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Thursday, August 9, 2007

Two Magicians, er, make that three

So I'm still reading this (behemoth) novel I started on vacation (though I'll probably finish it this evening): Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It's set mostly in England, in the mid 1800s and the two title characters are practical (as opposed to theoretical or academic) magicians.

They may as well be poets. (In fact, Clarke does set them up as literary rivals, squabbling over articles and headlines, commissions and laurels, and hoarding important rare books.) While they both hope to restore English Magic to its former glory and popularity, they are very much at odds about how to do that. Norrell is traditional and conservative, and also happens to be controlling, hypocritical, shrill, and extremely arrogant, willingly hurting others for his own gain. Strange takes a more experimental approach to magic, and is portrayed as a better, though still flawed, fellow: he's heroic in wartime, socially charming, well dressed, a generous mentor and teacher, etc. He also happens to be an arrogant prick, but his abuse of others tends to take the form of neglect rather than malice. As Strange (who's been taught/apprenticed by Norrell) gains in skill and reputation, the inevitable rebellion and break-up occurs right on schedule, and he publishes a hotly anticipated book, overturning all of his old teacher's opinions. The elder magician suppresses it (making copies disappear, enchanting them so they appear blank, and finally buying and destroying all the remaining stock), naturally. Norrell takes on no more pupils. Strange takes on several. Because the theoretical magicians and public at large are confused: when there are only *two* magicians in England, and they do not agree, how can we know which person is correct?!

I also read this in Maine & found it to be wholly awesome. And I started a certain 7 vol. kidult series too, finally. Bloom's remark that it's not really reading or dumbed-down is fucking retarded. (So far I still like P. Pullman better, but I've got 6 more to go.)

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