That said, as folk tales, they do not offer much narrative surprise, and I was often impatient for the four stories to come to their inevitable conclusions, especially given the glacial pace of the film.
The third story, "Hoichi the Earless", is the strongest.
Book: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell has been seemingly inescapable over the past few weeks. Friends and relatives have mentioned it (or lent it to me). It is being pushed by the publisher and prominently displayed by Borders in their window displays. I think it is being served up (by marketing boffins) as a grown-up Harry Potter. Tolkien is big, Potter is bigger... here is the next big thing in fantasy fiction that will capture the mainstream audience.
Too bad it's not very good. It's not bad or unreadable, but the best I can say is 'mediocre with some rare flashes of humor' (in a 700+ page book, they are very rare indeed). The book is the story of the return of magic to England in the Napoleonic Era, after centuries in which magic had fallen into disuse. Although presented as fiction, the book borrows from nonfiction (notably in the plethora of footnotes throughout the book) in an attempt to build up the reality of this counterfactual world. I didn't find that tactic too distracting, but many of the footnotes were quite gratuitous. I get the feeling that the author lovingly wrote a decade's worth of little vignettes and tales that relate to 'real English Magic'. Some were assembled into the narrative, and others that she couldn't bear to part with became the footnotes. Unfortunately, these little bagatelles strung together do not provide much of an overarching story, and sometimes characters seem to behave uncharacteristically to meet the needs of a particular vignette. The book could easily, I think, be cut to half its length.
I was also bothered by the lack of strong female characters. Given the historical nature of the piece, I certainly don't want to read an 800 page feminist fanfic wish fulfillment fantasy about the beautiful Her Ladyship Doctor Jessica Starling, MP. But the women in Strange and Norrell are seldom seen and, at best, one-dimensional. I think it's better in Lovecraft, where women are ignored, rather than in Strange and Norrell, where women largely serve to be placed in peril or die sentimentally.
I liked the historical feel and archaic spelling; it might have been more interesting and impressive had the author gone to the extreme of writing a straight-faced History of English Magic, as if written in the early 1800's. A strange combination of a pseudo-Necronomicon and S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure (The 'Good Parts' Version). Certainly, Strange and Norrell could use a 'Good Parts' Version.