I’m pleased to say I’ve now seen the 6.5 hour TV adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, treating it as a giant movie, and without reading the novel first. I can thoroughly recommend this excellent BBC adaptation.

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There is much here to interest and entertain Lovecraft fans, both visually and intellectually. Although I see no direct or very obvious influence from Lovecraft. Instead Strange & Norrell taps into and recombines the Gothic novel (in the freshest way) with English fairy stories. It then lightly dabs on some inverted English ‘King Arthur lies sleeping’ myth, sprinkles a few touches of Middlemarch, and dumps in a bushel of magicians. It’s a successful mix, and thankfully manages to portray the occult without even a whit or a sniff of the inverted Christian pantomime exemplified by the tired old Crowley-ite / Dennis Wheatley tradition. The TV adaptation of Strange & Norrell is also refreshingly very light on gratuitous gore (other than a few war scenes), on plot-stopping bed-hopping romance, and on the sort of tedious 15-minute monologues on aberrant psychology that pad out Game of Thrones.

The closest possibility of a Lovecraft influence seems to be The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, which has many parallels with Strange & Norrell; practical magicians; reanimation; the long search for the reason for a character’s madness, and a few other close parallels I won’t reveal for fear of spoiling the plot of Strange & Norrell. Other apparent similarities are probably simply due to Lovecraft being a devout Anglophile — which means that both works tapped into the same English tradition of early modern magic (see my “What could Lovecraft and his circle have known of Doctor John Dee?” in Historical Context 3).

One might also idly point to “The Outsider” and the conception of monster-at-the-ball. But I’ve pointed out elsewhere that Lovecraft and Poe had a macabre historical inspiration and were anyway likely also resting on earlier fairy tales. The slight architectural similarity between “The Outsider” and Strange & Norrell could equally well arise from the first two books of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, or real-life Gothic architecture in general. Or, in its magical connections and location, even certain aspects of Hogwarts.

There is of course a very strong similarity to the use of mirrors in Lovecraft & Whitehead’s “The Trap” (see my “Mirrored : reflections on Lovecraft’s reflections” in Historical Context 3), and even to the particular contents of the HPL/Whitehead mirror. But the lineage of the basic underlying mirror-world idea can be traced back to Alice and then to chapter 13 of Phantastes by George MacDonald and possibly beyond.

Incidentally, those interested in the English fairy tale tradition (yes, we do have one) after viewing Strange & Norrell, should see Joseph Jacobs’s 1890s collections English Fairy Tales (audio) and More English Fairy Tales (audio).

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