… Whether the English Magician had Gone Mad Because he was a Magician, or Because he was English


“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.”

— “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” by Susanna Clarke

Warning: This is one of those blog entries that will make some of you wonder why you bother visiting here. You might just want to skip this entry and go play with your safety gear, micrometers and “Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition.”

As I’m waiting for the epoxy to harden on the half-scale model of a chair shown above, I’ve poured myself a stiff drink and am raising a toast to Jonathan Strange.

Strange is a magician in my favorite contemporary novel: “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” by Susanna Clarke. I’ve been quite obsessed with this book since it came out in 2004. It is, and I do not say this lightly, the most finely crafted piece of fiction I’ve read as an adult. Every footnote is pure genius. And it reeks of a work that has been finely combed over like the garden at Versailles.

(Oh, and If I ever get a tattoo, it will be the silhouette of the raven in the book. Also: I am just as likely to get a tattoo as I am to start vaping my own ear wax.)

So Strange, the radical magician in the book, figures out that to do really interesting magic, one needs to be somewhat mad. The insane kind of mad; not the Lumberjocks sort of mad. As Strange is quite sane at first, he gins up all sorts of ways to induce madness. In the end, it involves cats (naturally) and drinking something awful.

And that describes my ideal writing and design process.

“I’m not going to a party; I’m a writer.” That’s what I tell the nice people at the liquor store when I arrive at the register with two boxes of wine and four six packs of potent beer. The wine is for my wife (also a writer); the beer is for me.

Lucy and I very rarely get drunk. The last time I got drunk was by accident (Note to self: Never drink casually with the Irish.) But Lucy and I do have a drink with dinner and then we have a drink after dinner. Then we write and talk and write.

I know that some odd souls are fantastic writers and designers when they are dead sober. I am not. I find that a drink helps. As does fatigue, stress, incredibly loud music and stupid external constraints.

Why? Who cares why. Feel free to make up a theory. I’d rather just use these tools that have worked (since 1986) to write and design stuff at 5 p.m. that seems out of my league at 11 a.m. And with these tools I don’t have to bifurcate my private parts (thank you, Mayan civilization) or vape my boogers.

So I say to the Stone Saison in my glass tonight: Bring on the madness.

Oh, and where are my needlenose pliers?

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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28 Responses to … Whether the English Magician had Gone Mad Because he was a Magician, or Because he was English

  1. 61chrysler says:

    The first time I had Duvel in Belgium, I found out too late that it was 12%.

  2. Ben St John says:

    It seems we share another favorite, Chris. I’ve been waiting for a sequel to that for a decade.

    • Ben,

      You are the first person I’ve known who likes that book!

      • fitz says:

        Hey now! I like it…just not with the same burning passion as do you.

      • raney says:

        I’ve been working on it by the pool this summer, and also quite like it so far. Unless there’s a serious shift, I’m not sure I’d consider it quite as highly as you – but you’re certainly not the only one who likes it.

      • Joel says:

        An excellent book. It was recommended to me last year and I enjoyed it although it did take quite a long time to really get started. Excellent beer choice too. Looking forward to the Sriracha stout I just bought…

    • Do you have “The Ladies of Grace Adieu?” It’s a great bit of her short story writing.

      • hughjengine says:

        Yes, and I’ve just realised, four copies of N&S. A most excellent book.

        When waking in a field, always, always check your backside for raven tattoos before pulling up your pants!

  3. davelehardt says:

    Done some of my best development and problem solving with the help of a fine brew. And here’s to a Saison that doesn’t gush all over the sink.


  4. jonathanszczepanski says:

    I just watched the BBC miniseries of that story. I didn’t even know it was a book until the end. It was a good show, and now I know it will be a great read.

    A drink, fatigue, stress, and loud music (depending on the type) can lower your inhibitions. Me thinks you edit your designs too much in the morning, and say “F it!” in the evening.

  5. mrbuddha1950 says:

    Pliers? (Don’t crush that dwarf!)
    Different era, different writers…

  6. beshriver says:

    For me it was Confederacy of Dunces that turned me on to madness begets genius begets madness… I feel like chemically induced madness is fakery…that being said, nothing wrong with a few keg stands or vaping your own belly button lint, if you’re into that.

  7. bronzy935 says:

    Chris, where did you get that butterfly chair to the right of the photo?

  8. torstein90 says:

    I agree. Good book! Time for a second read.

  9. legmakernc says:

    i read that a while back . Im a slow reader and I remember i liked it but it took me a long while to finish it! I know some folks are going to make it into a BBC mini series. Chris you are a mad genius , keep on drinking , i am in hopes that i get smarter or at least read faster.

    • John Vernier says:

      The BBC miniseries was shown recently on BBC America. It is about as good as I could hope any film adaptation of a book to be, with mostly very good characterizations, but it is, inevitably, simplified, and lacks a lot of the depths and observations which make the book so extraordinary.

  10. Bob Jones says:

    Try coffee. Strong coffee. It’s nice and provides your brain with plenty of words.

  11. anfaith says:

    How strange. (sorry) I recently ran across a mention of this book in a completely unrelated context and I’m about 1/3 of the way through it. It’s amazing how the universe converges every once in a while. Enjoying it quite a bit.

    And I also like a glass or two at the end of a day. A reasonable amount of alcohol “knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care.” And some days I’m more ravell’d than others. But I don’t need to be found in the field. And my pants were on my head, not around my ankles. All the better to not be found. (I can’t see you, then you can see me. Logical!)

  12. Jonathan says:

    I love the interesting dichotomy of a beautiful Vesper Sliding Bevel sitting atop a dollar-store plastic protractor.

    As far as the barley and hops go, I rather partial to Mac & Jacks African Amber, but it’s a north west, keg only thing.

  13. flatironjoe says:

    “Write drunk; edit sober” is the saying, no?
    And if you like a saison, try and get your hands on anything from Funkwerks. May be hard to find out your way yet, but they are expanding.

  14. josef1henri says:

    Don’t drink casually with a Scotsman either. Don’t ask how I happen to know that.
    By the way. Please don’t forget to write up that technique for edge gluing boards using the bench vise.

  15. “There is nothing in the world so easy to explain as failure – it is, after all, what everybody does all the time.”

    Doesn’t sound like I’m as obsessed with this book as you, but it’s definitely in my top 5 favorites. I haven’t read it in a couple years, but I think it’s time for another re-read!

    I’ve also been waiting on a sequel, but seems like Ms Clarke has been in ill health for a little while.

  16. Brian says:

    I also had a pint of the Stone Saison tonight. Not a fan. Do they carry Portside 216 in Cinci?

  17. Mark Maleski says:

    I love this book so much, and it always makes me happy to bump into others who share the love.

  18. misterlinn says:

    Pesky Americans. What on Earth is “vaping”? It’s like a club you’re trying to keep the rest of us out of…

  19. He was so clean and healthy and pleased about everything that he positively shone – which is only to be expected in a fairy or an angel, but is somewhat disconcerting in an attorney. English magicians were once the wonder of the known world, with fairy servants at their beck and call; they could command winds, mountains, and woods.

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