BOOK REVIEW: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

written by David Steffen

written by David Steffen

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is a 2004 fantasy novel by Susanna Clarke conveyed as a historical account of two magicians interested in the revival of English magic in the 19th century.

English magic has been on the decline for centuries, to the extent that those who call themselves magicians in the 19th century are really no more than scholars studying the history of magic, rather than practicioners of the magic arts themselves. Theories abound as to the cause of the decline, but little is known for sure. There does, however, appear to be one actual practitioner of magic, one Mr. Norrell, who has been known to perform the occasional magical feat, though he is reclusive and secretive.

English magic began with the arrival of the Raven King, a human with ties to the Fairy realm, but he disappeared hundreds of years ago with little explanation.

This novel is an annotated volume telling of the story of Mr. Norrell and of Jonathan Strange (more information about whom is available only late enough in the book that it feels like any mention of him would constitue a spoiler!). Historical footnotes about the significance of various events help educate a layperson on the rich historical background upon which these events rest.

When I started this book, I found it hard to get into the pacing. Throughout the book it was hard to tell where the book was going, was hard to tell which characters I was supposed to be following, and sometimes several chapters would seem to be entirely tangential. I am not one to feel obligated to finish a book if I’m not into it enough. But there was always enough to get me to read a little bit longer, and finally by the middle I was entirely charmed by the style of storytelling and would happily recommend the book. I don’t think everyone would be able to pull this off but Clarke did a splendid job making this feel like a real history, and I felt like I very much knew the characters, and the writing style was very much like books written in that period of time that it did a lot for plausibility of the story. I admit I am a sucker for explanatory footnotes of sometimes excessive quantity and size (perhaps because I always enjoyed them in Pratchett’s work). This book took me a long time to finish, it is not short, and it is at times pretty dry, but I ended up loving it and now I want to watch the tv series based upon it.

DP FICTION #52B: “Bootleg Jesus” by Tonya Liburd

Out where rock outcroppings yearn to become mountains, there was a town cursed with no magic.

In this town, there was a family.

In this family, there was a girl.

She was nine, almost ten, Mara. Childhood hadn’t completely lifted its veil. She had an older brother, Ivan, who was fourteen, and whose voice was changing. Elsewhere, puberty would have signaled all sorts of preparations – acceptance into a special group home as much for his safety as for the general public – while his Unique Gift manifested. Watchfulness. Guidance. Training.

But not here.

Here the rocks, the soil, of the mountains had a special property that had been artificially duplicated thousands of years ago, and before that, the rock itself was transported. Here the rocks and soil prevented the manifestation of magic. There was no ‘curse’, really, of the dampening of magic – just something some said.

Everyone here in this town got along here by their wits, their brains, their strength – things were done from scratch if possible.

For what else had they to do here, this far away from civilization.

So, like everyone here around the age of puberty, Mara’s brother was special, yet not special, because of the rocks.

Mara would be special, yet not special like her older brother someday, like her mummy and daddy, like the rest of the adults. Like the people, families, who showed up sometimes on the outskirts, wanting to find a place for themselves here.


One day, Mara was playing in the house, and her father sent her to the yard. Some houses had garages, like hers, and some didn’t – like the oldest of the houses of the people who never had to arrive, who’d been here all along.

The garage wasn’t off-limits, and she was bored, so she went digging around inside.

One after another, she found an item, an item of before, before her family arrived, before she was born, and she discarded them.

In the back of all the clutter in the garage, there stood a bust of a Jesus. Unlike most busts and portraits of Jesus in the Western Hemisphere, this Jesus had brown skin and black features. It was supposed to give advice when priests and counsellors weren’t to be had. “They make them all blonde and blue eyed,” she remembered her mother saying disparagingly. “Like that’s how he was in that part of the world. As if he’d blend into the Egypt that was, if he was there. Hah!” And that would be the end of any religious discussion in the house. This Jesus was manufactured several decades ago as an answer to all the lilly-whiteness in the world, calling them Bootleg Jesuses, and one was bought by an ancestor so the family would remember they had a black ancestor as they headed into whiteness, white-acting, white-passing.

