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The team behind Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell have a huge task ahead of them: adapting an ambitious novel in just seven episodes. To do that, they say that they’ve turned the book (which while beloved by readers is also considered something of a slow read) into a fast-paced drama.
The novel by Susanna Clarke is dense — part Victorian novel, part historical document — full of footnotes chronicling an alternate history in which magic once existed but has died out. The show begins when magic has suddenly returned to the world, with two men suddenly able to practice the ancient art of magic.
“We burned through about 200 pages per episode,” writer Peter Harness said at Saturday’s Television Critics Association press tour. “We packed it pretty tight, and it’s paced really fast. We covered all the bases.”
The team said that the reintroduction of magic is more akin to unlocking a scientific mystery, like atomic energy, in the world of the show.
“You feel like you’re in a world in which magic has come back, but it’s still a world populated by people you would recognize,” said Bertie Carvel (Jonathan Strange).
Executive producer Nick Hirschkorn said while the goal was to honor the book, he hinted there may be elements that aren’t strictly in the novel.
“We wanted tell a great story but keep the tone of the book,” said Hirschkorn.
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