By now, you have either seen the first episode of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, “The Friends of English Magic,” on the BBC America site, or you are waiting to see its television premiere this Saturday, June 10, 2015 at 10 PM. Either way, you know there are a lot of characters in this story. So, with the minimum of spoilers, here is a quick character guide with some quotations from the book to help you in your viewing:
“Mr. Norrell . . . knew there were such things as jokes in the world or people would not write about them in books . . . but had never actually been introduced to a joke or shaken it by the hand.”
Mr Norrell (Eddie Marsan) The first of the two magicians in England, he would really rather sit in his magnificent library reading and performing the odd bit of magic for his own satisfaction. However, he feels an obligation to make sure that magic returns properly and heads out to London to see to it. The last time magic was active in England, it was wild and tangled and tied closely to the people of Fairy. Mr Norrell is going to see to it that it returns in an orderly, respectable fashion.
“Strange was everyone’s idea of what a magician ought to be. He was tall; he was charming; he had a most ironical smile”
Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvell) the second magician. He begins his study of magic almost accidentally when a strange, bedraggled figure of a man gives him a prophecy and hands him a couple of spells to get started with. Needing an occupation in order to impress Arabella, the woman he wants to marry, Strange declares himself a magician and proves it by working one of the spells. It is not long before he, like Norrell, heads to London.
“His face was the color of three-day-old milk; his hair was the colour of a coal-smoke-and-ashes London sky; and his clothes were the colour of the Thames at dirty Wapping. Nothing about him—face, hair, clothes—was particularly clean. . . . He stood very erect and the expression of his fierc grey eyes was naturally imperious.”
Vinculus, the magician of Threadneedle Street (Paul Kaye) Vinculus, the magician of Threadneedle Street, is a popular street magician, though none of his spells are ever known to work. He does, however, have a long prophecy that he delivers to Strange, Norrell, and other key players in the upcoming events.
“You elected to summon me because my genius for magic exceeds that of all the rest of my race. . . . Because I am valorous, chivalrous, generous and as handsome as the day is long! That is all quite understood!”
The Gentleman with Thistle-Down Hair (Marc Warren) is the Fairy gentleman whom Norrell summons for his most impressive act of magic. He is completely incapable of viewing the world from anyone else’s viewpoint and assumes that, whatever happens, it is about him.
“Do you not know that my beautiful sisters and cousins—for each of whom, I may say, kings have killed each other and great empires fallen into decay—all quarrel over who will be your next dancing partner. . . . And as for declining to become a king, there is nothing, I assure you more agreeable than having everyone bow before one and call one by all sorts of noble titles,” declared the gentleman.
Stephen Black (Ariyon Bakare) Sir Walter Pole’s much-trusted butler a man who has capably run the household for years. The Gentleman takes a liking to him and declares he should be a king. Stephen also begins to wonder more about his past and to question his place in English society.
“Childermass knew the world. Childermass knew what games the children on street-corners are playing—games that all other grown-ups have long since forgotten. Childermass knew what old people by firesides are thinking of, though no one has asked them in years. Childermass knew what young men hear in the rattling of drums and the tooting of the pipes that makes them leave their homes and go to be soldiers—and he knew the half-eggcupful of glory and the barrelful of misery that await them. Childermass could look at a smart attorney in the street and tell you what he had in his coat-tail pockets. And all that Childermass knew made him smile; and some of what he knew made him laugh out loud; and none of what he knew wrung from him so much as a ha’penny worth of pity.”
Childermass (Enzo Cilenti) is Mr Norrell’s servant and chief adviser. It is he who tells Mr Norrell that it is time to go to London and he is the one who encourages him to stay after his initial rebuff. He is a loyal servant of the Raven King, and perhaps more adept with magic than Mr Norrell chooses to acknowledge.
“He says that somewhere on a mountain with a storybook name there grows a tree which bears sheet music instead of fruit and the music is far superior to any other. I can never quite tell whether he believes his own tales or not”
Arabella (Charlotte Rily) is (or soon becomes) Jonathan Strange’s wife and becomes Lady Pole’s good friend. She has to put up with all the oddities and obsessions of a magician’s life. She also makes the acquaintance of some very odd people thanks to his preoccupations.
“Sir Walter had a generous spirit and was often kind-hearted. He told someone once that he hoped his enemies all had reason to fear him and his friends reason to love him—and I think that upon the whole they did.
Sir Walter Pole (Samuel West) is a promising politician whom Mr Norrel first approaches with the suggestion that magic be used in the war. He initially assumes that Mr Norrell is no more capable of magic and no more respectable than street magicians like Vinculus. After Mr Norrell demonstrates his abilities, he becomes one of Mr Norrell—and magic’s–greatest advocates.
“Like every other young lady of nineteen Lady Pole was wild for dancing. She would dance every dance at a ball without ever once losing her breath and was dismayed that everyone went away so soon.”
Lady Pole (Alice Englert) was a sickly young woman when first engaged to Sir Walter Pole. Later, thanks to magic, she acquired a great deal more energy and some very unwelcome friends. She and Arabella are good friends.
“Then Childermass related to Mr Norrell what he had discovered about Drawlight: how he belonged to a certain breed of gentlemen, only to be met with in London, whose main occupation is the wearing of expensive and fashionable clothes; how they pass their lives in ostentatious idleness, gambling and drinking to excess. . . . how in recent years, this breed seemed to haave reached a sort of perfection in Christopher Drawlight.”
Drawlight (Vincent Franklin) is a fashionable man of London society. He decides that it will improve his status to be friends with the greatest magician of the age and so becomes Mr Norrell’s advisor in all things social.
“Some of Mr Norrell’s conversation—the more entertaining part—was supplied by Mr Drawlight and Mr Lascelles. They sat on either side of him busily conveying his opinions on modern magic about the table.”
Lascelles (John Heffernan) dresses well and knows how to decorate a house and soon becomes invaluable in assisting Mr Norrell in matters of décor and decorum.
“‘I will not sign,’ he said. ‘For magic is my life and though Mr Norrell is quite right to say I am a poor scholar, what shall I do when it is taken from me?'”
Segundus (Edward Hogg) begins the chain of events that brings Mr Norrell to prominence. A theoretical magician, he wants to know why there is no magic practiced in England, and his question leads him to Mr Norrell, who is practicing. He remains dedicated to magic, even though things grow increasingly difficult for him.