This Jesus had a heart on his chest that he presented to the world with rays of light—or in this case, neon rays—like in numerous postcards. His hair was dreadlocked. All of this was inside a metal box, made to be placed on a table, with no plug where it could be plugged in. So; what made it run?

Oh, she knew. It would run in any other place in the world, where magic ran free…

Where there existed people with Unique Gifts so powerful that they were considered gods…

She picked it up, and put in on a small round picnic table she had to unfold.

She smiled at it.

“Red and yellow, black and white,” she began to sing in her young voice, “we are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world…”

It was the only religious thing that she knew, because her mother insisted that if anyone told her that her Jesus was wrong, she was to answer by reminding them of that song.

“Jesus, do you love me?” Mara giggled.

She heard it sputter to life; it lit up. The dreadlocked head of the Jesus bowed up and down, up and down. Then stopped, the light illuminating its white robed chest going out.

Mara gasped, her mouth hanging open. Then she put her hands to her mouth and squealed.

“Mummy, Daddy, Ivan, Jesus bowed to me!”

“That’s nice, dear,” her mother said, and that was the end of that. But little Mara would never forget. The Bootleg Jesus became her favourite thing in the house, in all the world.


If one looked around, or even past the hills, there was one constant: goats. They climbed where man feared; they frolicked where man could tame them. So man ate them.

They made a soup out of them called “goat water”.

Mara liked to be outside, and so did her older brother Ivan and their friend Sydney, who visited them often, and one day they all had goat water outside, and they enjoyed it, and it became a thing for them. Goat water, outside. At the borders of the town. Where the wild goats were.

And Mara always brought the Bootleg Jesus with her. Everyone humoured her at first. Then, as the years passed, it became more of a sentimental habit. “Mummy and Daddy don’t have to come with us, Bootleg Jesus will watch over us as we eat and play… haha…”

Everyone knew it wouldn’t work, right?



They remove the veil childhood had over knowing how the world really runs.

Mara knew pain, now. She felt her brother’s.

Mara knew fear and hopelessness. She felt Sydney’s.

Mara knew dreams of being one with the earth, of feeling its ponderous power in her veins, of letting the power out through her to be free.

She and her brother ate goat water near the outskirts of the town. Sydney was absent.


Ivan’s knuckles were white as he sipped spoonful by spoonful, his eyes dark and fathomless, partially hidden by his dark hair.

Mara looked at him while she ate and winced. She was twelve now. She opened her mouth to speak.



She sighed, wincing.

They both knew why Sydney wasn’t here with them; she was apprenticed with Mr. Stewart, who demanded long and hard hours. Meeting together was a “childish thing”, a thing of the past. She had better things to do.

But that wasn’t true, was it? They both knew what was really going on behind closed doors, in Mr. Stewart’s house, to Sydney. She’d told Ivan, and then Mara; and Mr. Stewart was a friend of Sydney’s family, and they went back a long way. No one would believe her if she said anything, Sydney knew, what with her mother and her father and their fights.

The next time they managed to meet to have goat water Mara stared at the Bootleg Jesus, a childhood comfort, accusingly.

“Weren’t you supposed to protect us?” she squeaked, not wanting even the wind to hear, so embarrassed was she to still hold onto this faint hope.

She slapped it.

Light and gears sputtered to life, and the Bootleg Jesus’s head went down and up.

Mara sprang onto her bare feet. A strong breeze blew up, and she held her long black hair down with one hand, her brown skirt back with another.

Ivan and Sydney looked her way, expressions curious.

She kicked it.

Again light and gears sputtered to life, and the Bootleg Jesus’s head went down and up.

“WHAT?” Ivan said, springing to his feet as well.

Mara fell to her knees before it, taking it in her arms, then setting it down carefully.

