Pop Between Realities, Home in Time for Tea: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

(282 comments)

I’m not going to faff about pretending the justification for this involves Peter Harness’s chances of someday showrunning Doctor Who. I mean, I’d obviously love if that happened, but I don’t expect it (or think that we’re in a place to talk about who should succeed Chibnall yet anyway). No, the reason I’m picking this as our stopover reality between Last Christmas and the start of Series Nine is more idiosyncratic: having declared Harness’s debut the best Doctor Who story ever, I feel obliged to keep a bit of track of his work. 

Anyway, this provides an interesting counterpoint to The Game. Like that series, it is an attempted breakout series that didn’t quite work out. It was announced at about the same time as The Game, and went into production two months later. And like The Game, it lingered around not being released for a curiously long time. Its fate wasn’t quite ignominious—instead of getting pre-empted by BBC America and then demoted to BBC Two, it stayed on BBC One but got burned off over the summer—but it was still visibly allowed to fail. To some extent, the same reason applies for both series, which is that they were commissioned in the latter days of Ben Cohen’s time as BBC One controller and then inherited by his successor who deprioritized them in favor of things she commissioned—a fate suffered by countless films and series at countless companies.

But The Game was also a legitimate turkey, whereas Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a fantastic, high-quality adaptation of the sort that the BBC is renowned for. It’s not flawless—it’s a back-loaded series whose last couple episodes are brilliant but whose first two are dominated by patient scene-setting, a problem that explains how it burnt off two of its four-and-a-half million viewers after the frist episode. But it’s solid at its worst and brilliant at its best, and spends more time being the latter than the former. Where The Game disappeared into oblivion, this has maintained a perfectly respectable afterlife on streaming services and was more to the point well-reviewed even at the time. 

Perhaps more to the point, it is television that actually feels like it belongs to the 2010s. Although clearly rooted in the angst of two white men, it’s deeply interested in women and minorities. The series consistently focuses on the way in which the people who most often pay the cost of the feud between Strange and Norrell are those on the margins of society, most obviously Lady Pole, Arabella, Stephen, all of whom become prisoners of faerie because of the two magicians’ actions. Its resolution reiterates this point, declaring Strange and Norrell to be essentially irrelevant and focusing instead on those characters and a couple members of the poor and working class. 

There are limits to this approach; it’s still anchored by the titular magicians. It fleshes out the people in the margins, but they remain marginal. Yes, there is a measure of historical accuracy to this—white men dominated the 18th century. More importantly, their marginalization is part of the story this is trying to tell—the book keeps them to the margins as well in a very pointed and conspicuous way. But there are also key ways in which the book gives these perspectives more voice than the series. Susanna Clarke writes her novel in a narrative voice that owes a clear debt to Jane Austen, focussing on gossip and the domestic. She’s said in interviews that she intends the voice to be female, and the fact that the book is a pastiche of period novels means, among other things, that the implied reader (which is to say the reader constructed by the text as opposed to the actual human holding the book) is, like the actual audience of those books, female. These facts counterbalance the male leads in interesting ways. The television adaptation, on the other hand, is presented with a standard 21st century televisual tone, which is to say a grammar developed by a male-dominated industry and a voice developed by a male screenwriter and director. Harness and Toby Haynes do a competent, intelligent adaptation, and Harness actively bolstered the role of the female characters in order to make sure their importance was still emphasized, but it still becomes a story by men about women; tellingly, when events at the beginning are actively narrated, it is with a male voiceover.

What it does retain is the original’s intelligent and clever sense of genre fusion. Instead of being a 19th century novel crashing into the fantasy genre it’s a BBC costume drama, or, more specifically, a BBC prestige novel adaptation. This is not quite a new trick—it’s hard to argue that Game of Thrones is doing something substantially different. Certainly it positions this as a show that follows from Doctor Who instead of leading, which is fair enough. But a trick doesn’t have to be clever to be good. This gets a lot of mileage out of the basic fact that it’s the real thing: a seven-part BBC adaptation of a novel done with all the skill and heft that implies. Only done by a bunch of Doctor Who guys who instinctively grasp how to fold “and the a gigantic spinning tornado of pure blackness appeared above his head” into that structure.

