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  #51  
Old 07-08-2015, 12:22 PM
Ruken Ruken is offline
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Originally Posted by Bridget Burke View Post
Susanna Clarke is definitely no Harry Turtledove.
And for that I am thankful.
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  #52  
Old 07-08-2015, 12:29 PM
Bridget Burke Bridget Burke is offline
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Originally Posted by ISiddiqui View Post
I guess I'm not necessarily a good person to ask on the OP's question because I found the novel fascinating from the first chapter. I do enjoy the Austen-esque comedy of manners and the footnotes to made up secondary sources was a completely joy! It started slow (but I absolutely loved the world building) but accelerated quite fast by the end. It became, and remains, one of my favorite novels.

I do also agree that picking out why would their be a Napoleonic War if there was a magical invasion by the Raven King in the 1000s does miss the point. The novel is basically a comedy of manners of the Napoleonic Era (including humorous ideas of class and proper behavior, in a very Austen way) involving the speculation of what if this era was further complicated by actual magic.

I even bought Clarke's short story anthology (Ladies of Grace Adieu) when it came out and am only disappointed that Clarke hasn't written anymore.
I've read & even enjoyed some Alternate History. But much of that genre is essentially a mind game--change one historical occurrence & then see what follows. If the resulting book's characters are "types" & the prose style is pedestrian--or even clumsy--too bad.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a fantasy. It's also highly literary & has an idiosyncratic style. It helps if one knows the history of the period & enjoys challenging reading--including all those footnotes! It is not for everyone. (The TV series is highly compressed (partly for budgetary reasons) & obviously lacks the "literary" elements. But I'm quite enjoying the characters & the visual details.)
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  #53  
Old 07-08-2015, 12:43 PM
ISiddiqui ISiddiqui is offline
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I enjoy Alt History as well... somewhat. I've read some of Turtledove's stuff and its seemed fairly interesting, but some of the summaries of his latest stuff, I'm like... um, I really don't want to read that crap. And Turtledove's books were what you described, Bridget Burke, all types and clumsy prose in service of the plot. It gets boring fast.
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  #54  
Old 07-08-2015, 02:15 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is offline
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I loved the book and am enjoying the TV miniseries, all in all, although I'm not as gaga about it as I would've hoped. If you like the book, Clarke's short-story collection The Ladies of Grace Adieu, set in the same universe, is also well worth your time.
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  #55  
Old 07-08-2015, 05:19 PM
Sangahyando Sangahyando is online now
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Now, I really do not want to read this book -- not even if it were miraculously transmuted to be in standard modern English. (No judginess intended -- different ones of us like and dislike different stuff, and it's all fine.)
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Originally Posted by Frylock View Post
Just curious--what about the quoted summary turned you off?
Shortish answer: I'm with Trinopus and Alessan on this issue -- I want alternative history to be alternative history -- citing your own words elsewhere above: a fantasy wherein "this world's history strongly resembles our own" (and the book mostly about "fantasias" with other agendas); maybe I'm blinkered, but "I can't be doing with that".

Bridget Burke, quoted below, sums it up well -- stuff like JS&MrN isn't for me: my loss, maybe, but so be it.

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Originally Posted by Bridget Burke View Post
I've read & even enjoyed some Alternate History. But much of that genre is essentially a mind game--change one historical occurrence & then see what follows. If the resulting book's characters are "types" & the prose style is pedestrian--or even clumsy--too bad.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a fantasy. It's also highly literary & has an idiosyncratic style. It helps if one knows the history of the period & enjoys challenging reading--including all those footnotes! It is not for everyone.
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  #56  
Old 07-08-2015, 06:07 PM
Frylock Frylock is offline
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Originally Posted by Sangahyando View Post
Shortish answer: I'm with Trinopus and Alessan on this issue -- I want alternative history to be alternative history -- citing your own words elsewhere above: a fantasy wherein "this world's history strongly resembles our own" (and the book mostly about "fantasias" with other agendas);
To me an alternate history novel is set in a world with a history _identical_ to our own, up to some specific point, where one specific difference occurs.

This book doesn't really fit by that definition.

A more teleological definition would be, an alternate history novel is one the point of which is to explore the implications that would follow from a single change in a history otherwise identical to our own up to that point. Again, this book doesn't really fit by that definition.

