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The ending was really complicated for those who didn’t read the book I think! Can someone please explain this for me:

"So?" said Childermass, stung. "That is not so very trifling, is it? Norrell is a clever man - and Strange another. They have their faults, as other men do, but their achievements are still remarkable. Make no mistake; I am John Uskglass's man. Or would be, if he were here. But you must admit that the restoration of English magic is their work, not his."

"Their work!" scoffed Vinculus. "Theirs? Do you still not understand? They are the spell John Uskglass is doing. That is all they have ever been. And he is doing it now!"

This is really weird! What does Vinculus’s sentence mean?

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The Raven King's sudden involvement changes the entire point of the novel.

As I already proved in detail while answering another question, the man who appears in Chapter 67 to revive Vinculus is John Uskglass, the Raven King, who's been so much talked about and yet does so little when he finally shows up. It's very significant that he doesn't seem to care about the summons from Norrell and Strange: he never appears to them, and instead just comes to do his own thing and then goes away again. Our perception of the story of English magic changes. It's not all about Norrell and Strange: in the big picture, they're just pawns in the Raven King's game.

Up until this point, it has seemed as though Norrell and Strange have been the ones pulling the strings of English magic. Their different approaches to the theory and practice of magic, and the growing strife between them (admittedly fuelled by the gruesome twosome Lascelles and Drawlight) has been the focus of the novel. Like Childermass, we the readers believe that they hold all the power and the destiny of English magic in their hands, and that their choices will determine its future.

Up until this point, too, the Raven King has been spoken of only as a distant, shadowy, semi-legendary figure. Their attitudes towards him make one of the biggest differences in philosophy between Strange and Norrell, but we the readers have been left unsure what to think of him. His existence in the past seems likely, his continuing power in the present day doubtful; he has apparently never manifested himself or his power over the course of the book.

NOW, suddenly, up he pops, seemingly out of nowhere. We might assume he appeared because he was summoned by Strange and Norrell, but he doesn't go to them, and instead goes about his own business. Casually he performs the feat of raising a man from the dead, which was so far beyond Norrell's abilities as to perpetrate the entire fiasco with Thistledown; equally casually, he rewrites the entire prophecy that inspired Strange's involvement in the world of magic. It's humbling to see how helpless Norrell and Strange are in comparison to him. This is the true power of English magic, and we'd never really glimpsed it before.

All of this is mostly implicit in the text of the novel. The only explicit pointer the author gives us towards this conclusion is Vinculus's claim:

"So?" said Childermass, stung. "That is not so very trifling, is it? Norrell is a clever man - and Strange another. They have their faults, as other men do, but their achievements are still remarkable. Make no mistake; I am John Uskglass's man. Or would be, if he were here. But you must admit that the restoration of English magic is their work, not his."

"Their work!" scoffed Vinculus. "Theirs? Do you still not understand? They are the spell John Uskglass is doing. That is all they have ever been. And he is doing it now!"

-- Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Chapter 67 (emphasis mine)

Admittedly Vinculus is hardly a reliable narrator, but on matters of prophecy, he does tend to know what he's talking about. He's already spoken many truths which nobody recognised or appreciated at the time. His very body is attuned to the Raven King's intentions and prophecies; I'd say he's worth listening to at the very least.

It's the Raven King who is pulling the strings, and has been from the very beginning. It was he, through his prophecy and his agent Vinculus, who brought Strange and Norrell together in the first place. He showed up in England for his own purposes, to resuscitate Vinculus and rewrite the prophecy, not because of the summons.

This reveal is part of what makes the ending of the book so stunning and unexpected. Another part, of course, is the disappearance of the two main characters to another dimension, leaving others to carry on their work. In some ways it's an unsatisfying ending – we've identified with Strange and Norrell all this time, and wanted to see a resolution to their conflict and a glorious future for English magic (not to mention Strange's marriage!) – but there's no doubt it's an audacious move by the author, and one that leaves us (or at least me) almost wanting to read the whole book again from the beginning.

This answer is based on my answer to a similar question at Literature SE.

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  • Thanks. I understood better now. So it seems it was more powerful in the book... But another thing is: He means the truth about Jonathan and Norrell being magician is what RK wanted? Or even they are made by RK?!?(maybe it’s an English learning question! But) What’s the meaning of “they are his spell” ? – F P Oct 13 '18 at 18:52
  • @FP I don't know. Perhaps the author is leaving this part up to our imagination. Probably Vinculus, like many prophecies, is speaking in metaphor, and the Raven King only manipulated the destinies of Norrell and Strange rather than creating them. But with that guy, who knows. – Rand al'Thor Oct 13 '18 at 18:54
  • Aha! so it wasn’t clear on purpose. I think “I” didn’t understand the sentence!! thanks a lot... and can you please answer this too: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/196587/… – F P Oct 13 '18 at 18:56
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Vinculus makes a dramatic claim:

They are the spell John Uskglass is doing. That is all they have ever been. And he is doing it now!

If he is to be believed, then the major dramatic arcs of the book - the re-emergence of magic at the hands of Strange and Norrell, the derailing of Fae treachery in the form of crowning Stephen Black, and the eventual sequestration of the two polarizing influences (Norrell and Strange) which, having re-raised English Magic, might go on to poison it as well -

All of that was the effects of the spell of John Uskglass' spell. He wanted English Magic back. He engineered the rise of two poles whose competition would see Magic advanced. Vinculus would have us believe that the other happenstances - such as the Gentleman with the Thistle-Down Hair becoming entranced with Stephen Black - were also 'set up' by whatever spell John Uskglass worked.

There is no solid proof for this explanation - it is, as designed, a challenging statement made to cause the reader to reconsider everything they just read. However, we do have a couple of pieces of evidence:

  1. Vinculus is clearly John Uskglass' creature. Uskglass' book was written on his skin (after his father ate the book), and near the end of the book, Uskglass cuts Vinculus down from the gallows, revives him, and rewrites a new book upon his skin.

  2. Vinculus directly introduced Strange to Magic, traveling far from London to find him, sell him a spell at a pittance, and then leave, his work done.

  3. The appearances of John Uskglass, near the end of the book, are compatible with someone who is quietly doing his own thing which is far, far bigger than the quaint play being put on center stage.

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