Within the scope of our interests, however, what stands out more than “yup, the BBC did another clever post-Doctor Who genre mashup” is the fact that Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is specifically interested in the nature of English magic. It conceives of this in a familiar way. It is one of strange and eccentric spaces casually abutted with the mundane world, and of portals and passages between them. People fall out of the world, though this is treated as monstrous horror as opposed to possibility. And there’s a clear sense of psychogeography to it—English magic is defined in terms of “the stones and the sky and the rain” at one point, and the climactic summoning of the Raven King is rooted in the psychic history of Mr. Norrell’s house. This is the mythology we’ve been working with for some time.

And yet the show also forces us to confront a troubling underbelly to all of this. It risks tautology, but English magic is, well, English. It’s an explicitly patriotic mythology tied to an English identity and a nostalgia for a mythic golden age of wonder. And the capacity for magic is grounds for a form of English exceptionalism—although the narrative shifts to Italy, where Jonathan Strange remains capable of magic, the magic he does is still expressly English. Perhaps most worrisomely, there’s a bit where it’s made clear that English magic is stronger in the north, where “our laws were made by the Raven King. Our towns and abbeys were founded by him. Mr Norrell's house was built by him. He's in our minds and hearts and speech.” All of this is rhetoric that, historically, turns ugly quickly—the focus on the north as a lost source of magic is in particular a mainstay of various white supremacist schools of thought from the historical Thule Society to the more contemporary devotees of Aleksandr Dugin.

Obviously my point is not that Harness, Clarke, or indeed Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell are cryptofascists writing parables about the lost glories of Hyperborea. As I said, it’s not like I haven’t tarried with the same imagery. Last War in Albion is firmly rooted in the rhetoric of mythic Britain, which is only the mildest of improvements over strictly mythologizing the English. There’s nothing here that doesn’t taint the entire epic fantasy genre—countless bits of Tolkien’s mythology have been pointed out as fundamentally racist in their conception. But the fact that the rot is widespread hardly negates its seriousness. 

There are, of course, significant checks on it within Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. The story’s interest in those excluded from the default narrative of Englishness clearly undercuts any nationalism. Sir Walter Pole, the story’s primary representative of the nation per se, is firmly cast aside in the resolution, ultimately carrying the blame for Lady Pole’s captivity in Norrell’s absence. The story is also ultimately in a large part about the democratization of magic. Its resolution is that instead of magic being practiced entirely by two white men, one representing the Enlightenment and the other Romanticism, magic belongs to anyone who wishes to be a magician. Indeed, magic becomes the focus of a popular revolt in which the historical Luddites are recast as a Raven King revivalism movement, a move that serves to tie the rise of the magic with working class uprisings. There are limits to this—it’s telling that everybody who’s shown taking up the practice of magic is a white man. But it still makes the mythic England depicted relatively resistant to rightward drift.

But there’s a larger point to be made here—one that gets at my own predilection for the iconography. It’s not an accident that Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell finds itself focused on the people in the margins. Rather, it’s a natural extension of a mythology that’s already rooted in the idea of eccentric spaces folded around the world. The basic idea of the portal to faerie naturally lends itself to concern for the marginal. We’ve talked about this before in terms of Britain’s relationship between its mainstream and counterculture, and this is certainly one of the ways the myth reiterated itself across the 20th century. But the iconography can just as easily be used to talk about marginalized people, as countless writers besides Clarke have realized. 

More importantly, though, while there’s no such thing as a story that cannot be corrupted or made to appeal to the right, there are at least ones that are resistant or that require egregious misreadings. And for all that mythic notions of Britain are historically depressingly easy to bend to reactionary purposes, the portal to faerie itself is resilient. Valorizing the idea of weird and magical spaces that lurk at the edges of the world is just hard to have be anything besides a celebration of the outside, the other, and the strange. With work you certainly can accomplish it, but the idea is going to reassert its gravity and skew itself back towards open weirdness. 

This fact can only accomplish so much. The prominence of portals to faerie in its national mythology does not stop the UK from periodic descents into destructive right-wing politics. It doesn’t prevent the country from having severe problems around racism. It doesn’t even make the country appreciably more leftist than other European countries. Heck, it can’t even keep one goofy sci-fi show that uses the same iconography from making occasional boneheaded reactionary turns. 

But of course, who ever looked at the majesty of faerie and thought “this seems like a source of safety and security”? Protecting us was never what faeries were for. Just look at Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, where Marc Warren reveals that he can do an unexpectedly good Malcolm McDowell impression in order to play a malevolent trickster faerie. This doesn’t detract from the appeal of faerie within the story—Norrell may declare faeries not to be “respectable” (which, true), but he remains utterly compelled by them. And while his deal with the fae goes terribly wrong, the lesson is about arrogance, not about the inherent evils of faeries.