I can understand not liking the book for many reasons, (for example, as you said, not liking it because it involves fantastic creatures and their agendas--that I can completely understand!) but not liking it because it's a bad alternate history novel makes no sense--because it's not an alternate history novel.
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  #57  
Old 07-08-2015, 07:08 PM
Trinopus Trinopus is offline
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Originally Posted by Frylock View Post
. . . but not liking it because it's a bad alternate history novel makes no sense--because it's not an alternate history novel.
Well, yes, it kinda is. Napoleonic wars, real historical events, but with a major difference in the setting. (Magic!)

There is no law that says that magical alternative history novels aren't AHNs. Sure, it's a fantasy novel also. It's also a novel of manners and fashion. There's also no law that says a book must be categorized only once.

(I don't actually claim that there is a law that AHNs must reject ceteris paribus; I just dislike the ones that don't, and consider them highly inferior AHNs. There are a handful of Romance Novels that have bitterly unhappy endings. They're still Romance Novels...just damn oddball ones!)

(The first Western novel I ever read had an ending where the eastern tenderfoot accidentally shot the hero and the schoolmarm, both, dead! A really major WTF ending!)
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  #58  
Old 07-08-2015, 07:26 PM
dropzone dropzone is offline
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Originally Posted by Frylock View Post
It's been a long time since I read it, but it really seems like your whole problem is solved, as far as I can remember, by just keeping in mind that one of the rules of this fantasy world is that its Brits take stereotypical British culturalisms very very seriously. More seriously, perhaps, than real people ever did. This is perfectly fair play in a fantasy novel--it gives the author a way to explore the implications of these attitudes. Which is, of course, at least half the point of the work as a whole.
And that I have enjoyed, though I don't think it was exaggerated.
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Originally Posted by Maus Magill View Post
I just demand a little consistency in my reality.
Hint: Novels, especially fantasy novels, aren't real, and you will be frustrated if you can't force-fit them into reality, or your preconceptions of what reality should be.
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Originally Posted by puddleglum View Post
I thought the book kind of read like the first in a long series. The first half is all introduction and then the plot happens in the second half of the book. If you like plot in your novels, then the book definitely gets better.
Yeah, plot was what I was looking for. Still haven't found one, which is very much like reality, but I'm beginning to enjoy it more and will finish it, if only to give the sticks up Trinopus and Alessan's butts a push. I find it hard to imagine them enjoying anything.
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  #59  
Old 07-08-2015, 11:13 PM
Trinopus Trinopus is offline
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Originally Posted by dropzone View Post
. . . Hint: Novels, especially fantasy novels, aren't real, and you will be frustrated if you can't force-fit them into reality, or your preconceptions of what reality should be. . . .
Yes and no. Even fantasy has to have rules, or else it will lack a sense of internal consistency.

John Campbell (apocryphally?) claimed that no one could write a science fiction mystery story, because the hero would just build an invention that solved the mystery. We know better today: we have many science fiction mysteries, and they work because "just building an invention that solved the mystery" is forbidden. It's taboo. Anybody who tried it would be pilloried in the reviews.

Same with fantasy. Stories where the hero suddenly develops a new "power" or prays real hard to the gods, or plucks some new magic spell out of his butt -- aren't popular. (Ugh. Yes, people do write them. Ugh twice.)

Even fantasy fiction has to have enough "implicit reality" to allow the reader to suspend disbelief.

"A Wizard of Earthsea" succeeds in this. "The Magic May Return" succeeds at this. "Lord of the Rings" largely succeeds at this.

But for many of us, Strange and Norrell did not.

I think you may be making the mistake of arguing against people's tastes and preferences, something which is classically viewed as futile.
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  #60  
Old 07-09-2015, 01:11 AM
Sunny Daze Sunny Daze is offline
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(Some of) you have convinced me. I just bought it.
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  #61  
Old 07-09-2015, 03:23 AM
Fuzzy_wuzzy Fuzzy_wuzzy is offline
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Originally Posted by ddsun View Post
(Some of) you have convinced me. I just bought it.
I hope you enjoy it. It's a magnificent book imo.
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  #62  
Old 07-09-2015, 05:21 AM
Uniqueorn Uniqueorn is offline
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Originally Posted by ddsun View Post
(Some of) you have convinced me. I just bought it.
If you got the hardback, don't read it lying on your back, as it might fall and cause you a black eye.

