Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Susanna Clarke
Two magicians shall appear in England. The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me The year is 1806. England is beleaguered by the long war with Napoleon, and centuries have passed since practical magicians faded into the nation's past. But scholars of this glorious history discover that one remains: the reclusive Mr Norrell whose displays of magic send a thrill through the country. Proceeding to London, he raises a beautiful woman from the dead and summons an army of ghostly ships to terrify the French. Yet the cautious, fussy Norrell is challenged by the emergence of another magician: the brilliant novice Jonathan Strange. Young, handsome and daring, Strange is the very opposite of Norrell. So begins a dangerous battle between these two great men which overwhelms the one between England and France. And their own obsessions and secret dabblings with the dark arts are going to cause more trouble than they can imagine.


Tolkien's aim in creating the world of 'The Lord of the Rings' was to create a mythology for England, one he felt was lacking. Susanna Clarke's book delivers, whether wittingly or not, a similar result with actually greater sophistication and recognition of social realities (compare the relationship of Childermass and Mr Norrell to that of Sam Gamgee and Frodo Baggins). A book of landscapes as much as of people, Clarke's story impresses on the reader the greater possibility of the land's endurance at a time of historically rapid industrial revolution than does Tolkien's rawer almost mystical depiction of befouled nature. Though haunted, Clarke's world possesses a greater hope than Tolkien's, whose obsession with a spiritual 'Long Defeat' leads to sentimentality and wishful thinking. Clarke's humour is also exquisitely dry, whereas Tolkien's is capering and simple
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