Friday 24 September 2021

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - and final participation

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - which I first encountered in 2015 - has become one of just a handful of books in my life that I am almost-continually re-reading. I find it fascinating and delightful, genuinely wise and deeply witty. 

Perhaps this is because it is set in that era around 1800 when  - by my understanding of the development of Man's consciousness - a wrong path was taken. By my way of reading; Strange and Norrell sketches-out what might have happened had Englishmen begun upon the right path - that path towards Final Participation.  

The Raven King is eventually seen as the author and stage manager of the events of S&N - and the guide towards Final Participation that neither Strange nor Norrell can see. 

By 1800, Modern man was alienated (the Age of Reason/ Enlightenment) and in need of healing. Magic is participation - it is the healing of the modern rift between Man and God, Man and nature and between Man and his real, spiritual, divine self.

By contrast with the Raven King; neither Strange nor Norrell are Christian - so on those grounds alone, it can be seen that their ideas are incomplete and distorted. 

Norrell seeks what might be termed a late Medieval, scholastic answer (Steiner's Intellectual Soul) - an attempted re-integration by books and study, by quasi-scientific rituals - calmly, gentlemanly, in a way socially-acceptable. (A Temenos Academy approach!). 

He intends to exclude belif-in, and interaction-with, fairies (and the Raven King) from his magical system - and yet all the magic he does is in fact indirectly dependent on that source but in an unconscious, and indeed dishonestly denied, fashion. 

Strange yearns towards a magic (and spirituality) that is instinctive and spontaneous (unsystematic) - where Men and fairies work together, and Man is (like the fairies) so immersed in nature as to be unable fully to detach himself. 

Where Norrell is the proto-scientific, scholarly, ritual magician; Strange harks back to the Shaman (and shares the Shaman's charisma). He represents the 'Romantic reaction' - and becomes friends with Byron (with whom he shares some attributes). 

This is the yearning for that earlier developmental phase called Original Participation; which, if effective, would lead to a reversal of the conscious, autonomous, deliberately chosen mode of thinking: Men would become (more like fairies) childlike again - ultimately un-conscious. 

By his behind-the-scenes activities; the Raven King ensures that magic is restored to England; but in the process, both Strange and Norrell are removed - along with nearly all the books of magic. 

At the end of the novel; magic is more widely available than ever before; but each Man must find his own way to it. The new magicians may call themselves Strange-ites or Norrell-ites, but each magician has made that personal choice, and each must choose and navigate his own path into magic (which is participation). 

Strange and Norrell ends, therefore, is a hope-full way; with the new generation of magicians representing a start at the great task of moving towards Man's next, destined development of consciousness. Ritual magic and Shamanic magic are being left-behind; and the new magic is not given a name - but it can be recognized as essentially the exact same thing as Barfield's Final Participation; or what I term Romantic Christianity.

Christianity is always in the background of Strange and Norrell; but the hopeful ending implies a Christian faith in the resurrected life eternal, or else any 'positive' outcome would be merely therapeutic and utilitarian. 'Magic' is romanticism in S&N - specifically, the 'romantic' conscious and chosen awakening of direct and experiential Christianity; as our only possible - as well as most desirable, joyous - destiny.  


Skarp Hedin said...

Thanks for this. Fascinating. I remember enjoying S&N so much I bought copies as gifts. I'll read again.

Your discussion brought to mind Eliade. Especially Eternal Return and Shamanism. The pain of the adolescent stage seems very like the Terror of History in Eternal Return and the sense of actual shamanism as a degenerate version of the "real" shamanism of olden times or the illud tempore of Shamanism.

Your Tenemos reference of course brings mind Guenon... and uncomfortable possibilities of Luciferianism... maybe you could say something about how the third stage relates to the esoteric/occult Luciferian striving for godhood?

Thanks again.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SH - The blog is moderated - no need for multi-posting.

Answers to your questions can be found by following the link from Romantic Christianity, or word search 'Luciferic' - but it's a big topic.

San Juan de la Cruz said...

I acquired this book years ago on your recommendation. What would be the other books you are fond of re-reading, Mr Charlton?

Bruce Charlton said...

SJ - I can't usefully recommend books to strangers, I'm afraid - but my favourite 'fiction' of the past 45+ years is, of course, The Lord of the Rings.