Mirrors

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Mirrors, or even a simple silver basin of water capable of holding a reflection, feature in much of the magic performed by both Strange and Norrell.

Strange perhaps is particularly drawn to mirrors - in fact, his first entrance into our story is as an apparition in one. Jeremy Johns catches sight of Strange's reflection whilst industriously searching his young master's room for some sherry-wine he believes, correctly, it must somewhere contain. It is also when Strange is light-heartedly performing for Miss Woodhope's amusement a spell which calls for the use of a mirror that he first discovers his magical talents[22]. Then again, when he and Mr Norrell first become acquainted it is over a piece of magic concerning a mirror. Having been given a book by Mr Norrell Strange causes it to change places with its reflection. The novelty of this so delights the donor - it is quite unlike any magic he has ever performed himself and, as he observes, is not even listed in Sutton-Grove - that he there on the spot offers to become Strange's tutor[24].

Later Strange is challenged by a friend to walk into a mirror, and when he does so finds himself instantly upon the King's Roads[35]. It appears that for magicians, mirrors are gateways between worlds - very many worlds; and so when considering how best to free his wife from the thrall of the gentleman with the thistle-down hair Strange is first careful to provide her with a means of fleeing safely down a certain route, so that when the spell which binds her is broken she may not wander on the Roads forever. He evidently does this by performing magic which, once she is freed, draws her down a path to a particular mirror which he intends to be her portal back into our own world. He then gives this mirror into the care of Flora Greysteel [60, 66, 68].

Despite - or perhaps because of - all this evidence of their great significance, Mr. Norrell's natural fretfulness of temper is always increased by the public's fondness for associating magic and mirrors: "People always imagine that magicians and mirrors go together," he observes peevishly at one point[35]. At another time he reveals his distaste for their use when he inveighs against the activities of certain shopkeepers who hit upon the happy notion of selling 'magical' mirrors, and find a ready market for them. According to Mr. Norrell very little magic can be performed by magicians using mirrors; still less is respectable*; and all of it is achievable with the use of a perfectly ordinary looking-glass[51]. Later however when contemplating the ways in which Strange may reappear in England to cause further magical havoc, he admits he cannot prevent him coming by way of the King's Roads because "Every mirror, every puddle, every shadow in England is a gate to those roads.[61]"

  • He provides an instance of this himself. After he and Mr Strange quarrel, Mr Norrell is vexed by the news that his former pupil is writing a book. He is naturally curious as to what this may contain, and so he has a silver dish of water brought to his room, presumably to spy upon Mr Strange as he writes. Mr Strange however is a little ahead of him: he has all the mirrors in the room where he works turned to the wall, and so despite several hours of work, by the end of the evening poor Mr Norrell was no wiser[42].