It’s been a while since I’ve read this book but after watching the series on Netflix, I’m reminded of why I enjoyed it so much. The division between the theoretical practitioners of magic versus the practical and the pros and cons of each is interesting in its parallel to the debates of the scientific ethical board. (Yes there’s a working ethical board that regulates scientific research despite what most of science fiction will tell you.)
And that’s the debate of: just because we can should we? The theoretical practitioners stating the dangers and costs of using magic while the practical justify the use of magic by the good that they can do with it. And they do accomplish many good deeds alongside the bad. The good being Strange’s work for the military (although that gets a little shady when he raises the dead) and the bad very clearly being Norrell’s raising of Lady Poole. In it’s self it isn’t bad but he bargains away half of the girl’s life away to a supernatural being that he’s more than well aware is no good. Eventually leading to her mental break and opening everyone to the machinations of the supernatural being.
It parallels the ethical debates of implementing any new research but I’ll use stem cell research as my example. It could be argued that the harvesting of stem cells could lead to unethical practices. On the other hand, the good that it could do. Growing tissues for grafts, healing damaged organs and who knows what else. And if you have the power to do something good isn’t your responsibility to do all that you can?
I found that Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell brought up these opposing sides and the consequences of their actions or inaction perfectly. There are more examples of this in fiction but nowhere is it so clearly delineated as this book.