Personal experience? Me? It is to laugh!
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  #63  
Old 07-09-2015, 06:30 AM
obfusciatrist obfusciatrist is offline
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I watched the first episode of the TV show and thought "this is pretty dull, but seems like the kind of thing that would read better than it plays visually."

Two weeks later, I've been disabused of that notion. Just can't barely force myself to read more than a few paragraphs at a time and just finally made it through the talking statues (so: about 20 minutes into the first episode). So dull.
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  #64  
Old 07-09-2015, 08:01 AM
LVBoPeep LVBoPeep is offline
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I just finished it last night and loved it. The first part was a little slow to pick up but once Mr. Norrell does his particular act of magic for the Prime Minister's wife, it picks up and becomes faster paced. I thought the footnotes and back story on the Raven King were lots of fun as was Strange's experiences with Wellington.

The story of Stephen Black was especially well done, in my opinion. The way he falls in to the fairy's enchantment was so accidental and real to me. And I thought the ending was perfect.

I had two books going on at the same time- A Thousand Splendid Suns which is quite dark and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was a relief to that darkness without being silly.
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  #65  
Old 07-09-2015, 08:12 AM
Malthus Malthus is offline
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Originally Posted by Trinopus View Post
Yes and no. Even fantasy has to have rules, or else it will lack a sense of internal consistency.

John Campbell (apocryphally?) claimed that no one could write a science fiction mystery story, because the hero would just build an invention that solved the mystery. We know better today: we have many science fiction mysteries, and they work because "just building an invention that solved the mystery" is forbidden. It's taboo. Anybody who tried it would be pilloried in the reviews.

Same with fantasy. Stories where the hero suddenly develops a new "power" or prays real hard to the gods, or plucks some new magic spell out of his butt -- aren't popular. (Ugh. Yes, people do write them. Ugh twice.)

Even fantasy fiction has to have enough "implicit reality" to allow the reader to suspend disbelief.

"A Wizard of Earthsea" succeeds in this. "The Magic May Return" succeeds at this. "Lord of the Rings" largely succeeds at this.

But for many of us, Strange and Norrell did not.

I think you may be making the mistake of arguing against people's tastes and preferences, something which is classically viewed as futile.
Uh, aren't both sides of this debate doing that? One side likes it and another side doesn't.

I think, while it is of course futile to argue who is right or wrong in a matter of taste, it is interesting to see why one side likes it and the other doesn't.

To my mind, there are three reasons people commonly give for not liking it:

(1) Don't like the language. Find it pretentious.

(2) Plot moves too slowly. Dull.

(3) Breaks the rules of fantasy/alternative history. Can't suspend disbelief.

In contrast, people who like the book find the use of language part of its charm, are enjoying the ride too much to complain about the pace, and don't care that it breaks the rules of fantasy/alternative history because, to them, it isn't a "genre" novel at all, but basically a comedy of manners with a fantasy setting.
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  #66  
Old 07-09-2015, 08:32 AM
Frylock Frylock is offline
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Originally Posted by Trinopus View Post
I think you may be making the mistake of arguing against people's tastes and preferences, something which is classically viewed as futile.
To my mind it's not an argument about tastes, it's an argument about the nature and purpose of the work, and about what is psychologically plausible or not.

Last edited by Frylock; 07-09-2015 at 08:33 AM..
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  #67  
Old 07-09-2015, 11:49 AM
Barkis is Willin' Barkis is Willin' is offline
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Originally Posted by dropzone View Post
I'm to the point where it is first proposed that Strange and Norrell meet. If the previous oh-so-many pages are a guide, this will only be the first of many such proposals, and I'm ready to give up. At first Clarke's smack-on impression of Harry Potter as re-imagined by Trollope or Austin was amusing. I had hoped, though, for pacing that was a little less Regency or Victorian; parody should be shorter than the original.

Should I give up now, assuming that the next several-hundred pages will continue to slog from one mildly-interesting tit-bit to another until it just runs out of steam? I would have cast it aside like a soiled glove a week ago (I'm a slow reader) had you people not spoken so glowingly of it.
I haven't read the whole thread, but I know I'm in the minority of really not liking this book. If you don't like it by now, put it away and never look back.
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  #68  
Old 07-09-2015, 12:55 PM
Finagle Finagle is offline
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While I can see the objections of the "alternate history" crowd, I've always found that learning the politics and intrigues of an imaginary reality was tedious. And, particularly in a fantasy where you're not extrapolating from one deviation from recorded history, it's also quite pointless. So if an author wants to postulate that some enormously unlikely concatenation of events results in pretty much the same cast of characters and geopolitical layout occurring in the alternate reality at the time the story starts, I'm actually OK with that.

