Last week, I started a series of posts (#1, #2) in which I comment on what I was sad to miss in the (quite decent overall) BBC TV series “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell”, compared to the wonderful original book.
Like the second post in the series, today’s post is also a commentary on the feelings nearly impossible to project on the screen vs. paper, vs. living them.
Unlike the second post in the series, take this major spoiler alert if you haven’t read the book and there is even a remote possibility that you would.
This next grievance I have has to do with important characters and a narrative crux. The beauty and the underlying unresloved longing at the crux give me goosebumps.
We meet Childermass, Mr. Norrell’s man of business, before we meet either of the protagonists. He is clever, somewhat shady, and heartless then. Then, slowly, his intelligence and steadfastness come to light. Finally, just before he leaves Mr. Norrell, he opens his heart:
I am a North Englishman <…> Nothing would please me better than that my King should come home. It is what I have wished for all my life.
Three days later, Childermass, by chance, finds the King’s book that he for years has searched for. At the same crossroads, he meets the Raven King himself. And, with his heart, recognizes:
I know him. <…> He is a magician. I know him well. Why can I not think what his name is?
…But never with his mind. Even as the Raven King reminds Childermass of his allegiance boasts, Childermass denies and fails to behold someone he adored the most in his life.
What was to be done at that crossroad, gets done. The King’s book gets rewritten, because what it foretold came to pass. The King moves on. Childermass moves on, never the wiser.
Love from the bottom of the heart, depth, not drama, takes time and silence to reveal. On the screen, no time for that: an aging goth kid appears, waves hands a couple of times to quiet the arguing Childermass, a couple more times to fix the book, then disappears. Not much dialogue, devotion, or character development. Like nothing much happened.
On a smaller scale (several orders of magnitude), the other day, Tom had a dinner party. I sat next to a house guest (a friend of a housemate). She told me she was a writer. Tom’s friends talked about food and rising water levels. The houseguest was pleasant and sociable. I was more so toward the people I had already known than toward her. I didn’t even ask what kind of writer. This morning, I realized that she was the writer whose articles I read with some regularity and admire greatly for writing style and thoughtfulness.
We are incredibly blind sometimes.