life revolves about his deep love and reverence for academic books, and he feels that it is his duty to restore English Magic and to employ its power in the war effort against France.

When Mr Norrell chooses to go public, this sets in motion a chain of events. In his efforts to ingratiate himself to the London upper class, he secretly calls upon the aid of a fairy: a gentleman with thistle-down hair. Although their encounter is but a brief one, this gentleman soon takes renewed interest in England and comes to deeply love Stephen Black, the servant of government minister Sir Walter Pole. Mr Norrell, oblivious to this particular development, convinces Sir Walter Pole that English Magic might restore the glory of the Kingdom and claim Britannia's victory against Napoleon Buonaparte. Aiding Norrell's political career are two socialite leeches, Mr Christopher Drawlight and Mr Henry Lascelles, who take it upon themselves to guide Norrell — a Socially Awkward Hero at the best of times — through the intricacies of political etiquette.

Meanwhile, a young landowner named Jonathan Strange discovers that he has a natural talent for magic, and begins practising 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 something must give. And as the war effort progresses, the gentleman with the thistle-down hair becomes convinced that Jonathan Strange is his worst enemy.

Contains examples of:

  • Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable: In the miniseries, Drawlight inflicts this on Norrell's name all the time (along with much of his other speech), pronouncing it Nor-ELL. Accompanied by a rolling R and dramatic hand gestures. Judging by the pronunciation guide in Neil Gaiman's foreword to the book, Clarke dislikes this common mispronunciation.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: The Stranges are even closer in the TV series, and trying for a baby when Arabella is kidnapped. Strange has a complete breakdown, and attempts to resurrect what he believes is Arabella's body with black magic, even when he knows it would be hellish.
  • Adaptational Badass:
    • Segundus and Honeyfoot are even cleverer in the TV series, and manage to bluff Childermass into retreat with a worthless blunderbuss.
    • It may just be that the translation to TV makes it more impressive, but Strange is much more obviously powerful, and he is the one who works out how all magic is done and opens the doors to unleash magic on England once more.
    • Norrell is much more assertive in the series.
  • Adaptational Heroism: While Norrell's darker traits are exaggerated by him being more proactive, he is similarly more driven in his more heroic acts, such as rescuing Arabella.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • Norrell is more proactive in suppressing Lady Pole's attempts to incriminate him in the miniseries. He also never initially warms to Strange to nearly the extent he does in the book, making his later opposition seem more like spite than the bitterness of rejection.
    • The Gentleman with the Thistledown Hair is much more malevolent in the show than in the novel. While he's the antagonist in both, in the novel he comes across as well-meaning but totally amoral, while his show portrayal is brooding and deceptive. The show portrays him as practically compelling Stephen to kill people, whereas the novel instead has him showering Stephen with valuable gifts and then dragging him unwillingly along on adventures.
  • 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). 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 quarrelled with Zadkiel and Alrinach. The characters themselves aren't sure which myths are true.
  • Always Someone Better: Norrell and Strange manage to be this to one another. Strange envies Norrell his vast amount of learning and his library. Norrell, by contrast, envies Strange's confidence, charm and effortlessly intuitive grasp of magic, which combined with his imagination, means that he is the more powerful and dangerous of the two.
  • Ambiguously Gay:
    • Mr Drawlight's foppish behavior occasionally seems like gay affectations.
    • It's also never specified to what extent the gentleman with the thistle-down hair loves Stephen Black. He seems to appreciate beauty without any sexual connotation, given his equal interest in Arabella.
  • And I Must Scream: Lascelles is turned to porcelain and shattered by the gentleman for shooting Stephen. The detached shard of his mouth is still crying out when it is stepped on.
  • Animal Motifs: Ravens for the Raven King, obviously.
  • Another Dimension: Faerie, kept separate from Earth presumably by the Raven King. Hell is mentioned as another separate realm, with another realm beyond that where the Raven King possessed a third mysterious kingdom.
  • Anti-Hero: Norrell is an old-fashioned example; Strange is a Byronic one.
  • Arc Symbol: The raven in flight, the heraldic symbol of the Raven King. It is obviously more readily apparent in the BBC adaption than in text.
