Wednesday 3 August 2016

What is fairy magic? From Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

Just then a high, mournful sound broke in upon Stephen's dream – a slow, sad song in an unknown language and Stephen understood without ever actually waking that the gentleman with the thistle-down hair was singing.

It may be laid down as a general rule that if a man begins to sing, no one will take any notice of his song except his fellow human beings. This is true even if his song is surpassingly beautiful.

Other men may be in raptures at his skill, but the rest of creation is, by and large, unmoved. Perhaps a cat or a dog may look at him; his horse, if it is an exceptionally intelligent beast, may pause in cropping the grass, but that is the extent of it.

But when the fairy sang, the whole world listened to him.

Stephen felt clouds pause in their passing; he felt sleeping hills shift and murmur; he felt cold mists dance. He understood for the first time that the world is not dumb at all, but merely waiting for someone to speak to it in a language it understands. In the fairy's song the earth recognized the names by which it called itself.

Stephen began to dream again. This time he dreamt that hills walked and the sky wept. Trees came and spoke to him and told him their secrets and also whether or not he might regard them as friends or enemies. Important destinies were hidden inside pebbles and crumpled leaves.

He dreamt that everything in the world – stones and rivers, leaves and fire – had a purpose which it was determined to carry out with the utmost rigour, but he also understood that it was possible sometimes to persuade things to a different purpose.

From Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, a novel by Susanna Clarke (2004)


Nathaniel said...

This reminds me of Legolas listening to the trees, rocks, and talking to animals.

Bruce Charlton said...

@N Yes - and it's gorgeous writing!