In the Fall of 2015, the Mythgard Academy and Signum University President Dr. Corey Olsen will be taking an in-depth look at Susanna Clarke’s modern tale of Victorian magic: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.
Coming off the recent popularity of the BBC miniseries adaptation, this is a great time to delve into a book that has become something of a classic in a relatively short amount of time. First published in 2004, this is by far the most recent book that we’ve looked at in the Mythgard Academy series. Dr. Olsen will be forced to dust off and re-don his Modern Fantasy cap (it’s slightly less pointy than older fantasy caps).
As with all of our Mythgard Academy seminars, the discussions are open to anyone and everyone, with no payment required. We reserve 100 spots on a first-come basis for each live session, and every session both video and audio recordings of the sessions will be available on this web page, through the Mythgard podcast feed, and on our iTunes U course.
This series is made possible by the generosity of everyone who supported our fundraising campaign last fall. The topics of our Academy discussions are nominated and elected entirely by our generous donors. So far this year we’ve adventured through the land of Florin in The Princess Bride and studied two volumes of The History of Middle-earth series: The Book of Lost Tales, Part II and The Lays of Beleriand. Now, the Mythgard Academy electors – also known as the Council of the Wise – have deemed Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell to be our next doom.
For those who would like to be on the Council that chooses the books we will look at in the upcoming year, our fundraising campaign will begin on Sept. 22 (also known as Hobbit Day). As always, you can visit our donation page at any time to help support our efforts at providing free, high-quality studies of speculative fiction!
– Dr. Corey Olsen
To help students support each other, Mythgard provides the following interaction opportunities:
- A live chatroom is available where you can converse with other participants in real time. (Click the big “CHAT HERE” button at the bottom right corner of this page.)
- Also, we have a free forum open to all participants, where you can discuss topics related to this or any of our Mythgard activities. (Registration required.)
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is available from Amazon and many other outlets.
Note: The live seminar is over. However, you can still watch and listen to the discussions below, or find it on iTunes.
Week 1: The Discovery of English Magic
In the first session, we discuss the intricacy of Susanna Clarke’s subcreation, examining how she creates the “impression of depth” through her fidelity to the style and tone of 19th century British literature and through the detailed presentation of a convincing alternative history. Special attention is paid to the book’s presentation of magic, the treatment of Færie, and the introduction of the staid and miserly Mr. Norrell.
Week 2: Perspectives on English Magic
In week 2, we discuss the dramatic discrepancy between how London society actually views magic and how Mr. Norrell wishes them to see it. In doing so, we explore Mr. Norrell’s first meetings with characters such as Mr. Drawlight, Sir Walter Pole, Captain Harcourt-Bruce, and the Gentleman with the Thistle-down Hair and their varied reactions to both Norrell and his proposed revival (or redefinition) of English magic.
Week 3: The Emancipation of English Magic
In Week 3, we explore the role of the abolition movement and the theme of emancipation in the novel’s subtext and in adding depth to the character of Stephen Black. We also take a look at the character and motivations of the Gentleman with the Thistle-down Hair, the resurrection of Lady Pole, and the prophecy given by street magician Vinculus.
Week 4: The Growth of English Magic
In week 4, we discuss the role of Vinculus and his book, and take a detailed look at his interactions with Childermass in the Tarot card reading episode. In addition, we are finally introduced to the eponymous Jonathan Strange and explore the odd presentation of his backstory via the perplexing tale of his father Lawrence Strange’s vendetta against the servant Jeremy Johns.
Week 5: The Digestion of English Magic
In Week 5, Jonathan Strange meets the emphatically practical Lord Wellington and performs questionable magic on the Iberian peninsula. We also discuss how Mr. Norrell shows his most endearing qualities just as he sinks to his most petty and selfish depths.
Week 6: The Dispute Over English Magic
In Week 6, we find surprising sympathy with Mr. Norrell and the Gentleman with the Thistle-down Hair. Jonathan Strange travels the King’s Roads and becomes ever more enchanted with Faerie and the magic of the Raven King, while Mr. Norrell gives new perspective on his reasons for resisting them. Finally, we look at the Gentleman’s admiration of Stephen and his special relationship with nature.
Week 7: The Boundaries of English Magic
In Week 7, we question whether the Raven King is the true protagonist of the novel, and examine the trajectory swap of Strange and Norrell which pivots around his magic. In addition, we explore the Gentleman’s seduction and capture of Arabella, the increasingly porous borders between the human realm and Faerie, and the incident of Childermass’ shooting.
Note: Daylight Savings Time for 2015 ends on Nov. 1 in the U.S. This may cause a shift in time of the discussion for listeners in other countries starting on Week 8.
Week 8: The Madness of English Magic
In Week 8, we discuss the increasingly complex relationship between madness and magic, the hilariously intertextual role of Lord Byron, and the glory and burden of Stephen Black.
Week 9: The King of English Magic
In Week 9, we return to the fundamental question: “Just what is English magic?” We also look at the fates of Drawlight and Lascelles, the importance of Segundus and Childermass, and explore the aptly-named Starecross Hall.
Week 10: The Return of English Magic
In our final discussion of the book, we finish Susanna Clarke’s novel and take a close look at the story’s bittersweet and strange ending. Particular attention is paid to the conflict between the Raven King and the Gentleman, the destiny of Stephen Black, and the fates of Strange and Norrell.
Week 11: The Adaptation of English Magic, Part 1
Week 12: The Adaptation of English Magic, Part 2
Week 13: The Adaptation of English Magic, Part 3
Week 14: The Adaptation of English Magic, Part 4
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