  • Arc Words: Vinculus's prophecy of the return of English magic in general, but particularly the phrase "the nameless slave".
  • Ax-Crazy: The gentleman with the thistle-down hair. Though being a fairy his moods shift wildly and he can sometimes be talked out of murder. Sometimes. Do not count on this.
  • Back from the Dead: Lady Pole's resurrection is a major event which has huge ramifications for the rest of the plot, of which only the first is Norrell making his name in the capital. Strange resurrects deceased soldiers with Black Magic, although they are rotting and he admits with mild horror that he doesn't know "how to make them dead again". Vinculus is also resurrected by the Raven King after being hanged, and it's implied the Raven King brings Childermass back after he is shot.
  • Badass Bookworm:
    • Jonathan Strange. He plays a vital role in Wellington's campaign, armed with nothing more than chests of books.
    • Norrell as well, although with more bookworm and less badass.
  • Be Careful What You Say: Norrell and Strange address "the nameless slave" in their spell, hoping to reach the Raven King. The spell finds Stephen Black instead.
  • The Beautiful Elite: The residents of Lost-Hope.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: The Gentleman states this is the case, to explain part of his regard for Stephen.
  • Big Bad: The gentleman with thistle-down hair
  • Big Good: The Raven King
  • Bittersweet Ending: Arabella, Lady Pole and Stephen are released from their enchantment, Stephen kills the gentleman with the thistle down hair and presumably becomes king of Lost-Hope, though how this fate plays out for him is unclear. Magic is fully restored to England. Strange and Norrell are trapped in the other realms, with Strange unsure if he can ever return to Arabella — though he gets a chance to say goodbye, and Childermass suggests that the Raven King's book may allow Strange and Norrell's return. Sir Walter and Lady Pole are estranged, despite the fact that he still loves her, since she refuses to remain in the country where she was held captive for so long.
  • Black Comedy: The gentleman with the thistle-down hair is built on this trope.
  • Black Magic: Strange practices some during the Napoleonic Wars, using it to raise slain Neapolitans from the dead as horrible, sapient zombies in order to get information from them. They are finally burned "alive" after the living soldiers are too creeped out to be around them and Strange spends a traumatic night unsuccessfully trying to reverse the spell.
  • Blood Magic: This is apparently the source of the magic Strange uses to raise the Neapolitan soldiers, though the details are unspecified. It seems to be an ancient and primeval kind of magic.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: In all his actions, the gentleman with the thistle-down hair is absolutely convinced that his beloved humans enjoy his games as much as he does. The idea that they are consistently horrified by their slavery on his account is so far removed from his own frame of reference that they just can't convey the notion to him.
  • Blue-Collar Warlock: Childermass and Vinculus act as interesting contrasts to Strange and Norrell, subverting Norrell's preference for respectable magic. The former is a servant, the latter is a beggar, and both have pasts as common criminals.
  • Book Ends: The last scene evokes the beginning of the first episode: Segundus entering the Starre Inn to study magic with York magicians.
  • Boring, but Practical: Strange's first act of magic during the war (that Wellington is enthusiastic about) is to create roads for the British soldiers to travel on. It's noted that Strange specifically has to get to know the common soldiers, and understand their needs and wants, in order to create magic that the army can actually use.
  • Boring Insult: Lady Pole says that the gentleman is a bore with unfashionable clothes and silly "thistledown hair". He becomes angry enough to try to kill her.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Norrell believes quite accurately that many of the ancient forms of magic are best left alone. But in the final chapter, Strange points out that a great many problems could have been avoided if he'd been willing to explain why instead of simply trying to sweep them under the rug as "unrespectable" and expecting everyone to blindly obey his every word. In addition, most of the story's major events are set in motion by Norrell performing some unrespectable magic and then trying to cover it up instead of taking responsibility for the consequences.
  • Brick Joke: Honeyfoot drives Childermass away from the asylum and Lady Pole by threatening him with a blunderbuss, which he later admits had been loaded with walnuts. During the finale, he once again takes up that gun, and fires it at the Gentleman, which accomplishes absolutely nothing, because the blunderbuss is still loaded with walnuts instead of something potentially dangerous.
  • Broken Pedestal: Norrell means well, but it doesn't change that fact that he's a secretive, mousy, banal and incredibly 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. Namely by 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.
