Why do so many books get destroyed in the BBC version of “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell?” All books survive the novel intact, but there are two great feasts of book-destruction in the show. Once, when Mr Strange is in the Peninsula, his books are actually blown up. The imagery of the destroyed books is quite vivid, and the crisis as Strange must work without books very traumatizing to him.
Of course, the destruction of Strange’s “History and Practice of English Magic” takes place in both the novel and the show. But it is only in the show that all the books of magic in England are destroyed, transformed into ravens as a symbol of the magic of England. This is a symbolic break with the past, and is also in fact a sort of a triumph for Mr Strange’s way of doing magic over Mr Norrell’s, for without books Mr Norrell’s magic is impossible.
In the final scene of the series, Childermass definitively says that all the books of magic in England are gone. In the novel, this is because Strange and Norrell took them all with them. But on the show, there simply are no more books–except for the one written on Vinculus’s skin.
While the show also goes out of it’s way to express it’s love for the novel it’s based on (see the recurrence of the same image of a Raven that is on the cover of the first edition of the book, the comments about how the Lord of Lost Hope’s hair is like thistledown, and Vinculus saying smarily ‘maybe I’m a novel,’ it seems that it has moved from books to people in the last scene, like moving from a novel to actors. It seems like it’s setting up a second series/season.
There are plenty of other hints to this. In the book, the doors to a second novel are open. In the show, the characters have wedged themselves in the doors and seem quite determined to keep going. Lady Pole says she is going to the continent to be with Arabella and will no longer live with her husband; Arabella tells Jonathan that if he doesn’t find a way back and she gets tired of waiting, she is going to come get him herself…presumably by studying magic; the Raven King seems to have himself taken Strange and Norrell out of the world, after himself finally returning to England; and of course, there is the new York Society.
Will a second season/series of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell happen? I don’t know. But the bad habit of book-destruction the show got into would suggest that someone was thinking about it.