She presents a second post on the wonderful BBC production Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (see my review HERE). Her analysis digs deeper into some symbolism of the Raven King. Additionally, she has graced us with an original art piece just for this post. If you like what you see in her artwork, please follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or on her BLOG. She posts a lot of wonderful fan art including pieces for Game of Thrones and Avengers.
Without further ado, here is her post... [SPOILERS AHEAD]
"I sit upon a black throne in the shadows but they shall not see me.
The rain shall make a door for me and I shall pass through it;
The stones shall make a throne for me and I shall sit upon it..."
The Raven King, (or John Uskglass as he is also known), that dark, northern king of old, raised by the faerie, who vanished from England long ago, I believe is the heart and center of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I remember when I first read the book that, though the story centered around the drama that played out between two rival magicians, it was the Raven King who left a lasting impression upon me. It is his role and what his character represents that is the crucial part of the story, and gives understanding to all the events that take place within. It was no different for me when I watched BBC's beautiful miniseries. My following analysis is actually going to be mostly centered on the BBC series, as I have not read the book in quite a long time, but I believe, more or less, the series stayed true to the material as much as it was able.
The key to understanding the Raven King's role in the story is by seeing him as a symbol rather than an actual character. What he symbolizes is magic, specifically the glory of magic. At the story's beginning, we are given a mysterious prophecy through the street magician Vinculus, a prophecy that heralds the return of the Raven King and so following magic to England. For, although England is full of magicians, none of them are practicing. Magic has long since been reduced to old legends and myths, something they believe has long since died out. There is a yearning, though, for true magic, as the magician John Segundus represents. He is tired of them sitting around talking and studying about magic. He inquires, "Why is magic no longer done in England?" There was a wildness and richness to magic that has long since faded in memory, but it is the Raven King whose return could usher forth a new age of wonder.
So, two magicians rise up, and it is through a chain of events. First, Mr. Norrell summons the faerie, the King of Lost Hope. Then, a rivalry builds to a climax between Norrell and Strange. Through this, the prophecy comes to its fruition, and what we end up discovering is that it was all part of the Raven King's spell. Norrell and Strange themselves were all part of the spell, to make a way for his return, and in so doing, the return of magic to England. In this way, I see the Raven King as a Christ figure, and this helps in giving a fuller and deeper meaning to his character and place within the narrative. Usually the Christ figure of a story portrays His sacrifice of his death in some shape or manner, however, in this case the Raven King portrays His glory, and this is the key.
For example, before Christ began his work, there was John the Baptist. He was foretold to be the one who would "prepare the way of the Lord." He lived in the wilderness, and "wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey." (Matthew 3:1-4) He was a holy wild man, and in this story, Vinculus is like an insane John the Baptist. He goes about speaking strange things of the prophecy to various characters of the story. To all appearances, he seems like he is a nonsensical, untrustworthy character, a mere swindling street magician who is more than touched in the head. Yet, in actuality he is the embodiment of the book of John Uskglass, the declarer of the prophecy, possessing the insight to what is really going on. As he declares "Do you still not understand? They are the spell John Uskglass is doing. That is all they have ever been. And he is doing it now!" So in this way, Vinculus is like a voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way for the Raven King.
Another example is in Christ's pattern of setting the stage before He does something glorious. I could use several examples from the Bible, as this is a pattern within the scriptures. There are many instances where God chooses various people, orchestrating events (though they are oftentimes terrible and perilous), and having them all be leading to one amazing purpose or manifestation of glory.
The example that comes to mind for this purpose is the story of Lazarus from John 11. Lazarus was very sick and dying. His sisters send word to Jesus to have him come and heal their brother. However, Jesus does not respond right away, and in so doing, Lazarus inevitably dies. Once Jesus hears of it, he goes to visit his tomb. When he arrives, many accuse him of not being there in time to save him. If He loved them, why did He wait? Jesus responds, "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" (John 11:40 Emphasis mine). After saying that, he calls out to Lazarus from outside the tomb, and Lazarus (though four days dead), is raised miraculously from the grave! Though the characters in this story were put through the pain and suffering of death, it was all leading to something much more glorious and wonderful, which revealed a purpose to everything that had come before.
In this way, the events of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell achieve the same end. The summoning of wicked faerie The King of Lost Hope, Lady Poole and Stephen's horrible imprisonment, Arabella who follows after, Jonathan Strange and Norrell's rivalry, Strange's madness, all these circumstances, though awful in of themselves, become the means by which the Raven King makes his return. More than that, the characters and events become conduits in manifesting the Raven King's glory, aka: the return of true magic. Strange and Norrell were the most crucial part, as they themselves were part of the spell, the spell that was instrumental in defeating The King of Lost Hope and ushering forth magic to England.
The final point on the parallels of glory between Christ and The Raven King is in showing how the promises and work of Christ are also mirrored in the work and magic of The Raven King. Christ, through His death, enabled the transference of His Spirit and His glory to those who would believe in Him, that they may take part in Him and be united with Him. "And the Word (Christ) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14) "The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one […]" (John 17:22) "[…] To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Colossians 1:27)
Arabella: You have no idea where these paths lead.
Jonathan Strange: No, and that’s the glorious, wondrous thing of it!
Scripture is full of the promises of splendor and beauty and honor that is to come for those who have been united with Him, all this made possible by Christ's work on the cross. C.S. Lewis, novelist and Christian apologist, described this type of glory best within his sermon The Weight of Glory:
And this brings me to the other sense of glory—glory as brightness, splendour, luminosity. We are to shine as the sun, we are to be given the Morning Star. I think I begin to see what it means. In one way, of course, God has given us the Morning Star already: you can go and enjoy the gift on many fine mornings if you get up early enough. What more, you may ask, do we want? Ah, but we want so much more— something the books on aesthetics take little notice of. But the poets and the mythologies know all about it. We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves—that, though we cannot, yet these projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty grace, and power of which Nature is the image.
For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get in.
To conclude, this concept of being "united" with glory is something that I believe brings the Raven King's symbolism to its head. Throughout the narrative there is that sense of wanting something more, that there is something more to magic than what England had made of it; the haunting idea of another world out there to explore, one that is wild and wondrous. Strange is the one who embodies these ideas, as he wants more than just the dry pages of Norrell's books, but to actually go and be a part of the magic, to find and travel the paths of the Raven King, wherever they may lead him. He feels that calling deep in his heart; and him being a magician, that calling seems to be a part of him. Even the magician Segundus, though not at the level of Strange, doesn't forget or let go of his magic when Norrell tricks the other magicians out of practicing, knowing in his heart that magic was something that was a part of him, something to be treasured. And as Childermass declares gravely towards the end, "[…] Our laws were made by the Raven King. Our towns and abbeys were founded by him. Mr. Norrell's house was built by him. He is in our minds and hearts and speech. And he is coming back."
In the end, we see that both Strange and Norrell did get in, as C.S. Lewis describes. They were united with the glory of magic, which had been in them and working through them all along. From Strange's passionate vision expressed in the writing of his revolutionary book on magic, to the uncharacteristic outburst of child-like awe and excitement of Norrell when he finally enters the realm of faerie having hoarded the beauty of magic for so long within his books. All these things were leading to the feat of great and powerful magic within the dark tower, where the collaboration of two magicians, the union of two hearts steeped in magic, embodied the glorious spell of the Raven King. As it is no better fate for a believer in Christ than to be united with Him and His glory, so then there is no better fate for a magician than to be united with magic. Therefore, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, at its heart, is the beautiful and lyrical tale of the splendor of magic and how it was made manifest through the glory of The Raven King.
|The Raven King, by Danielle Pajak 2015|