  • The Caligula: The gentleman with the thistle-down hair. Just when you think he can't get more terrifying and degenerate, he'll surprise you - and Stephen - with some new misdeed.
  • Came Back Wrong: Lady Pole, although that's more the fault of the gentleman with the thistle-down hair constantly taking her away to Lost-Hope and enchanting her so she can't tell anyone about it - once Mr Segundus breaks the enchantment on her, she's fully back to her old self again.
  • Camp: Mr Drawlight, even more so than in the book.
  • Cards of Power: Childermass has a pack of magic tarot cards that he can use to read the future and divine truths, if he asks them the right questions.
  • Cassandra Truth: Vinculus, who alternates between giving true prophesies and being a charlatan. He also happens to be a walking prophecy nobody can read.
  • Changeling Tale: The Raven King is a straight example, but somewhat subverted in the bittersweet story of Stephen Black.
  • Character Development: Jonathan Strange changes the most out of all the characters, going from a foppish layabout, to a confident and hardened magician, to tortured and maddened widower. In the finale he becomes a resolute, mildly deranged and dangerous sorcerer, before recovering somewhat and acting more like his former self.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The spell for rejoining two objects that had once been part of a whole that Segundus unsuccessfully tried to cast at the very beginning of the story is used to replace Lady Pole's finger, freeing her from the Gentleman's power.
  • The Chessmaster: John Uskglass, the Raven King. It's implied that the whole plot of the story was set in motion by him to bring his plans to fruition.
  • The Chosen One: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, as prophesied by Vinculus. Although it's up for debate...
  • Clever Crows: The motif of the Chessmaster Raven King — although he's also decidedly Creepy.
  • Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: Drawlight and Lascelles are darker versions of this, profiting from being corrupt go-betweens for Norrell.
  • Comically Serious: The gentleman when he is not in a rage.
  • Composite Character: Major Grant combines his book counterpart with some aspects of Col. De Lancey (who also appears in the series) and Captain Whyte, essentially standing for every officer who is friendly to Strange before Wellington comes to accept him.
    • Shadow House (where Segundus and Mr. Honeyfoot first meet Jonathan Strange) and Starrecross Hall are merged into a single place to streamline the plot.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Mrs Delgado. Strange gives her what she wants most in exchange for the key to madness - he transforms her into a cat.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • The gentleman makes Lascelles' pistol misfire, then turns him into porcelain.
    • Most of the duel between Strange and Norrell consists of Norrell trying to run away.
  • Decadent Court: Lost-hope, and most of Faerie by extension.
  • Deal with the Devil: Norrell makes a deal with the gentleman with the thistle-down hair, to bring Lady Pole back from the dead in exchange for half the remaining years of her restored life. What he doesn't realise is that the Gentleman would take that time at present by imprisoning her in his Kingdom every night, rather than off the end of her life as Norrell assumes.
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • Jeremy Johns is killed during the Peninsular War.
    • Lascelle is killed by the Gentleman instead of being trapped in the fairy realm.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Arabella's apparent death, for Strange.
  • Dirty Coward: Drawlight, who bitterly admits to being afraid all the time after encountering Strange in Venice.
  • Disability Superpower: The mad can see and talk to fairies even without the use of magic, often granting them special favour.. When Strange realises the full implications of this, he willingly destroys his own sanity temporarily.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Stephen Black and Lady Pole are silenced and enslaved to the whims of the (very pale and aristocratic) gentleman with thistle-down hair, who fetishes both for their beauty, and Stephen for his exotic "nobility".
  • Driven to Suicide: Attempted by Lady Pole.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: This is done a lot, with characters often debating the relative merits of the various books.
  • Enemy Eats Your Lunch: Strange steals Drawlight's drink after he comes across the latter defrauding others in his name.
  • Enigmatic Minion: Norrell's "man of business" Childermass is loyal but shows a surprising (shocking, to some gentlemen) degree of autonomy, and his motives aren't quite clear. Lascelles accurately notes that Childermass always does things for his own reasons. He even learns a few spells secretly; it'd be hard not to, after working for a magician for over twenty years.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Henry Lascelles is a thoroughly unlikable Blood Knight, but he vehemently despises cowardice. However he has a rather idiotic view of what that entails.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: The Gentleman's plans start falling apart when he fails to realize that Strange isn't seeking an alliance with the fairies to gain power for its own sake, or to gain ascendancy over Norrell, but simply because he wants his wife back.