I'd rather be told "Napoleon vs. England" and be instantly up to speed with the geopolitical situation than have to suffer through pages of alternate reality CSPAN.
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  #69  
Old 07-09-2015, 03:53 PM
Trinopus Trinopus is offline
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Originally Posted by Uniqueorn View Post
If you got the hardback, don't read it lying on your back, as it might fall and cause you a black eye. . . .
Thank God for ebook readers!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Malthus View Post
Uh, aren't both sides of this debate doing that? One side likes it and another side doesn't.
Fair enough.

Quote:
I think, while it is of course futile to argue who is right or wrong in a matter of taste, it is interesting to see why one side likes it and the other doesn't. . . .
Definitely so! My reasons may not be your reasons...my reasons may in fact be absolutely and diametrically opposed to your reasons...but I do have reasons.

In some differences over tastes, it isn't really explainable. If someone doesn't like chocolate, they don't actually have a "reason." It just doesn't taste good.

The fact that this applies in this case (Strange and Norrell) also is a source of some confusion. In addition to my not liking it on various specific grounds...I also just plain kinda didn't like it.

(I do adore comedies of manners in genre. Alexei Panshin's "Villiers" novels, or Walter Jon Williams' "Maijstral" novels are the peachiest! Anyone who does like Strange and Norrell might give these a peep. As well as anyone who doesn't!)
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  #70  
Old 07-09-2015, 04:34 PM
Slow Moving Vehicle Slow Moving Vehicle is offline
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Originally Posted by Alessan View Post
I suspect the book appealed far more to period literature lovers than it did to fantasy fans.
Spot on, old prune.

I moderately enjoyed Jonathan Strange, but only for the language; I enjoy historical fiction that is written in the style of the age. Patrick O'Brian and George Macdonald Fraser also wrote that way. But O'Brian and Fraser could also tell a gripping tale; purely as a story, Jonathan Strange was a failure. I finished it, but, like Trinopus, only out of sheer, bloody-minded stubbornness.
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  #71  
Old 07-09-2015, 07:21 PM
dropzone dropzone is offline
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Originally Posted by Trinopus View Post
Thank God for ebook readers!
Piffle! A netbook has a built-in, stable base and can rest on your belly whether you are awake, asleep, or dead.
Quote:
(I do adore comedies of manners in genre. Alexei Panshin's "Villiers" novels, or Walter Jon Williams' "Maijstral" novels are the peachiest! Anyone who does like Strange and Norrell might give these a peep. As well as anyone who doesn't!)
There seem to be many "Maijstral" novels. Do they start to suck halfway through the second one, like a series of which I recommended the first volume above?
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  #72  
Old 07-09-2015, 10:37 PM
Trinopus Trinopus is offline
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Piffle! A netbook has a built-in, stable base and can rest on your belly whether you are awake, asleep, or dead.
??? I can't tell if you're disagreeing with me, or agreeing. Anyway, hooray for readers of any kind, so you don't have to hold up an immense heavy hardcover. (I, too, like to read lying on my back. Strange and Norrell was painful to read! But not as painful as it was for Uniqueorn!

Quote:
There seem to be many "Maijstral" novels. Do they start to suck halfway through the second one, like a series of which I recommended the first volume above?
I believe there are three of them, and, alas, the first is the best, the second is next best, and the third is third best. I wouldn't say that they ever suck; they're still plenty fun all the way to the end.

(It's a little tricky, as the collection of all three books has been given a new title of its own, but it is only books one, two, and three under one cover.)

WJW said that the books were a disappointment to him. They were harder to write than anything else of his -- comedy is hard! -- and they did not sell well. They sold so poorly, in fact, that the sales figures torpedoed another deal he was negotiating. But the books are much beloved by at least some few of his fans, and I did have the joy of telling him this in person.
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  #73  
Old 07-10-2015, 05:04 AM
Gyrate Gyrate is online now
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Although obviously the book has an "alternate history" setting, I didn't get any sense that it was supposed to be of that genre. Alternate history books tend to be driven by the difference in history; in this book it's largely scene setting for the comedy of manners that forms the main plot. The history bits are relegated to the footnotes and occasional conversational snippets.

