It is, after all, just tricks
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell & Derren Brown
It was a dim, wet morning in November when Mr Norrell entered the drawing room in a state of deep vexation over a certain Mr Brown of Covent Garden.
"He has the nerve, the nerve, to make money from the profession." Norrell agitated a book in his hands while Childermass, who had previously been writing a number of letters at the little writing table by the window, was forced to put down his pen and pay his master attention.
"Why did you not tell me of this man? Why have you been keeping secrets from me? I was forced to learn of him from the idle gossip of ladies at the theatre."
Childermass could not help but pull a quizzical face at the idea of Norrell indulging in any type of gossip, or indeed talking to ladies of anything other than correcting their inaccuracies on the minutiae of magical theory.
"If I have to hear of these things from Drawlight then I fail to see why on earth I continue to employ you."
"Ah." Said Childermass, as if the mention of Drawlight's name explained everything, which indeed it did, from Norrell coming across this information to the foul temper caused by it. Christopher Drawlight was, unlike the ladies at the theatre, a gossip of the most industrious nature. "Sir," he continued, in a wearily calm tone, "I did not tell you of this man because he is not a magician."
Norrell continued to fidget a copy of A Child's History of the Raven King between his fingers like a child might with a favoured blanket.
"Nor does he claim to be." Childermass stood and sifted through a pile of papers sitting on a bureau before freeing a poster that looked as if it had been once liberated from a dirty wall. He passed this to Norrell.
"Illusionist indeed." Norrell scowled and blinked rapidly. "I would appreciate if you would still visit this Mr Brown, and inform him that we take a very dark view of unauthorised magicianship, real or illusory."
Thus Childermass found himself outside the none-too-imposing facade of the building where Derren Brown, formerly of Bristol, rented rooms from a large, bawdy lady who smelt overpoweringly of cabbages and gin. If Brown was indeed making money from his line of work then it was not manifesting itself in his lodgings.
He discovered where the income had been going upon entering the rooms, which were filled with new and beautiful things. The sort of things bought by those who have recently come into a surprising amount of money and did not know what to do with it.
Brown had recently graduated from performing in penny theatres to the houses of fashionable gentry, and the Scotts' Adelphi Theatre on The Strand. However, at the current moment that Childermass was shown into the room by the landlady, Brown was shuffling a pack of playing cards with elaborate concentration.
Childermass stood for a second, waiting to be noticed, before introducing himself. "Hmm?" Said Brown, distractedly, before looking up from his cards and noticing the tall dark scarecrow of a man standing the other side of the room. A little surprised, he put down his cards and stood to receive him.
Brown was a small and slight man, but handsome in a way. His hair was reddish brown and thinning a little on the top. He chose not to wear a wig however, as many did who suffered with that particular affliction. Childermass would have put this down to a lack of vanity if not for the clothes that Brown had attired himself in for merely drifting about his apartments. Childermass wondered what on earth he wore to attend the stage.1
"I come representing my master, Mr Norrell of Hanover Square. I trust you've heard of him?"
"Oh, who hasn't?" Brown answered rhetorically, looking as if he had expected something like this visit to happen. He did not look as if he had been put too out of sorts by it. "Mr Norrell, greatest magician to be seen in England for the last 300 years or so."
"Is that your opinion?" Childermass questioned.
"If I am to understand correctly, Mr Norrell has ensured nobody has been given the chance to refute it. Or god forbid challenge it." Brown had an extraordinarily ironical face, and it exuded ironical smiles at Childermass.
Childermass continued. "Then you know why I am here."
"To tell me to stop performing magic, I expect, and to order me to no longer use the title of Magician." Brown picked up the pack of playing cards from the table and started manipulating them, making individual cards leap out the pack and skip about. "However I see two problems in this. One is I do not perform magic, the other that I have never referred to myself as a magician. Therefore I find myself unable to fulfill either of Mr Norrell's requests."
Childermass returned Brown's smile cooly. "I see you call yourself an 'Illusionist' on your posters."
Brown grinned, happy to have his fame mentioned. "Indeed, I create the illusion of magic without actually performing it."
"And are your audience aware of this?"
"Yes, of course, I'm quite open and honest about it."
Childermass leaned against a mantelpiece. "And why on earth would people pay to see unreal magic when the practice of real magic is returning to England?"
Brown made an offhand gesture with his arm. "Showmanship." He was ineffably pleased with himself at this point.
"I'm afraid I'm inclined to doubt you. You see the cards," at this point Childermass acknowledged the cards in Brown's hands, but patted his own pocket. "My cards say that this is all parlour tricks compared to what you are capable of."
"I do actually do some rather wonderful parlour tricks."2 Brown interrupted, irrelevantly. Then "I'm sorry, I don't think I caught your name?"
"I am called Childermass."
"Childermass. I presume you are talking of cards of Marseilles?" Brown looked disapproving. "Really, that's a very vague sort of magic."
"Quite. I'm told that often." Childermass now removed his home-made picture cards from the pocket of his ancient and ragged coat. "I've read your fortune more than once. The cards might not be precise, but they don't lie either. There is more to you than meets the eye, Mr Brown."3
Brown sighed. "As I've stated before. I do not practice magic, nor do I claim to. While it is clear that something of my performances irritates Mr Norrell it is quite outside his abilities, or yours, to do anything about it. The minute I start claiming to be the Raven King we may rediscuss this, but until then I will have to show you the door."
Childermass grunted. "I should warn you, Norrell won't find that a very pleasing answer."
"Convey my compliments to Mr Norrell, and inform him that though I hold him in the highest esteem, I'm afraid that his pleasure," and here Brown smiled like the cat that got the cream, then vomited it up in a particularly hated master's shoes, "is absolutely none of my concern."
"Very well. Suit yourself." Childermass made his way towards the front door. "I shall see myself out." Here he stopped and turned. "I have a feeling we will be seeing each other again soon enough."4
"I assure you the anticipation shall leave me quite sleepless." Brown said, whilst watching Childermass take his leave.
1In fact Brown's stage attire was a good deal more sober than the outfit Childermass had happened to catch him in. Like many bachelors, Brown's habits at home were prone to a few eccentricities, which included an indulgence in the more odder fashions of the season.
2He had the previous evening performed a trick with a wine glass and a canary that had caused several exciteable ladies at the party to fall into a swoon. Brown was in the habit of taking this gesture as the highest of compliments.
3Brown found that others au-fait in practical magic were also difficult to persuade. As Jonathan Strange wrote to John Segundus in 1814: "He is a most dextrous performer, and has a sleight of hand that would put the most skillful back-street villain to shame, but during his more unlikely and wonderous feats I find it very hard to swallow that he is not employing magic. He tells his audience he uses misdirection, showmanship, that sort of thing, but there is something I feel in his face that dares you to contradict him. I spent an evening's company with his the last Tuesday and have never in my life been more amused and delighted to be lied to so comprehensively." Life of Jonathan Strange, pub. John Murray, London, 1820.
4Childermass was, as usual, quite right in this assumption. From the year of 1819 onwards, Brown and Childermass became well acquainted, and together pioneered the Impartial Theory, a line of magical learning that involved both Strangeite and Norrellite ideas. By 1830 Brown would find himself on of the foremost magicians in the country, much to his own vexation.