  • Exact Words: The gentleman technically tells the truth when he tells Strange that he cannot bring Arabella back from the dead, as she isn't actually dead. He could certainly return her to him though.
  • Extradimensional Emergency Exit: The feud between the two magicians begins to heat up earlier than the book when Strange angrily confronts Norrell at his house and gets hauled off to jail as a result. Facing stern prosecution, Strange realizes that the King's Roads are accessible not just through mirrors, but through any form of reflection - and promptly escapes his cell via a puddle on the floor.
  • 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 with the thistle-down hair even understood the concept that other people might have different opinions.
  • Fairy Companion: More common in the past than the novel's setting.
  • Fairy Godmother: The gentleman's interactions with Stephen Black can be considered a very dark deconstruction. Having an incredibly powerful being, with a set of customs and morality far removed from humanity's, intent on being your friend and champion is described as a hellish life.
  • False Friend: The gentleman's relationship toward Stephen Black, ruining his life and encouraging his resentment of Englishmen. Drawlight and Lascelles similarly drive away any possible influences on Norrell other than themselves, to his detriment.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The gentleman with the thistle-down hair.
  • Fisher King: After Strange loses Arabella, he goes through a severe depression and begins living in squalor. Once he properly destroys his own sanity on purpose, his house becomes a nightmarish lair.
  • Foil:
    • Strange and Norrell; Stephen and the gentleman with the thistle-down hair; Arabella Strange and Lady Pole.
    • Segundus and Honeyfoot are a two-man set of foils to Strange and Norrell: one young, enthusiastic and possibly with some latent magical talent; the other older, academically-minded and (by contract) rendered magically impotent by Norrell himself. By contrast, they are friendly and co-operative where the title characters are suspicious rivals, and by working together they achieve things they could not have managed alone. Honeyfoot even lampshades on hearing the two-magicians prophecy that "John Segundus and Mr. Honeyfoot" "sounds very well indeed!"
    • Segundus and Honeyfoot are also Those Two Guys foils to Drawlight and Lascelles, the former being decent, kind-hearted and genuinely supportive believers in magic to the latter's cynical, manipulative False Friends merely leeching off magicians to improve their own social standing.
  • Foreshadowing: Childermass has a vision predicting Vinuculus' hanging while he temporarily dies.
  • Friendless Background: A self-imposed one to some extent: the very awkward and introverted Norrell has isolated himself from all other magicians (to the point of actively preventing other people studying magic) and doesn't much like anyone else either.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Not exactly a friend as such, but Strange's approach to magic is distinguished from Norrell's by his inclination towards more primal, elemental magic, which often seems to involved communing with nature spirits. As per the book, this is how all magic is actually done.
  • Full-Contact Magic: Strange's casting style is very physical, most notably when he drives his hands into the mud to summon enemy-crushing fists at Waterloo.
  • Functional Magic: The form of magic practiced by Norrell and Strange, and particularly promoted by the former.
  • Genius Loci: Absolutely everything! Every single tree, river, stone and even odder things like the dawn or various winds. Strange and Norrell eventually manage to combine all this magic into the form of one person in an attempt to destroy the Gentleman.
  • Gentleman Wizard: See the page quote. The titular characters, as well as the magic societies, if you consider them wizards despite their not actually doing any magic. Magic is considered the realm of the idle gentry.
  • The Ghost: The Raven King is never seen until he finally has a short but impressive cameo in the final episode, where he paralyzes Childermass, brings Vinculus back to life, and then changes the text of Vinculus's "book" in the process. Strange and Norrell, who try to summon him, see him for only a moment before he disappears under his own magic.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: Strange and Norrell; neither is "good" in any conventional sense of the word. Norrell is extremely selfish, blunt and determined to be the only magician in England, while Strange is arrogant, impulsive and insists in meddling with darker forms of magic. They both oppose the gentleman with thistledown hair, who mostly acts out of (perceived) friendship and generosity, and is difficult to judge as evil by human standards due to his bizarre ethics.
