Raising the Dead

From The Library at Hurtfew
Jump to: navigation, search
Raising the Dead is a distasteful form of magic undertaken only in the most desperate circumstances. During the Peninsular War for example, at the behest of Lord Wellington, Jonathan Strange successfully resurrects seventeen dead Neapolitan soldiers in order to discover from them the whereabouts of some missing ordnance. He bases his spell on one he had heard of, performed in the 13th century by the Raven King on the noble knight Henry Barbatus[31]. It may be one of the king's own invention*.

The sequel of this experience is so unpleasant to Strange, however, as to quite discourage any further experiment in this line. Although by his great natural aptitude he re-discovers the Raven King's magic for recalling spirits to corpses, after his point is gained he is wholly ignorant of how either to halt the process of decay or to bring the 'life' of the reanimated cadavers to a second end. The wretched Neapolitans are naturally desperate not to be sent back to whatever realm their spirits had left (and as it appears to be Hell, one really cannot blame them); and they also have some hopes that Strange can fully revive their damaged bodies. But he cannot, and their constant feeble pleading destroys his rest. He is very much reduced in body and mind before some firm action on the part of Wellington's men ends the persecution, and the unfortunate Neapolitans are burnt to ashes. It may well be the memory of this gruesome and unhappy interference with the divinely-ordained process of dissolution that explains why Strange, despite his anguish at his wife's 'death', makes no attempt to wrest her from the grave.

It must be remembered of course that Mr Norrell launches the whole Revival of English Magic by resurrecting a body, namely that of Miss Wintertowne. The task he undertakes when restoring her to life, however, is perhaps not in the same precise category as that described above. Certainly it differs in two important ways: the help of a fairy is apparently necessary, and perhaps more significantly Miss Wintertowne's spirit has not entirely departed this earthly realm. Mr Norrell's remark, made at the time to Sir Walter Pole, suggests it is perhaps this latter circumstance which makes the attempt so likely to succeed: "Since the young lady is, ahem! not long gone from us, I may say the situation is promising.[7]" Mr. Norrell later makes a similar observation to the gentleman with the thistle-down hair, at the same time revealing in the mirror a vision of Miss Wintertowne travelling along a narrow path through an awful landscape of mountains and rocks; she is, he says, "inter terram et caelum" (between earth and heaven)[8]. Presumably this makes the work of recalling the departing spirit back to its earthly abode a good deal more easy, and ensures that once it returns, it can truly live again. On the other hand Mr Norrell, when the idea was mooted of his resurrecting the late Prime Minister, Mr. Pitt, is able to give a hint as to the impracticality of raising someone whose body might be in an advanced state of corruption[10].

It may also be significant that when Mr. Norrell overhears Lord Castlereagh imputing the use of "Black Magic" to Strange while serving in Spain - presumably his lordship refers to the affair of the Neapolitans - Mr. Norrell, confident no such magic took place, boasts of how he contradicted him. (Strange, understandably, does not enlighten his tutor: he neither confirms nor denies the imputation, instead making an equivocal gesture of his head.[31]) By 'Black Magic' therefore Mr. Norrell may mean either magic employing the methods of the Raven King; or simply any magic requiring the assistance of fairies.

The means by which John Uskglass later restores Vinculus to life are more problematical to explain. The facts are that Vinculus is hanged and his neck clean broke - Stephen Black is a witness to this - and he is dead when John Childermass finds him[67]. Within a few minutes however he is fully restored to the rudest life, a process begun the moment the Raven King takes "a tiny pearl of light" out of his own mouth and places it into that of Vinculus. This "tiny pearl of light" is so similar in description to "the bead of pearly light" which appears when Jonathan Strange performs the spell of Animam Evocare on the cuirassier at Waterloo that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that in both cases it represents the spirit, or life force, of a person. (That 'Animam Evocare' actually means 'To Call Forth the Soul' of course makes it even likelier.) Thus we may speculate that at the crucial moment of Vinculus's death, or near-death, Uskglass performs a version of Animam Evocare and temporarily takes the spirit of Vinculus into his own protection. He then quickly restores it as soon as the gentleman with the thistle-down hair has left the scene.

If so he is to be congratulated, as this serene and economical procedure certainly represents a considerable improvement on his earlier method of raising the dead.

See also the Meraudian heresy.


*A formula in Latin is uttered and at the same time the magician sheds some of his blood upon the head of the corpse, taking particular care that it should fall upon the eyes, tongue and nostrils. This allows the returning spirit to think, remember, breathe (after a fashion) and speak. It does not however halt the bodily corruption, so the procedure has only a limited usefulness. Having gained the information he seeks the magician should return the corpse to its proper state of inanimation by cutting out its eyes, tongue and heart. (Memo: should the corpse on first awakening no longer be able to speak an earthly language, the magician should open the mouth and spit into it.)