“J… Jesus, do you love me?” she asked it, her voice tremulous, her mind back in the cluttered, unused garage, when she still had her naïveté and her heart was untarnished by life’s darker corners. Where she’d thought about godhood.

The bootleg Jesus lit to life again, bowing its head. A tinny voice. “Yes, Mara.”

Ivan approached. “So what’s inside it? What’s the key thing that makes it run?”

“…You wanna open it up down to its nuts n’ bolts and destroy it to find out? Because I don’t see anyone here who knows how to take it apart and put it back together,” Sydney said.

And all the way home, Mara smiled a gentle, private smile, like she and the Bootleg Jesus that she held in her arms, all the way home, shared something special.


“Mara!” her brother called loudly.

She was in the yard, picking out some garlic for this evening’s meal of goat water.

“It’s not working,” he yelled. The Bootleg Jesus.

She got off her knees. “Let me try.”

In the garage, sitting at a table, she said gently, smiling, “Jesus, are you there?”

It came to life, white robe going bright, neon rays from the heart glowing, the head bobbing down and back up. “Yes,” it said in that tinny voice. Then the lights went out, and it stopped moving.

Ivan slapped the table in frustration. “See, it only likes you.”

Mara’s smile went wider. “Maybe because I’ve always had faith.” She turned to leave.


Mara turned back.

“Ask it for me, then.”

“Ask it what?”

“Will Sydney and I ever get married? Will we get Mr. Stewart to stop?”


It lit up, head bowing. “Yes… and no.” It went dark.

Ivan bolted out of his seat and marched out of the garage, punching the door to the house as he passed.

The house rumbled slightly.

“What was that? Earthquake?” She heard her mother wonder out aloud.

“In this area?” she heard her father say.

Mara was the only person who went to the outskirts of the town with the Bootleg Jesus that day.

And the next.


Ivan came outside with Mara this time.

Ivan paced back and forth through the lush grass around the bust of the Bootleg Jesus. “So you work, huh? Huh! Well, then tell me this!” he pounced before the bust, snakelike, hissing.

His bottomless brown eyes shone like brown diamonds with the tears in them. “Then tell me what to do about Sydney. She hurts. I hurt. But she hurts more. People hurt her. I want her there when I tell my parents about us, I want her to be able to come out here with me whenever she and I want – what to DO ABOUT THAT?”

The bust of Jesus sputtered with light from within, the head bowed back and forth and a mechanical, tinny voice spoke. “Lose the battle. Win the war.” The light from within sputtered out; it went still.

Mara smiled. Ivan stayed, where he crouched, thunderstruck, fingers gripping green blades of grass, before the Bootleg Jesus.


The next day Mara was out, alone again.

Her bowl of goat water lay in the grass, the sun starting to descend. She’d been out here for hours, crying.


The Bootleg Jesus lit up.

“What… can I do about Ivan and Sydney? I mean, can I make Mr.Stewart stop?”




“What do you mean?

The Bootleg Jesus’s dreadlocked head bobbed up and down, the whites of its eyes electric-white. “Do what your heart desires.”

Mara gasped. Hastily, she wiped tears from her eyes. “Will he die?”


“Will I die?”


“Is it worth it?”


Do what your heart desires… crumble and destruction… death and victory…

Grabbing onto her dark hair from both sides, Mara raised her head and screamed to the sky. The bowl flew away. The ground beneath her rumbled, a nearby tree shuddering its green leaves.


Mara walked up the steps to Mr. Stewart’s porch—were those cracking sounds coming from underfoot?—and banged open the flydoor and inside door to Mr. Stewart’s house, the flydoor rattling on its hinges.

She saw Mr. Stewart inside. In a pair of pants and undershirt. He watched her approach.

He wasn’t one to mince words. “What do you want.”

She walked right up to his face. “Leave. Her. Alone.”


He scowled.

Then Mr. Stewart roughly took her arm. And that was it.

Then it seemed like Mr. Stewart wasn’t trying to grab her, he was trying to let go. He started to shake. Then he began to convulse. His eyes rolled back ’til you could see the whites; he fell onto a couch seat.