  • Heartbroken Badass: Jonathan Strange becomes even more impressive when he believes Arabella is dead, intentionally losing his mind and becoming much more powerful.
  • Here There Were Dragons: At the story's opening, magic has faded from Britain (it's still studied, but not practiced) and great magicians and fairy servants are only a memory.
  • Human Notepad: Vinculus is covered (aside from his face and hands) in the prophecy of the Raven King. After it is fulfilled, it shifts into the magic book of the Raven King.
  • 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 and key to the climax of the story), 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. They manage to work around it by using a number of items significant to the Raven King as components of a spell simply asking for "The King", knowing that said items would only link to one specific king.
  • I Know Your True Name: A vital tool for precisely aiming magic at a target. Summoning and curses are two notable examples where knowing a name aids this. The gentleman's curse on Strange has the side-effect of targeting other English magicians since the faerie did not bother to name Strange in it. Norrell also notes that the Raven King may well have deliberately avoided taking a true name in England to avoid this. Also, the gentleman with the thistledown hair offers to tell Stephen Black the name his mother gave him, as a last effort to tempt Stephen not to kill him. He doesn't bite. (Interestingly, if he had, it's conceivable the magic would have deserted him, as it was focused on "the nameless slave".)
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Lady Pole
  • In Harmony with Nature: Apparently what separates the great magicians from the present novices.
  • The Ingenue: Both Emma and Arabella already have shades of this, but Flora Greysteel breathes the trope.
  • Insanity Immunity: The mad can see through cloaking spells.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Norrell is determined to stamp out magic beyond his control and which he does not approve of, and suppresses meaningful public access to magic. However magic is consistently shown as an incredibly dangerous and chaotic force, and if he had stuck to his principles and not summoned the gentleman, many characters' suffering would have been avoided.
    • In episode six, he calls out Lord Liverpool and Walter Pole for dictating to him about magic when he repeatedly warned them that Strange was becoming wilder and more dangerous, and instead of listening to him they encouraged Strange.
  • Karmic Death: Lascelles; the gentleman with thistle-down hair whose death ultimately ends up making Stephen into a King as he promised, and Lawrence Strange.
  • Kick the Dog: Mr Norrell's treatment of Arabella at the book auction; while she's in tears at having failed to buy even one of the magical books being auctioned for her husband because he's outbid her on every single one, he walks by with one of them in hand without so much as a word or glance for her. 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 that the British monarchy doesn't work that way, or at least not any more. But in the fairy world it does, so when Stephen kills the gentleman, he gets his kingdom.
  • Land of Faerie: Played with, as Strange hypothesizes that Faerie is more of a dimension than a homogeneous kingdom. We see only Lost-hope (one of many fairy kingdoms) and the land of the King's Roads, but others are mentioned in passing and Strange and Norrell seem to be trapped in yet another at the end.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia:
    • Mr. Segundus can't clearly remember his visit to Mr. Norrell's.
    • Childermass can't remember his encounter with the Raven King.
  • Last-Name Basis: As would be expected of the period, most characters are known exclusively by their surname.
  • Literally Shattered Lives: Lascelles is turned into porcelain, falls apart, and is then stepped on.
  • Locked into Strangeness: Lady Pole is turning prematurely grey by the fourth episode, most likely due to the stress of her predicament.
  • Loophole Abuse: Lady Pole thinks of an ingenious way to work around the spell that prevents her speaking or writing of her magical predicament: she creates a tapestry out of her dresses, showing her, the gentleman and Stephen Black at Lost-Hope. Sadly Norrell's efforts ensure that Mrs Strange does not get the chance to truly comprehend it and write about it to her husband.
  • The Magic Comes Back: courtesy of Strange, or possibly the Raven King via Strange.
  • Magic Mirror: Averted, although mirrors are associated in-universe with magic, and they are used in several spells.
  • Magic Realism
  • Make a Wish: The gentleman grants this to Strange in a binding contract, although he refuses for selfish reasons to grant the first request. He asks for Arabella to be resurrected.
  • Meaningful Name: Stephen Black. Stephen means crown, a motif associated with the character.
