Rereading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: Chapters 65-67

Strange_RedThese chapters continue to examine pairs of characters: Stephen Black and the gentleman with thistledown hair; Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell; and Childermass and Vinculus. Then last line of Chapter 67 is also what I would call the proper climax of the book, the final revelation before the denouement in the last couple of short chapters.

These three chapters are each rather short, and after the sort of frantic pace of happenings in the last few chapters, these chapters are comparably calm.

Stephen Black’s Name

Chapter 65 is half taken up with the story of how the gentleman with the thistledown hair found out Stephen Black’s true name. It’s a fascinating story, although we don’t actually find out Stephen’s name.

Primarily, this chapter contains three events. The gentleman finds out that Jonathan Strange is back in England, and then he learns that Lady Pole has been released from her enchantment. Sandwiched between these two revelations, Stephen Black and the gentleman encounter Vinculus. In a fit of malicious caprice, the gentleman hangs Vinculus from a nearby tree before Stephen Black can even protest, and then they are off again. The gentleman intends to cast a spell on Lady Pole so that she won’t live long now that she’s free of him.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell together again.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell together again.

“Let you and me do something extraordinary.”

In Chapter 66, Norrell finally makes it to his library, where he finds a disheveled Jonathan Strange poring over the books. I love every single thing about this reunion. I love that it’s Jonathan Strange’s totally normal noise-making that emboldens Norrell to enter the room, and I love that the two men so quickly revert to something like their normal interactions. I love that Norrell is so easily seduced by Strange’s enticements–because no matter how repressed Norrell has been, he loves magic, and all he has wanted to do is magic, and the scary shit that Jonathan Strange is up to is exactly what Norrell has always wanted to do. I love that they find themselves stuck in Eternal Darkness together–because of course the are.

Aside from the reunion of the two magicians and all the feelings that generates, the only thing to really happen in this chapter is their attempt to summon John Uskglass. While he doesn’t show up in the room with them, Strange and Norrell are able to use a locating spell that places him in Yorkshire, and close.

John Uskglass’s Spell

Chapter 67 contains another reunion, this time between John Childermass and Vinculus, who is lately dead. Childermass comes upon Vinculus’s hanging corpse as he makes his way back towards Hurtfew Abbey, and this distracts Childermass from his stated mission to help Strange and Norrell. Instead of continuing his journey, Childermass stops to try and figure out a way to preserve the precious writing that covers Vinculus’s body.

As Childermass tries to figure out what to do, a mysterious man in black shows up. It’s obvious to the reader that this is the Raven King himself, but Childermass is unable to recognize him, probably because of magic. The Raven King resurrects Vinculus and disappears.

Vinculus awakes and Childermass thinks now that Vinculus was only unconscious. Vinculus tells Childermass some more about the prophecies that he’s told. Childermass expresses his loyalty to John Uskglass, but states that the restoration of English magic is the work of Strange and Norrell, not the Raven King. At this, Vinculus laughs outright:

“Their work!” Vinculus scoffed. “Theirs? Do you still not understand? They are the spell John Uskglass is doing. That is all they have ever been. And he is doing it now!”

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