Monday, 29 June 2015

On the other side of the rain

Thoughts on the BBC's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

Peter Harness and Toby Haynes's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell was quietly involving, but only sometimes absolutely enthralling, and suffered at the end from a loss of the sense of scale and boundlessness that the realm of Faerie had in the book. Yet which book-hoarder could not wince as Gilbert Norrell surrendered to the loss of his library, knowing all the time that learning is nothing if it is not applied? Entertaining and exciting it was, but it felt also caught between two forms, the traditional closed-text book-to-television-serial adaptation, and the ongoing series which becomes its own narrative, seen in the SF and fantasy genres in The Tripods  in the 1980s, and more recently in Game of Thrones. The concluding episode felt as if it was hunting a second series commission, but with British ratings having fallen by two-thirds, it is perhaps unlikely that we will see it, unless American ratings are good enough to tempt a new co-production with further partners such Amazon or Netflix. The promised magical alliance of Arabella, Emma and Flora would be more than sufficient to hook a second series on. Incidents in the book which offered more closure were lost, though bequeathing to television potential for Stephen's reign at Lost Hope to be explored in any sequel, as well as introducing characters from the novel suppressed for the sake of clarity in the adaptation.

One might go further with such speculative proposals; though one might end up instead relating how there was in the year sixteen hundred and eleven a necromancer who came to Oxford and summoned the masters and scholars of all the colleges to meet him at the site of the Swindlestock Tavern, for to recall to life their predecessors slaughtered centuries before on St Scholastica's Day; and how he failed, for the college chefs could not make noodles with grain watered with St Frideswide's tears. Be this so, the Raven King may yet allow a little charity amidst his unkindness.