  • Monkey Morality Pose: The pose itself doesn't appear, but in the final confrontation, the Gentleman uses magic to vanish Segundus' mouth, detach Honeyfoot's ears, and blind Sir Walter Pole.
  • Mysterious Past:
    • The Raven King, who was abducted by fairies as a child and somehow managed to become both their king and a magician bordering on Physical God.
    • Also Childermass. We don't even know why he puts up with being Norrell's servant, though he implies that it's something to do with his own desire to restore English magic and ensure that it is not dominated by one man's opinions. See Enigmatic Minion.
  • Mythology Gag: The gentleman is outraged when his hair is insulted as looking like thistledown, as it is always described in the book.
    • The gentleman inflicts Honeyfoot with a spell to make his ears fly away, which is mentioned as performed by young girls in the book.
  • Name and Name: Lampshaded by Mr. Honeyfoot, at first saying that "John Segundus and Mr. Honeyfoot" is a good name for a partnership, but later acknowledging that "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" sounds even better.
  • Narcissist: One of the gentleman's defining characteristics, perhaps even distinguishing him from other faeries.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: All throughout the book.
    • Norrell's summoning of the gentleman with the thistle-down hair, leading to Lady Pole and Stephen Black becoming enchanted.
    • Strange deciding to use Black Magic during the war, simply to get some information on some rather unimportant cannons.
  • No Name Given:
    • The gentleman with the thistle-down hair.
    • The author has stated that her intention was for the Raven King to have No Name Given, but in the end this was played with as he has many names, though arguably, none are his "true name" but rather universally nicknames or titles.
  • 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 Jonathan Strange, John Segundus, John Childermass and John Uskglass. There's also Henry Woodhope and Henry Lascelles.
  • One to Million to One: How the Raven King materialises and travels.
  • 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. Childermass is a proud Northerner, and tries to little avail to encourage this trait in fellow Yorkshireman Norrell.
  • Order Versus Chaos: The conservative Norrell represents order, with the more likeable 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 repellent personality and heavy-handed methods Norrell's viewpoint is shown to have merit: magic is dangerous and should be handled with care. The one time Norrell employs less predictable faerie magic causes untold misery for others.
    • There is also a linked theme of reason versus madness. Strange deliberately goes mad for a long while to gain deeper insight.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: They have incredible magical powers, due to being able to commune directly with the landscape, and are also nigh-immortal. General racial characteristics include capriciousness, laziness and vanity.
  • Out-of-Character Moment: The Gentleman loses all composure when Strange visits Lost-Hope uninvited, and angrily unleashes the full extent of his magic to the point of collapse.
  • Perception Filter: How the gentleman's spells of concealment appear to work, as mad people can see straight through them. Strange can sense something is there, and hears muffled snippets of the gentleman's conversation with Stephen Black, which the gentleman finds intriguing.
  • Pet the Dog: In contrast to his father's Kick the Dog callousness, Jonathan's first instinct on opening the door to the study is to tend to the collapsed servant.
  • Playing with Fire: Strange summons fireballs displaying his image to frighten Norrell.
  • 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 - though Strange is both aware of it, grumbling repeatedly about how they have a fraction of the knowledge and power, and getting much closer to it towards the end.
  • Power Born of Madness: Insanity has several advantages to a magician, which Strange weaponises, however there are other methods that don't require actual madness.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The series ties the main plot, the plight of Lady Pole and Stephen, and Vinculus quest closer together to streamline the story, while cutting out unnecessary detail. The Stranges' marriage also receives closer focus, in order to give a heart to the plot.
  • Prophecy Twist: Doubly subverted. At first, it's quite clear that "the nameless slave" is Stephen Black, until Vinculus flat-out tells Black that the line refers to the Raven King. But when Norrell and Strange attempt to use this moniker to contact the Raven King, the spell accidentally (or possibly not at all accidentally considering the Raven King's apparent proclivity for the Gambit Roulette) finds Stephen instead. Similarly, it's ambiguous whether the prophesy about two magicians returning magic to England refers to Strange and Norrell or Vinculus and Childermass or possibly both sets of individuals, although Strange and Norrell unsurprisingly believe the former.