No, the point of faerie is what it’s always been: to introduce new and uncanny things into the world and make it a stranger place. And yes, maybe one of those things will prove revelatory and essential to changing the future. But the far more likely outcome is simply that they’ll be interesting and compelling in their own rights, and that there will be more things like them. Certainly that’s what Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is—an interesting step in a direction worth traveling further in. As good as it is at this point in time, Doctor Who could learn from this.

Comments

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Jarl 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Marc Warren's turn is only an unexpected reveal to those who never saw him as Mr. Teatime in the BBC adaptation of Hogfather, which, to be fair, probably a lot of people haven't.

Actually, he plays a very similar villain in The Musketeers, too, with a bit of his State of Play character mixed in. The guy is magnificent when it comes to being really gross and creepy.

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mx_mond 2 months, 3 weeks ago

When it was announced they would be adapting Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell for television, I said that Marc Warren needs to be in it and he should play either the Gentleman or Drawlight. I feel like those two characters perfectly encapsulate what he’s good at.

(And needless to say, I was very happy to see him play the Gentleman.)

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Ah Map 2 months, 3 weeks ago

The first time I saw Marc Warren which was possibly his first appearance on tv was on Grange Hill as an arrogant public schoolboy who for some reason was on an exchange to the common school (not sure this ever happened in reality) and back then he struck me as being akin to a young Malcolm Mcdowell scorching the regular cast with his ascerbic witticisms.

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Daru 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Absolutely! Marc Warren is pretty superb in this - perfect role for him as the Gentleman.

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Andrey GolubReok 2 months, 3 weeks ago

It is also worth noting that Time Lords appear to have the ability to stay conscious for moments after events that would outright kill other lifeforms instantly, giving them the opportunity to regenerate. In

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Camestros Felapton 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I took magic being stronger in the north as part of the class commentary in the story as well as the distinction between Yorkshireman Norrell and southerner Strange. England as place that inflicted imperialism on itself first.

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Kat 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I agree. While I take El's point (and it's certainly a problematic aspect of the history of fantasy that needs to be taken seriously), I'm not sure that the north/south divide within England itself has the same race implications as the distinction of "Northern" within the wider world. The north of England signifies something different than Northern Europe, it seems to me.

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Camestros Felapton 2 months, 3 weeks ago

"I'm not sure that the north/south divide within England itself has the same race implications as the distinction of "Northern" within the wider world."

At least not currently in that English nationalism itself tends to erase regional distinctions. If Yorkshire was its own country I don't doubt there'd be rightwing extremist busy declaring how Yorkshire's "Nordic" roots made it intrinsically better than the South.
[As I write that the more I suspect that probably does exist as a thing somewhere]

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bombasticus 2 months, 3 weeks ago

YES

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Ken 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Magic is indeed connected to place and to say that English magic is English is hardly grounds for criticism, still less an excuse to deny the English their right to an identity, as all peoples have. And all peoples have their own magic too, shaped by their homeland and the accumulated experiences of their ancestors.

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William Shaw 2 months, 3 weeks ago

"The story is also ultimately in a large part about the democratization of magic. Its resolution is that instead of magic being practiced entirely by two white men, one representing the Enlightenment and the other Romanticism, magic belongs to anyone who wishes to be a magician."

-

This is an excellent point, and feeds into my reading of that final scene, in which the democratisation of magic is a parallel to the rise of mass literacy.

The later episodes see Strange and Norrell having a specifically literary feud - Strange's big attack on Norrell is to write a bad review of his book, Norrell dismisses Strange for writing 'doggerel poems', etc - they're engaging in that very rarefied, feuding literary culture of the eighteenth century (cf things like The Dunciad).

But once they've wiped each other out, the final scene establishes that Vinculus has been 'rewritten', and he teases:

'Maybe I'm a book of pompous sermons. Maybe I'm a recipe book... or a novel."

All genres that, to varying extents, were popularised in the 19th century as the general population became more literate.

It's a very liberal idea of historical progress, but I love that the series leans so heavily towards 'mass literacy FTW' - it abuts interestingly with Harness making television an imperfect means of communication in Kill the Moon, and almost an object of horror in The Zygon Inversion.

