Talking With the Land

Why do I love Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr  Norrell? Why have I oft listened to the audiobook edition as I fell asleep at night?

“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 the song is surpassingly beautiful. Other men may be in rapture at his skill, but the rest of creation is, by and large, unmoved. Perhaps a cat or 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 the 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 it was determined to carry out with the utmost rigor, but he also understood that it was sometimes possible to persuade things to a different purpose.”

…Fairies do not make a strong distinction between the animate and inanimate. They believe that stones, doors, trees, fire, clouds, and so forth all have souls and all are either masculine or feminine.”

Written by Willem