  • Psycho Serum: Strange deliberately drinks essentially distilled madness, out of the logic that since lunatics can see fairies without relying on the fairies revealing themselves, 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 allows Strange to see past the glamour, to the gentleman's great shock.)
  • The Quiet One: The Raven King does not speak.]]
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Drawlight and Lascelles, too.
  • Religion is Magic: Throwaway lines indicate that religion shares some characteristics with magic. Hell apparently exists as another realm, though Heaven isn't mentioned.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: Lady Pole's enchantment by the gentleman is not fool-proof, as Segundus and Honeyfoot coach her through working around her silencer. Segundus asks her to talk generally about her predicament, leading her to babble on about folk stories more relevant to her condition: namely humans making deals with faeries that lead to others' suffering. Honeyfoot figures out that the stories she tells are altered versions of folktales: the stories from faeries' perspectives. Combined with Segundus' magical senses and Childermass' aid, they realise what has occurred.
  • Ritual Magic: The most common form seen, and certainly Norrell's preference.
  • Sanity Slippage: Strange, deliberately. He makes efforts to keep this slippage contained, and still maintain the necessary sanity to follow through with his task.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Strange is adversely affected by his second war, particularly having to kill a man with magic (and also, in a sense, with his own bare hands).
  • Shout-Out: According to Lady Poole's absent comments, being in the middle of her embroidery project, the Faeiries have children only to have them on hand whenever they need to pay their tithe to Hell. As mentioned in Tam Lin.
  • Signature Move: The Raven King's Chaos of Ravens, where he creates a flock of ravens from nearby objects or thin air as a weapon or to announce his presence.
  • Single Tear: Norrell sheds one at the end of Episode 4 after he and Strange have broken off their collaboration. He sheds another one in Episode 6 when reading Strange's book right before he makes all but one copy disappear.
    • The Gentleman has a tear running down his face after he curses Strange and collapses from exhaustion.
  • Smug Snake: Lascelles, very much so.
  • Smug Super: The gentleman with thistle-down hair considers himself superior to Strange and Norrell due to his greater magical powers. This leads directly to his downfall when Strange accidentally outsmarts him.
  • Socially Awkward Hero: Norrell dresses well, wears a wig (albeit an old-fashioned one) and is able to conduct himself in polite society, but is entirely incapable of conveying his plans to people. He has a habit of going into long, exceedingly boring historical anecdotes and does not even care whether or not his audience is interested. It takes many months for him to even realise that most people do not believe in practical magic and that he needs to actually show them a spell in order to convince them. Drawlight and Lascelles first discover him behind a bookcase, engrossed in literature, at a party thrown in his own honour and take it upon themselves to become his social proxies.
  • The Sociopath: A likely interpretation of Lascelles, as he acts impulsively and violently, cares only for his own interests, and is capable of only superficial charm.
  • Spell Book: Many, both books about magic and books of magic. Norrell is hoarding the latter, on the grounds that magic is very dangerous, but also out of a love of study and a jealous fear that others would learn and surpass him. As events show, his fears can be valid.
  • Squishy Wizard: Possibly defied by Vinculus: he boasts vaguely of being "very hard to kill". He is killed, apparently with no unusual effort, but is brought back to life. Also by Childermass, who braves danger and goes through physical violence and pain with stoicism.
  • Stalker with a Crush: The gentleman with the thistle-down hair, to Stephen Black. It's unknown if his love is romantic in a conventional sense or simply beyond human understanding. He makes frequent comments about Stephen's attractiveness, but then it's heavily implied that as one of The Beautiful Elite (and a dark parody of aristocracy), attractiveness and gentility are almost all he cares about.
  • Stealth Pun: The general who dubs his right-hand magician "Merlin"? That semi-mythical English leader, Arthur Wellesley.
  • 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. Magic all comes down to making requests of genius loci (trees; rivers; stones...). Some Aureate magicians cultivated friendships with genius loci; most English magicians make indirect use of the Raven King's treaties and alliances instead.
  • Summon Magic: How one deals with faeries. This can be very productive due to faeries' natural affinity for magic. However it is extremely dangerous and requires diplomacy, cunning and reputation to use effectively.