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Aylwin 2 months, 3 weeks ago

But whatever sort of book Vinculus is, he is only one book, which is now the only magic book left. It's the book of the one supremely powerful King who has controlled the past development of English magic, in ways set down in the previous text of his book, and the new text's centrality to the story's conclusion indicates that he will be dominating its future as well. The book's uniqueness, and the fact that it's very hard to read, also seems hard to reconcile with a mass-literacy, er, reading of its significance.

I've banged on about this before, andd maybe shouldn't be reheating the argument now, but I think the role of the Raven King and his book is where the story really falls down on the ideas front (its failure to make its Enlightenment-analogue resemble the Enlightenment is also a problem). It betrays the pluralism espoused earlier on in favour of single vision.

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mx_mond 2 months, 3 weeks ago

On the other hand, the readers will now be many and more diverse than before, each of them bringing a fresh perspective. Might it be a Death of the Author situation?

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Aylwin 2 months, 3 weeks ago

The trouble is that the resolution of the story has set itself firmly against such freedom to make what you will of what you read. "Readers" of magic like Strange and Norrell can interpret and argue as much as they like, but it makes no difference - the course of events and their one true meaning is set by their "author", the Raven King, such that the readers are themselves merely characters written into his grand design.

In that context, I don't think increasing the range of readers is going to make any difference as long as the authorial hand of the Raven King remains in play, as it emphatically does.

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William Shaw 2 months, 3 weeks ago

That's a fair reading, though I think still compatible with the idea of democratised magic as mass literacy, given the top-down nature of the liberal social programmes that helped create mass literacy in Britain.

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Daibhid C 2 months, 3 weeks ago

(its failure to make its Enlightenment-analogue resemble the Enlightenment is also a problem)

I will argue until I'm blue in the face that the erratic self-experimenter who publishes his results is a much better Enlightenment figure than the fusty hoarder of old books.

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Przemek 2 months, 3 weeks ago

That was a very interesting read. I love the Eruditorum entries that shed some light on works I'm not familiar with. I couldn't get into the books (the first one bored me despite all the praise I've heard) and so didn't even bother watching the adaptation but now I'm intrigued. I especially liked your commentary on the many ways in which the TV show struggles with its white male culture legacy. The use of a male voiceover is exactly the kind of blindness white men are prone to in their stories - even with the best intentions, they still often default to the dominant perspective.

As an aside, your overview of English magic makes me wonder how the magic of my own country could be characterized (and subsequently explored). Polish magic certainly revolves around the spirits of nature and the ghosts of the ancestors - but it's also much more culturally suppressed by both tradition (religion) and modernity. I don't think it gets nearly as much exposure in our collective consciousness and fiction as its English counterpart does in Britain. And when it does, it's usually superficial. A shame, really.

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Przemek 2 months, 3 weeks ago

It has been pointed out to me that "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" was originally a single book and was only split into three by the Polish publisher. Still, the early chapters of the story dragged on terribly for me.

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Aylwin 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Interesting that they did that, though perhaps not surprising when it's so long - reminiscent of the LOTR "trilogy" (any reference to which in those terms is the surest means of incurring my nerdish irritation).

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prandeamus 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I found the book hard to pick up - literally - and hard to get into. It was worth it once I I got past the first 20 percent or so, which in the novel is patient scene setting just like the TV adaptation. Maybe having three books is a kindness to the wrists of readers.

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phuzz 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I'd assumed that the Witcher (Wiedźmin) books were based on Polish magical tradition, is that not the case?

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mx_mond 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I would say: to a much lesser extent than a lot of people (including the majority of Polish fans) assume. There are elements of Slavic folklore, but the story as a whole draws more from fairy tales and Arthurian legends than specifically Polish sources and generally is tied so much to Poland as a place as JS&MN is to England and notions of Englishness.

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mx_mond 2 months, 3 weeks ago

This should read: “generally isn’t tied to Poland as a place as much as JS&MN is to England and notions of Englishness”.

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Przemek 2 months, 3 weeks ago

In addition to what mx_mond said, the Witcher books (and games) are much more interested in playing with general fantasy tropes (Tolkienesque races, power play between wizards, the terrible war between kingdoms etc.) than with exploring specifically Polish themes. When they engage with this tradition of rural magic, old ghosts and spirits of nature it's usually to show how this tradition is slowly losing the fight against the unrelenting march of civilisation and disappearing.

