Rereading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: Chapters 28-29

Strange_BlackAfter checking in with Lady Pole, we’re back again to focusing on Strange and Norrell and the ways in which they can participate in the War. These chapters have some of the most impressive acts of magic in the books so far, as well as just generally being more action-oriented than the previous third of the book.

The End of 1810

By the end of 1810, basically everything is terrible.

A princess has died, the king has gone mad, the war is a quagmire, and no amount of spells cast by Strange and Norrell seems to make things better. Everything is a mess, and people are becoming decidedly disenchanted with magic.

Horse Sand

When a ship runs aground near Portsmouth, it’s an opportunity for magic to save the day again, and Jonathan Strange gets a moment to really shine. Most of his magic so far has been done in tandem with Norrell since arriving in London, but here Strange is alone and forced to rely on his own more creative sort of magic.

Taking inspiration from the name of the spit of land where the ship has run aground, Strange creates dozens of horses out of sand and sea water, with the idea that the horses should be hitched to the ship to pull it back into the water. Between the displaced sand and what little help the horses turn out to be, the ship is rescued, and it’s all very impressive. While it’s debatable just how useful the spell was, it does serve to get people excited about magic again, and the idea occurs to the ministers that, while they could never send Norrell abroad to help with the war, perhaps Strange would be just the man for the job.


At first, Norrell is vehemently against the idea of his student being sent to the continent, and he’s even more upset when Jonathan Strange brings up the matter of the books he will need to take with him on his journey. Knowing that all the magic books in England are Norrell’s, Strange even manages to broach the topic of books in such a way that Norrell is obliged to agree to loan them.

It’s only when Norrell learns of a likely book sale that he becomes anxious to get Strange out of England. Norrell may miss the forty or so books that Strange intends to borrow for the trip, but Norrell is glad to remove Strange from having the opportunity to bid against him at auction. Even still, Norrell must bid against Arabella Strange, although it turns out that Norrell is able to outbid her every time.

Jonathan Strange reports for duty.

In the Lines

From pretty much the moment he lands in Portugal, Jonathan Strange finds himself a little out of his depth. When he finally makes the acquaintance of Lord Wellington, Strange is told outright that a magician is no use on the front and that the “help” he and Norrell have provided thus far has actually been no such thing. Dejected, Strange goes away, but he is still determined to contribute somehow or other.

Over several weeks, Strange submits proposal after proposal to Wellington, but all are refused. The chaplain is some help in encouraging Strange to find a way to make himself useful, but it’s only after he starts getting to know the soldiers that Strange starts having good ideas. Finally, he settles upon the idea of making roads for the troops to march down more easily. Wellington is thrilled with this idea, and the chapter ends with two happy images: Jonathan Strange riding down his magically-created road at Wellington’s right hand and enemy troops refusing to use perfectly ordinary roads for fear that they are magicked.


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