Prophecy of John Uskglass

Table of Contents

The prophecy of John Uskglass, also known as the prophecy of the Raven King and the prophecy of ... (Uskglass' Sidhe name), refers to the prophecy made by John Uskglass, the Raven King, written in the King's Letters in The Book of Magic by Uskglass himself [21][30][47][67][69]. It was told by Vinculus, the Guardian of the Book, to the apparent subjects, Gilbert Norrell [13], Jonathan Strange [22], and Stephen Black [47] separately, and in each case, other individuals were present.

The Prophecy


The text, translated by the last Reader of the King's Letters, and memorized by Vinculus, the Guardian of the Book (as he himself could not read it), is reproduced here. The part referring specifically to the two magicians is taken from the "Daily Raven", and the rest from Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, following the formatting and punctuation conventions of the Daily Raven rendering.

1 I reached out my hand; England's rivers turned and flowed the other way;
2 I reached out my hand; my enemies's blood stopt in their veins;
3 I reached out my hand; thought and memory flew out of my enemies' heads like a flock of starlings;
4 My enemies crumpled like empty sacks.
5 I came to them out of mists and rain;
6 I came to them in dreams at midnight;
7 I came to them in a flock of ravens that filled the northern sky at dawn;
8 When they thought themselves safe I came to them in a cry that broke the silence of a winter wood.
9 The rain made a door for me and I went through it;
10 The stones made a throne for me and I sat upon it;
11 Three kingdoms were given to me to be mine forever;
12 England was given to me to be mine forever.
13 The nameless slave wore a silver crown;
14 The nameless slave was a king in a strange country.
15 The weapons that my enemies raised against me are venerated in Hell as holy relics;
16 Plans that my enemies raised against me are preserved as holy texts;
17 Blood that I shed upon ancient battlefields is scraped from the stained earth by Hell's sacristans and placed in a vessel of silver and ivory.
18 I gave magic to England, a valuable inheritance
19 But Englishmen have despised my gift
20 Magic shall be written upon the sky by the rain but they shall not be able to read it;
21 Magic shall be written on the faces of the stony hills but their minds shall not be able to contain it;
22 In winter the barren trees shall be a black writing but they shall not understand it.
23 Two magicians shall appear in England.
24 The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me;
25 The first shall be governed by thieves and murderers; the second shall conspire at his
own destruction;
26 The first shall bury his heart in a dark wood beneath the snow, yet still feel its ache;
27 The second shall see his dearest possession in his enemy’s hand.
28 The first shall pass his life alone; he shall be his own gaoler;
29 The second shall tread lonely roads, the storm above his head, seeking a dark tower
upon a high hillside.
30 I sit upon a black throne in the shadows but they shall not see me.
31 The rain shall make a door for me and I shall pass through it;
32 The stones shall make a throne for me and I shall sit upon it.
33 The nameless slave shall wear a silver crown,
34 The nameless slave shall be a king in a strange country.

Interpretations


The intepretation offered by Vinculus is that the prophecy is precisely fulfilled by the events of the Revival of English Magic [67]. However, three of the prophecy's supposed subjects--Gilbert Norrell (the first magician), Jonathan Strange (the second magician), and Stephen Black (the (second) nameless slave))--are skeptical when it is told to them, and it seems at first they do not take it seriously [13][22][47]. Only John Childermass shows any inclination to do so to any great degree [67][69] (although Mr Norrell grudgingly admitted "one or two expressions...suggested great antiquity" and desired to see the book from whence it came[21].)

The gentleman with the thistle-down hair expressed his view that both of the "nameless slave" references--one near the start and one at the end--refer to the Raven King [47]. This conflicts with Vinculus' view that, in fact, at least the second "nameless slave" refers to Stephen Black [67]. Such confusion is not surprising, as many of the events during the Revival mirror those of the Raven King's rise to power. Thus, many of the descriptions in the prophecy may also be seen as predictions. The shift from the past to the future tense which occurs about the middle of the prophecy should be seen as significant. Roughly speaking, lines 1 - 14 describe the King's early rise to power; lines 15 - 22 cover his dissatisfactions with his English subjects, his difficult relations with Hell and his withdrawal to the Other Lands; lines 23 - 34 refer to his successful manipulating of Mr Norrell and Mr Strange, catspaws in his long-drawn-out strategy of returning magic to England and himself to a position of strength. 'I sit upon a black throne in the shadows but they shall not see me' observes the prophecy: Strange and Norrell throughout are quite unaware they are being used, let alone by whom. And it should particularly be noted that lines 33 - 34 are not, as the Gentleman carelessly assumed, mere repeats of lines 13 - 14. The change in tense from 'was' to 'shall' indicates that the first 'nameless slave' lifted up to kingship was indeed the Raven King - but the second shall be Stephen Black.

The fairy lady who dances with Jonathan Strange when he comes to Lost-hope also seems well aware of the prophecy, and correctly identifies Strange as one of its subjects. She then quotes lines with which she seems familiar, but which do not appear in the version above: "And the name of one shall be Fearfulness. And the name of the other shall be Arrogance" adding (a little insultingly) "Well, clearly you are not Fearfulness so I suppose you must be Arrogance[55]." It is however possible that as she is translating the prophecy from her own tongue she is simply paraphrasing line 24:

'The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me;'

She also, much to Strange's surprise, adds that the prophecy foretells that he and Norrell shall fail to return magic to England - at which Strange, naturally piqued, corrects her, saying that they have already succeeded. We should perhaps conclude from the lady's observations that what Strange and Norrell have so far achieved is really only a limited success, creating a very meagre 'English magic' essentially confined merely to the two of them. Later, when in his madness Strange repeatedly creates and sends raven messengers to "remind the stones and the sky and the rain of their ancient promises", he perhaps does truly liberate and restore English magic, so that it is no longer available merely to Norrell and himself but to all Englishmen and women capable of conceiving a desire to do it[59, 61].
Another possible interpretation of the Faerie-woman's prediction that the two of them will fail, is that she is predicting the outcome of Strange and Norrell's attempt to summon the Raven King, which would allude back to the point about one being Fearfulness, and the other Arrogance. They do fail in summoning him, but at the same time they achieve their overall goal of defeating the Gentleman, returning magic to England, and saving Arabella Strange.