Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell S01 E03: The Education of a Magician

Mr. Norrell

When we last left the two English magicians, Mr. Norrell’s student, Jonathan Strange, was the new popular spell-caster in town. Jonathan sets off to have adventures with the army in Portugal, leaving a sulking Mr. Norrell at home.  Lady Pole is not well and is descending further into madness; her unfortunate servant, Stephen Black, is not far behind.

I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching me

Arabella Strange is being watched. The Gentleman continues to keep a covetous eye upon her. He even appears to her twice with attempts to win her over with his charm. Though it is uncertain who Arabella thinks he is, perhaps just a guest in the Pole home, she is not impressed with the well-coiffed fairy King.


Arabella shows that she is more than just the wife of a magician.  She is a smart, tough woman.  The Gentleman attempts to make a bargain with Arabella for the release of Lady Pole, but Arabella is nobody’s fool. Too bad she wasn’t around to advise Mr. Norrell when he made his deal with the devilish fairy. Arabella is strong-willed, but The Gentleman is very powerful. Arabella may not be out of danger yet.

Mr. Norrell’s servant Childermass is also stalking Arabella Strange.  He has been intercepting the letters between Arabella and her husband. Mr. Norrell wants to keep a close eye on their correspondence. He is not pleased that Arabella and Emma are chummy. He’s certain sooner or later, Lady Pole will somehow divulge her secret to her new friend.

The Forest for the Trees

In Portugal, Jonathan finds that he is unwanted and disrespected, especially by the army’s head man, Lord Wellington. More than one person on Twitter mistook actor Ronan Vibert for Alan Rickman. Though Vibert does not have the same deep, dripping, dialogue delivery, his stiff neck, drilling stare, and biting sarcasm does feel a bit Snape like.


Like Norrell, Jonathan must prove his usefulness as a magician. If he cannot kill, create more men, or create artillery, Lord Wellington has no use for him. A persistent Strange spends time with the soldiers, and learns that a boot friendly road is what the men desire.

The look of satisfaction on Jonathan’s face after he successfully creates a road for the soldiers, endeared me to him, and to actor Bertie Carvel, even more. It was the same look that I think most of us would have if we completed a triumphant piece of magic. Unlike the stuffy Mr. Norrell, Jonathan is a relatable magician.

Lord Wellington is pleased, though he does wish that the road was straighter. Much to Strange’s dismay, Lord Wellington proceeds to give Strange the nickname, Merlin.

For his next task, Strange is asked to move a forest.  Strange argues that this is beyond his magical abilities. Trees are living things. He could try, but the trees would have to agree to move.  Lord Wellington insists, in a way that would have made me tell Lord Wellington to stuff it. Jonathan gives the spell a try, but it does not go well. The soldiers are attacked. Jonathan’s faithful servant Jeremy becomes collateral damage, along with Mr. Norrell’s books. The battlefield leaves Jonathan’s nerves significantly rattled.


For his third magical act on the war front, Jonathan is asked to extract information from enemy soldiers, dead enemy soldiers.  For this, Jonathan crosses a line. He uses the magic of the Raven King.  Though it is not said outright, it seems to be implied that this is dark, evil magic.

The scene is creepy.  At night, in an abandoned windmill, Jonathan cuts his arm and sprinkles the three enemy corpses with blood.  At first it appears that the spell did not work, and even though I was sure it was coming, I still jumped when the first corpse suddenly sprang to life.


The zombie soldiers reveal the needed information, but they don’t stop talking. They also beg not to be sent back to hell, and to be allowed to return home to their families.  Jonathan is stressed. He was able to bring the corpses to life, but he has no idea how to make them dead again. In the end, the windmill is set ablaze with the zombies trapped inside. As he walks away from the burning windmill, the living soldiers give Jonathan the British army equivalent of the slow clap.  Jonathan finally has the army’s respect, but what has it cost his soul?

The Tapestry

Lady Pole has taken up sewing.  Like Arabella, Lady Pole is a clever woman.  If she can’t tell anyone what it going on, she will show them.  The tapestry depicting Lost-Hope is impressive.  Readers of the book will recognize and appreciate one of the Gentleman’s gruesome celebrations.


Lady Pole desperately wants Arabella to understand what the images on the tapestry mean, but I’m sure in Arabella’s wildest imagination she wouldn’t be able to figure out that Lady Pole is abducted every night by a fairy.  Arabella, ever the dutiful friend, agrees to tell her husband about the tapestry, even if she only thinks it is the artwork of a woman losing her marbles. Of course the letter sent to Jonathan is intercepted and read by Mr. Norrell. He orders Childermass to destroy Lady Pole’s tapestry.

Lady Pole does not take the destruction of her handy work well.  She attacks herself with scissors, further convincing everyone that she is a danger to herself and others.  Not knowing what else to do, Sir Walter once again consults Norrell.

The set for this scene is brilliant; a restrained Lady Pole in a white nightdress, atop white linens, with a white canopy overhead. The room is sparse; the walls have a white washed feel, vibrant light spills through an unseen window. The brightness of the room clashes with the darkness that is contained inside of Emma’s mind.


Emma gives Mr. Norrell a piece of her mind, and a bite of her teeth.  Gilbert has the nerve to tell Lady Pole that sacrifices have to be made in order to make magic respectable, and to please stop trying to tell people about the nightly Lost-Hope visits. He then lets Lady Pole know that she’ll have to spend seventy-five more years dancing at ghostly balls.  I would need to be tied down too because I’d want to wrap my hands around his scrawny little neck if he dared to say such a thing to me.  Mr. Norrell delivers one final blow. He tells Sir Walter that he believes Arabella Strange is exciting Lady Pole’s emotions and she should no longer be allowed to visit the Pole household.


Lady Pole proves that you can’t tie a good woman down.  While Stephen Black is busy learning about his past, and possible future from The Gentleman, Lady Pole escapes her bonds. Her mission, shoot Mr. Norrell dead.  She almost succeeds, but Childermass, who could sense the magic emanating from Emma, attemps to intercept her, and ends up getting shot instead.  The episode concludes with a captured Emma, a shaken Norrell, and Childermass bleeding out upon the sidewalk.


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