In several Mythgard Academy classes, the distinction between the two types of magic has come up: magia versus goeteia. Doing magic, through your own knowledge and mastery, versus summoning up a spirit who can help you out. That’s usually described as “high magic” versus “black magic”, but I prefer to call it thaumaturgy versus conjury. It looked to me at first like Mr. Norrell’s mission, at the start of JS&MrN, is to replace the latter with the former.
Tom Shippey informs us that C.S. Lewis is all over this. It’s well-trodden ground among the Inklings. There’s a disconnection in JS&MrN, though. The change from the Golden Age to the Silver Age, which Susanna Clarke delightfully calls “Aureate” and “Argentine”, is contemporaneous with the change from the Plantagenets to the Tudors, and from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. If that transition has already happened, what’s going on in the 19th Century? I see two possibilities:
- The original transition was botched.
- Norrell is pushing the magical equivalent of the Industrial Revolution.
The argument for the first is that the Argentines don’t seem to have been as powerful as the Aureates. Historical progress in England around that time tended towards increasing control over the physical world. The change from direct conjury of forces of nature to keeping a fairy servant around the house is a step downward in mastery. (Or maybe it’s because Argentine magicians never got any sleep.)
The argument for the second is that a hundred cues in the surroundings indicate that history in the novel matches ours closely. They point us, who know what’s coming next, towards the industrial. So Norrell might be trying to institute an Iron Age of English Magic. It will be up to those who come long after, to decide if the Age will be Ferrous or Ferric. After magia and goeteia comes scientia, just not the same way as in our history.
So, for those keeping score: I found a review by Corey Olsen, of a book that contained an article by Tom Shippey, who was reviewing an obscure book by C.S. Lewis, who was writing about “Drab Age” English literature, which was written about the actual world, real or imagined. This may turn out to be the hardest part of literary analysis – it’s turtles, a long way down.