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Deceit and Madness, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel Episode 6 review: The Black Tower

What do you call a person who deliberately makes himself mad? Strange?

Forgive my feeble attempt at humour but I can’t help it. The episode in Venice has always been very exciting in the book and one I looked forward to in the tv adaptation.


After falling out with Mr Norrell, Strange- tutor-less, wifeless and humorless goes to Venice to explore deeper and darker magic in order to summon a faery. He surmised that summoning a faery is one thing, but actually seeing the summoned faery requires a more unconventional approach. Madness, the state of the mind attractive to faeries may be able to help him in his endeavor. And so, like many great artists, Strange decides to unwash his hair and wear the same rag for days with strict distilled rat juice for diet.

Dr. Greysteel, it says here you were a fugitive.  Strange: Just a bit of a misunderstanding.

Dr. Greysteel: It says here you are a fugitive.
Strange: Just a bit of a misunderstanding.

The rat mentioned, came from an old cat lady who eventually became a cat. Strange have found a true mad cat lady to effect his home made potion as referred to by two English persons, Dr Greysteel and her impetuous daughter who was attracted to mad and brooding artists, Flora Greysteel.

In a way this episode showed how far Strange would go to resurrect his wife. In television we expect our ‘heroes’ to lay down their lives (or in this case sanity) for one true love but on the page, in the book, Strange was not this romantic made mad by love, but he was just a mad scientist. In the book he didn’t even attempt to resurrect his wife. He was in mourning but to distract himself from the fact, he turned to magic. In a way he became unhinged. He no longer cared what Norrell would do to his book, who by the way was unwriting  his books in London or in the case of the tv adaptation popping them out of existence. He was consumed by only one obsession, to see a faery.   

This tale of two Strange has been laid down since the beginning of the adaptation. Strange in the book, though obviously in love would in a way take for granted the presence and love of his wife. She was just always there by his side, supporting his career choice. But the tv adaptation needs more female presence and Arabella must be transformed from quiet supporting wife, into energetic supporting wife. And so Strange must also change. In all the weirdness of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, a small peephole into the familiar is not a bad thing.


And so Strange finally managed to see The Gentleman and its not long before they’ve made their acquaintance that Strange made the connection that The Gentleman have been in the service of Norrell and set about to follow him in Lost Hope where he finds his wife dancing all these times with strange people. But Strange, without much experience and knowledge in faery was finally overwhelmed, bringing back an impressive Black Tower when he came back to Venice.

“Time and I have quarrelled. All hours are midnight now.” Jonathan Strange followed by the Black Tower, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

At this point I should mention that Drawlight was set loose by Norrell to spy on Strange. You can’t help but feel sorry for getting so much fun from Drawlight.


Things are less straightforward in Mr Norrell’s world. He does the opposite of what Strange has been doing. As Strange became more and more enamored with magic, Norrell is occupied by intrigue, betrayals and politics, barely doing any magic at all. After hearing of news that Strange plans on making a fabulous return (and together with him is all the wild and wicked magic of all England) to exact his revenge, Norrell is on the process of leaving London for his Yorkshire mansion and take refuge in his library. And things are getting more and more tense between Childermass, the servant and Lascelles, the opportunist.

And in between, we see a few moments of Stephen Black still servile to the will of the Gentleman. Desperate for help, he finds Vinculus who tells him all will be alright for him. But years of servitude could not move Stephen Black into proactivity and we are yet to see where his road leads in the next episode. For now, he is responsible for the death of one man.

I think I’m guilty of being repetitive at this point. Yes, it was a wonderful episode and the whole series have lived up to expectation! With just one more episode to review, This Reader is really happy to see one of her favorite books come to life on the small screen. Pity though, no pineapples in this episode, but otherwise, still fab!

Well, what do you think?

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SFF Book Reviews

random thoughts about fantasy & science fiction books


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