It was about ten years ago when I found the book “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” on the shelf of a book store. It was one of those 3 Volume-Set editions, which were not for sale individually. Quite a beautiful set that caught my attention – it also includes some illustrations done by Portia Rosenberg – and turning it around and reading the summary made me buy it without knowing anything more about it.
From the very first page it touched me, to see this society called “Friends of English Magic” coming together and getting confronted with the appearance of someone who is capable of performing real magic was told with humour and enough fantasy elements to keep me hooked.
The story starts in the beginning of the 19th century, where we first meet the members of this Society of Gentlemen Magicians and how they come into contact with Mr. Norrell, a man who says about himself that he can perform real magic. In an old church in York he proves what he is capable of and later decides to go to London, where he meets different people from the noble society. Not much is given about his magic until he performs a miracle – he revives the dead wife of Sir Pole with the help of a Fairie.
Parallel to this we learn of the existence of another magician in England, one who hasn’t got the slightest clue that he was even able to perform magic. All this happens due to the situation that a prophecy is told to him and he starts giving it a try. Successfully as it later turns out. One day he finds out about Mr. Norrell and asks to be his pupil, which after a small performance of power is agreed upon.
Later in the story we learn more of the wicked ways the summoned fairy is after, we see how the partnership between Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell changes more and more into rivalry and find out about the Raven King and his position within English Magic.
The TV show that was released earlier this year follows straight in the foot steps of the book and many thanks to the script of Peter Harness and the production of Toby Haynes this adaptation to the small screen was done with heart. The actors are very well chosen, they looked very close to what I had in mind when I read the book, the interior of the rooms, the buildings and the streets where made with much love to details. Many shots were pictures of art.
The story that was taken has been changed wherever necessary and put into seven chapters that can nearly be seen individually. The fact that the book has much to offer came as an advantage, many characters that can be played on the small screen, used and taken into account. Wonderful how the dialogues between all the characters were done.
What I loved about the book and what was accomplished in the show was that both main characters were quite difficult to describe as opponents. The fact that both acted most of the time out of reason and / or emotion made them vulnerable, good and evil in all possible ways. In the end you didn’t want to decide who is the villain or the hero, to take side of one of those characters says more about you than about them.
I read that book and after I finished it I found it quite difficult to recommend it to others. Mostly because I loved it but it had so much fantasy elements that were not common in this genre. Magicians that were not able to perform magic, than one magician appears and his magic is far from being spectacular (in a common sense). But I found myself being wrong more than once. People I recommended it to also fell in love with the book, bought it by themselves, some even after they read the one I borrowed them.
Just in case – you have nothing in thesis holidays to do, only looking for something to watch or to read I can tell you this – book and show are highly recommended, especially in the holidays.