The game series is, I think, outright hostile towards this predominantly rural tradition as backwards and dangerous (if not straight up monstrous). The Witcher himself acts as a force of modernity, trying to bring some enlightenment to the primitive lands by removing corrupt/crazy/xenophobic village leaders from power and killing monsters created by the old magic of human jealousy/revenge/cruelty.

If you're interested, I recommend this article about (among other things) the Witcher games and how they position themselves in relation to modernity: https://olh.openlibhums.org/article/10.16995/olh.216/

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Aylwin 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I think you overstate the potential racial overtones of the "North" business here. The sort of cases you cite as comparisons are concerned with the idea of the global far north as a sort of Heart of Whiteness, whereas I think what JaSMiNe is driving at is specifically the idea of North of England, which is a different kettle of fish.

There are no doubt overlaps in imagery between the two - ideas involving associations with wildness and fierceness, with deep-rootedness and honest simplicity, with a hard land making hard people. But the Northern English image is also one of marginality, in terms of remoteness from the centres of power leading to a degree of political exclusion generating independent-mindedness and revolt, and in modern times it of course carries a very strong association with the industrial working class. That, not some Arctic Urheimat of the White Race, is what the implied audience (and the actual one, at least in the UK) are going to have in mind when "the North" is invoked in this context. (You mention Game of Thrones, whose idea of the North does probably draw more on dodgy racial notions of the European North, especially in the way it aligns the North with paganism and against its surrogate for Christianity, though I think the English/British North is still the predominant element even there.) So I'd say the association of magic and the Raven King with the idea of the North is not counter-pointed by their association with "working class uprisings" but inextricably entwined with it.

There is of course a fair amount of bunk in the image of the North of England as an enduring archetype. The working-class associations have a tendency to be nonsensically projected back before the Industrial Revolution, and while its remoteness gave the medieval North a greater than average tendency to produce aristocratic unruliness (though in a kingdom as persistently centralised as England, even that was a fairly restricted difference of degree), actual popular revolt against the elite, from Wat Tyler to Captain Swing, was more often than not a southern thing. But this is about traditional perceptions rather than historical reality.

In so far as the sort of idea of Northernness invoked here is politically iffy, I think it's less on the racial front than that of gender, in that the Northern self-image is very much one of a manly toughness and authenticity contrasted with the effeminacy and artifice of those "soft Southern fairies". Or faeries, possibly.

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David Anderson 2 months, 3 weeks ago

As Aylwin said.

If you are an alien how come you sound like you're from the North?
Lots of planets have a north.

Martha, Donna, Amy, and Clare don't wonder about an alien that sounds like he comes from the south; for that matter, Bill as far as I remember, doesn't wonder about an alien who sounds like he comes from Scotland.

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Yossarian,duck! 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Not really the point, but in Smile:
Bill: Why are you Scottish?
The Doctor: I'm not Scottish, I'm just cross!

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Aylwin 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I just started re/watching Alan Bleasdale's GBH, and was reminded of the following exchange of words: "Are you Scottish, Doctor?", "Only when I'm angry".

Which seems...applicable.

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Aylwin 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Picking up on this thread a little more seriously, I think that's because English regional accents are taken as class markers, whereas to English ears Scottish accents generally aren't, unless it's a really broad Glasgow accent at one end of the scale or maybe a really posh Edinburgh one at the other. They're just heard as "Scottish", which has no particular class connotations, while an English regional accent is understood to suggest that someone is working class, which jars with expectations of a character like the Doctor, who is generally coded as upper or upper-middle class. That applies to northern accents, but I think it would be the same with a Cockney or markedly Estuarine accent, or with a West Country or a Norfolk one.

It's probably no coincidence that Eccleston, the only Doctor with such an accent, was also the only one who never dressed in a "posh" way, give or take Tennant. And it's a little hard to imagine anyone writing the scenes where Danny Pink denounces the Doctor as an officer while he was in the role.

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Camestros Felapton 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I note in the recent leaked clip that Whittaker has her northern accent intact.

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prandeamus 2 months, 3 weeks ago

The accent is there in her first phrase, "Oh, Brilliant!", although it's may be hard to make it out based on just four syllables.

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Kat 2 months, 3 weeks ago

YES, thank God.

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Daru 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Yeah I agree with what Alwin, David A and others are saying. It is interesting still in the UK that there does in many ways seem to be some kind of psychic divide The North and The South - with the North often actually encapsulating southern Scotland along with northern England (areas which historically used to be roughly one region anyway) and a kind of allegiance across a border that is more historically diffuse than it is used now.

