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 "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."


Susanna Clarke's highly acclaimed novel about magicians and fairies in alternate Britain 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. 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 ...

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.
  • Anti-Hero: Strange (type III/IV), Norrell (type I), and Childermass (type II/III) qualify, in slightly different ways.
  • As You Know: Many of the footnotes reference facts "everyone" knows about the history of British magic.
  • 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.
  • Badass Bookworm: Jonathan Strange.
  • The Beautiful Elite: The fairies.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: The Gentleman states this is the case to explain part of his regard for Stephen.
    • Subverted: Though he is inarguably kind, well-meaning, and generally a decent person, Jonathan Strange is described as average looking at best by most everyone in the book.
  • 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 ...
  • 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.
  • 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 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 Caligula: The gentleman with thistle-down hair.
  • 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 Fantasy: The Raven King is a straight example, but somewhat subverted in the bittersweet story of Stephen Black.
  • The Chessmaster: John Uskglass aka the Raven King.
  • 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.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Mrs Delgado.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Childermass manages to avoid most of the idiot balls being juggled by being the only one to act as if he's ever read a classic fairy story/ChangelingFantasy.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Lascelles usually fulfills this function.
    • As does Childermass.
  • Deadly Decadent Court: Lost-hope, and most of Faerie by extension.
  • Deal with the Devil: Norrell makes a deal with the Gentleman to bring Lady Pole back from the dead in exchange for half the remaining years of her restored life. What he doesn't realize, is that the Gentleman will take that time at present by imprisoning her in his Kingdom during the night rather than off the end of her life as Norrell assumes.
  • Disc One Final Boss: The French army and eventually Norrell for Jonathan Strange.
  • Doorstopper: 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.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The gentleman with thistle-down hair.
  • Fictional Colour: The gentleman with thistle-down hair puts Lady Pole's little finger in a box that is the 'color of heartache'
  • Fisher King: After Stephen Black kills the Gentleman, he restores beauty and order to the Gentleman's kingdom of Lost-hope.
  • Footnote Fever: And how! Some pages are actually more footnote than novel.
  • Fundamentally Funny Fruit: The Jaywalking part of the Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking of Strange's visions in Venice. Some of them are truly horrifying, of people with hollow faces and candles inside them. And then Strange starts to see pineapples everywhere to the point of this becoming a Running Gag.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Ho Yay: A surprising lack of it in fandom, given that the two title characters apparently spend the rest of their lives never able to be more than half an acre from each other, and Strange is apparently mostly fine with having to leave his wife while being in this situation and that Childermass will spend the rest of his life staring intently at Vinculus' naked body. Presumably the unsexiness of both Norrell and Vinculus would explain that. Also, the gentleman with the thistle-down hair and his ... attachment to Stephen.
    • Lascelles and Drawlight. Lascelles practically comes out to Mr. Woodhope, then insinuates that Woodhope is in love with Strange.
  • I Have Many Names: The Raven King, aka John Uskglass, aka the Black King of the North, aka "the nameless slave" (ironically), 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 ... something that Strange and Norrell experience first-hand.
  • 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.
  • Idiot Ball: Given that Norrell knows all too well the danger of consorting with fairies and ought to expect them to be LiteralGenies who run on Exact Words, he's very prone to forgetting this when the plot requires.
    • He didn't forget, he was desperate and pushed into making a deal when he normally would never work with faeries. Also he was on the lookout for Literal Genie tricks and just wasn't talented enough to spot it.
    • As are Strange with regards to his wife, the British government with regards to magic, and to be honest most of the cast at one point or another.
    • But Lady Pole wins for trying to tell everyone about her enchantment except Strange, who as a magician is the most likely both to realize what's happening and to be able to do something about it, who is a rival to the magician who (indirectly) put the enchantment on her, and whose wife is her best friend.
    • How about Drawlight? He has several noteworthy moments but truly earns it when he meets with a man who hates him in the middle of nowhere, notices that said man has not brought a horse for him but that he does have two pistols, yet still yields to the man's suggestion that they go off into the trees where no one can see them so they can "talk".
  • 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.
  • Insubstantial Ingredients
  • It's All About Me: The gentleman with the thistle-down hair.
  • Karmic Death: Lascelles, though his was more of a Karmic Fate Worse Than Death and Lawrence Strange.
  • Karma Houdini: Norrell. His usual Jerkass tendencies aside, he magically destroyed all the copies of Strange's book. Earlier, it was mentioned that a man was hanged for book-murder. Norrell has seemingly committed many, many counts of a capital crime, but despite ticking off enough of Strange's friend to the point where they're considering a duel, Norrell is never prosecuted for anything more serious than common theft or fraud.
  • Kick the Dog: 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.
  • Lemony Narrator
  • The Magic Comes Back: The main point of the book.
  • 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. See Enigmatic Minion.
  • No Name Given: The gentleman with the thistle-down hair.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • However, Norrell's cautiousness leads to him being ignorant of true magic. He can't talk to the trees, the stones, or the water directly and instead relies on convoluted, messy written spells.
      • The same can be said for Strange until the end of the book, and Norrell's public views (which is what the reader usually sees) are considerably different from his real views. It's entirely plausible that Norrell understands "true" magic and if not Strange will tell him.
    • This is an underlying theme of the book. Besides Norrell and Strange's relationship, there is also the struggle between Reason and Madness which is emphasized many times during the novel. And, at one point, Strange goes mad.
  • 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.
  • Poisonous Friend: The Gentleman's relationship toward Stephen Black.
  • 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.
  • Prophecy Twist
  • 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.
  • Ravens and Crows
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.
  • Shewn Their Work: 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).
  • Smug Snake: Lascelles, very much so.
  • Spell Book: Many, both books about magic and books of magic. Norrell is hoarding the latter.
  • Tall, Dark and Handsome: The Raven King, and many of his fairy warriors. 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.
  • 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 Badass. 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.
  • Wham! Episode: The final chapter of book two: "Arabella".
  • 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.
  • X Meets Y: The book has been described as "J.R.R. Tolkien meets Jane Austen", "Harry Potter for Adults", or "Harry Potter for History Buffs".
  • 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.
  • A Year and a Day: The Raven King vanished for that long, once.