Tag Archives: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

“My Father Will Hear About This”: A Look at Magical Aristocracy

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What time is it? It’s time to think unreasonably deeply about Little Witch Academia’s worldbuilding and how it contributes to an ingrained trend of making heroic magical stories all about capitalism vs class structures!

So. Little Witch Academia follows the shenanigans of Akko Kagari at Luna Nova magical academy where she, inspired by an idol-style illusionist she’s been a fan of since childhood, is learning to become a witch. Naturally every Harry Potter story of hallowed halls, pointy hats and potion classes needs a Draco Malfoy, and this comes in the form of top student Diana Cavendish, who makes an intriguing remark in the second movie about how she is from a historic magic family and Akko is a nobody from some faraway place, and she’s making everybody look bad with her impudent ineptitude.

What we glean from this is that there’s a hierarchy, if not a straight up class system, in the world of witches—whether or not magical talent is actually passed down through the bloodline (a la Fate, which I’ll get to in a bit), there’s definitely an accepted social thing that families where multiple generations (the further back they go the better) have been practicing magic hold themselves in higher regard to first generation witches. But, as Akko shows by getting into the school in the first place, magical talent doesn’t seem to be something you are or are not born with in this universe. Supposedly if she, an ordinary girl from nowhere, can learn it, so can any pleb from the town… except that the townspeople hold a historic dislike for witches, to the point where they happily re-enact witch hunts as part of a parade every year. Perhaps, kicked down the social hierarchy by regular society, magic society formed their own social hierarchy to alienate those who represented the regular humans who spurned them? Continue reading

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Strange, Norrell, Magic and Morality

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“Can a magician kill someone with magic?”
“A magician might,” he had replied. “But a gentleman never could.”

[Spoilers ahead for the novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell]

I’m packing in my writing degree and starting a study of Theoretical Magic. I can’t say imaginary academia has ever captured my interest as much as the detailed footnotes and references to books and accounts on magic that help build the world of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Susanna Clarke’s vividly woven alternate history is a fascinating study in slow-burn but effective worldbuilding, but I can gush about that another day—magic has come back to England, and just as it’s blurred the boundaries between wholesome human Earth and the bizarre, terrible nooks and crannies of Faerie, it’s made the nation’s morality a little grey. Or has it?

To backpedal: it’s 1806, and despite once being full of magic-practicing folks—largely due to the country being ruled by a magician king and his fairy army for three centuries—England is now dry of spells and enchantments. Studying the history and theory of magic in England is, however, as much a gentlemanly pursuit as the study of Classical Greece and ballroom dancing. No practical magicians remain… except for Gilbert Norrell, who appears out of the woodwork, slam dunks an entire Society of Learned Magicians into the trash, and makes his way to London to Begin a New Era in English Magic.

He’s a finicky, nervous, haughty and vindictive little bugger, and is keen that he should be the only magician around, and that everyone who wishes to continue studying magic should do it as he directs. When a talented novice named Jonathan Strange approaches, however, Norrell is delighted to have a pupil… though due to Strange being blasé, brave, and equally arrogant and spiteful as his tutor, and with a thirst for a different kind of magic to the one he’s teaching to boot, naturally the two butt heads and end up in a catfight, as well as at opposite ends of a spectrum of magic attitude. Continue reading

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Filed under Alex Reads, Pop Culture Ponderings