Harry Potter for Adults ; Two Scholars Try to Help England Defeat Napoleon with Magic - and Almost Destroy Themselves

By Charles, Ron | The Christian Science Monitor, August 31, 2004 | Go to article overview

Harry Potter for Adults ; Two Scholars Try to Help England Defeat Napoleon with Magic - and Almost Destroy Themselves


Charles, Ron, The Christian Science Monitor


The prospect of having to read an 800-page novel billed as "Harry Potter for adults" was enough to make this weary book critic pine for an invisibility cloak. But for those of you who, like me, can't endure another charmless opening at the Dursleys', take heart: "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" is no Harry Potter knockoff. It's altogether original - far closer to Dickens than Rowling. In fact, I'm so in love with Susanna Clarke's debut novel that I must have been beaned on the head with a golden snitch. Its appearance on the Booker longlist last week adds a nice flourish to the launch.

Clarke has concocted a thoroughly enchanting story of the early 19th century when Gilbert Norrell tried to bring "practical magic" back to England. The book looks like one of those omnivorous tomes that couldn't bare to drop a single passage, but it reads like a distillation of some far larger body of work, a mere sliver of what it could have included.

And the elaborate structure of footnotes is just as enjoyable as the main story. In Clarke's wry, slightly arch tone, they provide faux bibliographic references and fill out England's magical history with myths and legends of the Raven King, who once ruled both human and faerie kingdoms.

The scene opens in 1806, when the theoretical magicians of York are content to study magic rather than do it. "Our time is past," they concede. In fact, "they did not want to see magic done; they only wished to read about it in books."

When they get word that their reclusive neighbor Mr. Norrell claims to be a "practicing" magician, they take offense - or assume he's mad. But Norrell makes a bargain with them, promising to demonstrate his skill if they'll agree to give up studying magic forever.

This, it turns out, is a telling proposal. He's a proud, jealous man, animated by contradictory desires. "Within Mr. Norrell's dry little heart there was," Clarke writes, "an ambition to bring back magic to England." And yet, at every step, he designs ways to control it, restrict access to it, and keep himself its sole practitioner. He buys up every magic book in England, hoarding them in his vast libraries. He publishes a magazine that discredits anyone else who claims to practice magic, and he insists on rewriting English history to repress any record of the Raven King.

Mr. Norrell is a wonderfully odd character in what's practically an encyclopedia of wonderfully odd characters. He's ominous and imperious, and yet helpless and fretful. After agonizing over the prospect of leaving his scholar's haunt and its blessed privacy, he moves to London to promote the cause, but he's so chronically boring and socially inept that "London found him disappointing," Clarke writes. "He did no magic, cursed no one, foretold nothing."

Finally, desperate to attract attention, he employs the services of two insufferable dandies who decorate his house and engineer his social engagements with a kind of gaudy flourish entirely at odds with his personality.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Harry Potter for Adults ; Two Scholars Try to Help England Defeat Napoleon with Magic - and Almost Destroy Themselves
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.