Images used of the North it seems have tended to often be linked to the landscape and maybe if I remember rightly this is present in the show. There still is though as has been said above by others, political dodginess in the ways the text and images can be read, especially the focussing on the concept of 'English Magic'.

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David Anderson 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Just to be pedantic: the implied audience I think corresponds to the implied author, rather than to the narrator. So the implied narratees are the fictional women contemporary with Jane Austen, for whom this is stylistically contemporary (Don Quixote by Cervantes). The implied audience read and enjoy it as a pastiche of Austen and Scott (Don Quixote by Pierre Menard), and enjoy fictional footnotes.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Good pedantry. Well done.

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mx_mond 2 months, 3 weeks ago

As a Polish person interested in British culture, mentality, and mythology, the fine line between valuing the past, landscape, and other elements of the national imaginarium on one hand, and creating some sort of Golden Age that reinforces nationalism and xenophobia on the other has been of great interest to me in the past few months. Certainly making space for the marginalised is one way of evading the latter.

I also wonder if strangeness itself is not an effective antidote. I certainly get that vibe from the Twitter profile of Hookland (which chronicles the mythology of an imagined British county/region), whose motto is “re-enchantment is resistance” and who frequently speaks out against the right-wing take-over of British mythology. And Stewart Lee wrote a thing that stuck with me in his book Content Provider: "When I write stand-up or prose about things like Conservative politicians, right-wing newspaper columnists, Top Gear presenters and sports business folk, it is fun to make it as mad as possible. These sorts of people bat away comment with carefully constructed put-downs (...). But the one thing they can't understand, despite their oft-avowed claims to a collective sense of humour, is pure silliness." I feel like siliness and strangeness can sometimes operate in a somewhat similar ways. (Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, to tie it to another of El’s projects, seems to be a good demonstration of that.)

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Alex 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I think the ‘power from the North’ overtones are perhaps a little less sinister than you’ve read them as the north in question isn’t referring to some ancient Viking purity or mythical Arian homeland but eg. Barnsley.

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CJM123 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Personally I agree, because I think the novel is focusing on tales and poems such as Gawain and the Green Knight, which can be read as a puncturing of Arthurian tales that animate far more the sort of racial purity that was popular in Britain.

The North's magic has always had hints of being untamed and wild. Something that challenges the powerful, instead of validating them.

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Daru 1 month, 3 weeks ago

"The North's magic has always had hints of being untamed and wild. Something that challenges the powerful, instead of validating them."

Yes I got that from the books much more than the TV show, that it was a challenge to the power structures in the South, not to play their games and topple the status quo.

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Kat 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Excited as I am for the impending era, I can't help but long for Harness Who.

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prandeamus 2 months, 3 weeks ago

For Northernness, I'd assumed it was more like the CS Lewis view of Northernness leading to Joy.

"…Pure “Northernness” engulfed me: a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of Northern summer, remoteness, severity… and almost at the same moment I knew that I had met this before, long, long ago. …And with that plunge back into my own past, there arose at once, almost like heartbreak, the memory of Joy itself, the knowledge that I had once had what I had now lacked for years, that I was returning at last from exile and desert lands to my own country, and the distance of the Twilight of the Gods and the distance of my own past Joy, both unattainable, flowed together in a single, unendurable sense of desire and loss…."

I realise that CSL isn't to everyone's taste, but I thought this was the significance of Northernness.

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Martin Porter 2 months, 1 week ago

Elizabeth, you're usually really on the ball with your comments, but I think with the issue with 'the north' here has got lost in mid-Atlantic.

The Establishment view of England is that the north is grim an industrial, it's people hard-headed and plainspoken, whereas the south is mystical and poetic: Glastonbury and Stonehenge, King Arthur and Shakespeare.

In reality most of the north of England is a National Park, and most of the south a car park, but that doesn't stop the Daily Mail insisting everything quintessentially English is south of Watford Gap.

What this story does is turn that view on its head, which, as a northern English person I find very refreshing.

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Aylwin 2 months, 1 week ago

In reality ... most of the south [is] a car park

as a northern English person

Do you know, I never would have guessed?

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Martin Porter 2 months ago

Yes, but I have spent a significant part of my adult life trying to stop it turning into a car park!

https://thesnufkin.blogspot.com/2012/05/great-trees-of-england-1-middle-oak.html

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