Eruditorum Press

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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

47 Comments

  1. Jarl
    June 25, 2018 @ 9:48 am

    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.

    Reply

    • mx_mond
      June 25, 2018 @ 10:10 am

      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.)

      Reply

    • Ah Map
      June 25, 2018 @ 4:40 pm

      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.

      Reply

      • Daru
        July 28, 2018 @ 9:04 am

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

        Reply

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  2. Camestros Felapton
    June 25, 2018 @ 10:01 am

    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.

    Reply

    • Kat
      June 26, 2018 @ 6:16 pm

      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.

      Reply

      • Camestros Felapton
        June 26, 2018 @ 11:29 pm

        “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]

        Reply

    • bombasticus
      June 27, 2018 @ 3:32 am

      YES

      Reply

  3. Ken
    June 25, 2018 @ 10:07 am

    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.

    Reply

  4. William Shaw
    June 25, 2018 @ 10:37 am

    “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.

    Reply

    • Aylwin
      June 25, 2018 @ 11:21 am

      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.

      Reply

      • mx_mond
        June 25, 2018 @ 11:37 am

        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?

        Reply

        • Aylwin
          June 25, 2018 @ 12:04 pm

          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.

          Reply

          • William Shaw
            June 25, 2018 @ 1:24 pm

            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.

      • Daibhid C
        June 30, 2018 @ 8:01 pm

        (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.

        Reply

  5. Przemek
    June 25, 2018 @ 10:41 am

    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.

    Reply

    • Przemek
      June 25, 2018 @ 11:08 am

      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.

      Reply

      • Aylwin
        June 25, 2018 @ 11:32 am

        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).

        Reply

      • prandeamus
        June 25, 2018 @ 8:18 pm

        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.

        Reply

    • phuzz
      June 25, 2018 @ 3:09 pm

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

      Reply

      • mx_mond
        June 25, 2018 @ 3:20 pm

        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.

        Reply

        • mx_mond
          June 28, 2018 @ 10:00 am

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

          Reply

      • Przemek
        June 26, 2018 @ 8:20 am

        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/

        Reply

  6. Aylwin
    June 25, 2018 @ 10:58 am

    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.

    Reply

    • David Anderson
      June 25, 2018 @ 11:39 am

      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.

      Reply

      • Yossarian,duck!
        June 25, 2018 @ 3:00 pm

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

        Reply

        • Aylwin
          June 25, 2018 @ 3:19 pm

          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.

          Reply

      • Aylwin
        June 26, 2018 @ 1:04 pm

        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.

        Reply

        • Camestros Felapton
          June 27, 2018 @ 3:27 am

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

          Reply

          • prandeamus
            June 27, 2018 @ 9:50 pm

            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.

          • Kat
            June 28, 2018 @ 1:44 pm

            YES, thank God.

    • Daru
      July 28, 2018 @ 9:19 am

      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’.

      Reply

  7. David Anderson
    June 25, 2018 @ 2:11 pm

    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.

    Reply

  8. mx_mond
    June 25, 2018 @ 3:03 pm

    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.)

    Reply

  9. Alex
    June 25, 2018 @ 9:07 pm

    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.

    Reply

    • CJM123
      June 26, 2018 @ 1:55 pm

      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.

      Reply

      • Daru
        July 28, 2018 @ 9:22 am

        “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.

        Reply

  10. Kat
    June 26, 2018 @ 6:22 pm

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

    Reply

  11. prandeamus
    June 27, 2018 @ 9:53 pm

    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.

    Reply

  12. Martin Porter
    July 8, 2018 @ 9:28 pm

    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.

    Reply

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