  • Supernatural Sensitivity: One of the few magical abilities that can emerge with no training when magic is in its dormancy. Childermass and Segundus (the latter had no training whatsoever) almost faint when in the presence of strong magic.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: The Raven King, and many of his fairy warriors. Jonathan Strange, who in the series has dark hair, unlike his book counterpart who has reddish hair, especially after Arabella's supposed death, when he starts wearing long black robes. Childermass is also tall and dark but snarky rather than good-looking. All of them get bonus points for having long hair and wearing long black coats.
    • It should be noted that magicians are expected to be Tall, Dark, and Snarky. One reason Strange is more popular than Norrell is because he fits the classic image of a magician — particularly in mourning for his wife when he goes full Byronic Hero.
  • Taught by Experience: It is one of Strange's motivations to go to war, so he has the chance to practice new kinds, and one of the reasons he becomes more powerful than Norrell.
  • Technical Pacifist: Strange is reluctant to kill with magic, as one of his more famous quotes illustrates. Yet he is perfectly happy to use magic to aid others in killing by mundane means.
  • Technician vs. Performer: Another contrast between Strange and Norrell, highlighted in their spells at Portsmouth.
    • Norrell (the technician) whispers some spells, and then declares the coast defended against foreign invasion, with no visible change.
    • Strange (the performer) pulls a stranded ship free by animating the shoal Horse Sand into actual horses made of sand, and galloping them into the side of the ship to right it, impressing the onlookers hugely.
  • Teleportation Sickness: Childermass experiences this when Lady Pole is around, causing him (or his perceptions) to travel between this world and Faerie. Segundus suffers similar episodes, indicating that they have naturally strong magical senses.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: Lady Pole's attempt to indicate her enchantment by means of embroidery.
  • 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: Honeyfoot and Segundus.
  • Title Drop: Honeyfoot does this in the second episode.
  • Took a Level in Badass: The heartbreak of his wife's supposed 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 badass.
  • True Love's Kiss: Strange releases Arabella from her enchantment with The Big Damn Kiss, appropriately for a fairy tale.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Lascelles is incapable of perceiving just how dangerous Childermass is, partly because he refuses to think of the lower classes in a favourable light, and because of his own inflated ego. Lascelles does pin Childermass to a wall and cut his face but only because the latter let him in order to pick his pocket.
  • Unknown Rival: Strange to the gentleman. Strange only becomes the gentleman's nemesis when he accidentally discovers Arabella at Lost-hope.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Strange, by comparison to Norrell. He lacks Norrell's vast knowledge, but he's far more intuitive, imaginative and better at improvising. By the penultimate episode Norrell admits that he probably can't beat Strange. When they confront one another in the final episode, despite Strange being fairly near death, exhausted, desperate and mad, he easily has Norrell on the run.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: John Segundus sets practically the entire plot in motion. Who knew the desire to learn why magic was gone from England would cause so much trouble? Or possibly it all came about by the Raven King's design...
  • The Very Definitely Final Dungeon: The Library at Hurtfew.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Norrell, compared to Strange. He's nowhere near as strong, but he's far, far more knowledgeable.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Strange, who is looking for respect from someone: he doesn't get it from his father, he doesn't really get it from Norrell, Wellington's approval is muted, and even Arabella doubts him at first. When the soldiers all but salute him near the end of episode three, his expression shows how much it means to him.
  • Wham Episode: "Arabella", in which the Gentleman spirits her away while faking her death.
  • Wham Line: In the mini-series: "Someone is doing magic here." With that line, and with what follows, Childermass reveals that not only can he sense magic, but perform it as well, much to Drawlight and Lascelles' bewilderment.
  • White Hair, Black Heart: The gentleman with the thistle-down hair.
  • Wild Magic: Implied to be the true form of magic. All of the more ritualised forms humans use may just be the wild magic of the natural world summoned under the treaties of the Raven King.
  • 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 possibly Strange weren't insane (the jury is out on Strange) when they performed their greatest feats of magic, and neither were the Aureate magicians of the time of the Raven King.


Video Example(s):


Jonathan Strange At Waterloo

Employed as a magician by Lord Wellington, Jonathan Strange (AKA Merlin) uses his powers in the Battle of Waterloo - both for defence and attack.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / MilitaryMage

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