It may even make more sense to say it's not so much an alternate history setting as a fantasy setting closely based on reality. Potato, potahto, I suppose.
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  #74  
Old 07-10-2015, 03:11 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is offline
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Yes, I don't consider JS&MN to be in the alt-hist genre, really. It's more of a magical fantasy/Austenian novel with a historical setting, some of the details of which happen to diverge from our own timeline. But those divergences are not the point of the story.
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  #75  
Old 07-11-2015, 08:29 AM
Jennshark Jennshark is offline
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This is one of the books I have started several times and stalled out in the middle, unable to finish.

I like the BBC series far more than the book; I just couldn't visualize the action and characters on paper, so there's something about the writing that doesn't engage my brain. I even tried again after seeing the first two episodes -- again, no dice.

Other books/authors I am unable to finish:
Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace)
Madame Bovary (Flaubert)
Anything by Thomas Pynchon, Salman Rushdie, or Don DeLillo
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  #76  
Old 07-11-2015, 12:42 PM
dropzone dropzone is offline
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I had to read Bovary for three separate classes. Note that "had to read" /= "finished." What a dreadfully dull book about a horrid, selfish woman! I got up to the British candy scene in Gravity's Rainbow and figured it was all downhill from there so I quit, humming "Savoy Truffles" as I put the book away.
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  #77  
Old 02-10-2017, 12:03 PM
Sunny Daze Sunny Daze is offline
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Originally Posted by Sunny Daze View Post
(Some of) you have convinced me. I just bought it.

My TBR pile is a bit unwieldy. I just picked this (Strange and Norrell) up yesterday and finished it, well, technically this morning. I really liked it. I immediately started searched for the sequel. There are some short stories, and Susanna Clarke is apparently working on a something (and has been for some time).

I really enjoyed it.
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  #78  
Old 02-10-2017, 12:25 PM
DrFidelius DrFidelius is offline
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My biggest problem with Turtledove is that he has lost any imagination he may have had. His more recent novels (last decade or so) have been exactly historical events with the ID numbers filed off and different names inserted.
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  #79  
Old 02-10-2017, 12:47 PM
DrDeth DrDeth is offline
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Originally Posted by Lightray View Post
The question of whether a gentleman would exploit the use of magic for their personal gain has absolutely no relevance whatsoever to the book's plot. Norrell and Strange were not randomly selected to be magicians. They were, explicitly, part of a spell the Raven King had cast to get rid of the Gentleman With the Thistledown Hair.

They did not accidentally have personality traits that led to them not exploiting their magic - they were specifically selected for the personality traits that the Raven King's spell needed.

There's no need to speculate why some other magician wouldn't have teleported London into the Marianas Trench in a fit of pique, or snatched Napoleon into prison, because there weren't going to be any other magicians. The Raven King brought back magic to have two magicians do what he needed done, and then set up circumstances so those two magicians got put away where they'd be no bother after they were done.
It's possible that Norrell knew some Parlor tricks before.
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  #80  
Old 02-10-2017, 02:27 PM
Sunny Daze Sunny Daze is offline
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But there are other magicians that arrive after them: Part of their purpose is return magic.

Also - there is one part of the ending that doesn't make sense to me at.

SPOILER:
The death of the Gentleman with the Thistledown Hair undoes all of his works except the Darkness around Strange (and Norrell). Why? This does not compute.
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  #81  
Old 02-14-2017, 12:50 PM
Malthus Malthus is offline
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Originally Posted by Sunny Daze View Post
But there are other magicians that arrive after them: Part of their purpose is return magic.

Also - there is one part of the ending that doesn't make sense to me at.

SPOILER:
The death of the Gentleman with the Thistledown Hair undoes all of his works except the Darkness around Strange (and Norrell). Why? This does not compute.
SPOILER:
The other works were generally based on his position as King. He gets replaced as King by Stephen, and the whole basis of his kingdom changes instantly. The Gentleman with the Thistledown Hair was so arrogant that he never even considered the fact that he could be replaced.

His darkness spell I believe he made self-perpetuating, putting a good deal of his power into doing so.
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