Mr. Stewart had set something in motion inside Mara, and it wasn’t going to stop now.

She had been staring at Mr. Stewart all this time, and she had been hyperventilating. She couldn’t… stop.

Behind the house, she heard a teeth-rending crack. Mr. Stewart’s house seemed to have picked up on his shaking; she looked about wildly.

Mara ran to the door. As her foot stepped in the doorway, a crack split the floor under her feet in half. She jumped down the stairs, onto the ground. The split went into the house, and other cracks branched away from it, taking over the whole house. Windows splintered. The upper floor groaned like it needed to eat, and started caving in alarmingly, warping the roof. Neighbours were coming out of their houses, pointing, shouting and a couple were screaming.

She looked up, past the whole house, to the mountain face that was behind it. And saw the crack in the rock above. Rocks of various sizes were breaking free and pounding down on the house’s roof. She held her breath. The crumbling seemed to stop. Then she realized what it was that was making this all happen.


She let her breath out in a scream, a scream to release all holding back, all fear, to let the wild things out – or the wild things in. The cracking of the mountain behind the house thunderclapped the air, and huge rocks began to fall. The house rumbled down to its foundation, crushed from above.

People scattered, really screaming for their lives now. But nothing hit them. Nothing hit Mara, either.

Mara simply stared. All the pressures of growing older—and never being old enough for your autonomy—and the ways adults around her had abused that notion… all of it inside her. Calm.


She could smell the goat water being made by her mother from the front gate. She eyed a green onion in the garden as she passed and it unrooted itself, trailing her. Her mother froze as she ascended the back steps into the kitchen.

She’d heard, then. Seen. She knew.

The spoon her mother was stirring the pot with lifted from her hand and went into Mara’s. “Let me.”

Lips trembling, her mother stepped back.

Mara put the spoon down and took hold of the green onions still hanging in the air, turning the tap on to wash them. When that was done, she took up a knife—which caused her mother some consternation—and started chopping them, then put them in the pot to cook.

“You always cooked it for me… so many times… I know it by heart now.”

“…Mara…” her mother said, voice trembling.

“Yes?” Mara turned, fingering the knife.

Her mother swallowed.

Mara noticed her mother eyeing the knife and put it down gently. She smiled slowly.

Her father walked carefully up behind her mother, placing his hands upon her shoulders. “You’re… such a big girl now…” he attempted.

“Not so big,” Mara said. “Ivan and Sydney are older.”

“Yes, yes, that’s right,” her mother said, swallowing nervously again.

Her mother stood tall and lifted her chin, lips trembling. “We’ve never hurt you,” she said, trying to be strident.

“No… no you never did. Not you. Not Daddy.”

“You know you can always talk to us,” he said, a strained smile on his features.

“Not about everything, though,” Mara said.

Ivan and Sydney burst upon the scene.


Mara’s head snapped to see her brother and Sydney behind her, coming up the stairs. The knife lifted from the counter to point at her parents in the blink of an eye. The house rumbled slightly. The air thrummed.

“C’mon, now, Mara,” Ivan said, a cautious laugh, “put the knife down.”

Mara sighed. The knife went back to its place on the counter. The air went still.

“You ain’t gonna hurt anybody now,” Ivan said.

Mara nudged her face towards her parents. “They think I might.”

“No they don’t,” Ivan said, his voice getting louder. “They don’t think you’ll hurt them. Right?”

They nodded.

“Ivan,” Mara said, “Why don’t you tell mom and dad what you wanted to say for so long now?”

Ivan’s lip trembled.


His gaze went to the white floor. “Not like this,” he mumbled.

“Now’s a good time as any.”

Ivan stepped forward, holding Sydney’s hand. He took in a deep breath. “Mom, Dad, Sydney and I love each other. I’d love to marry her someday and I hope that we can have your blessing… now that Mr. Stewart can’t hurt her no more.”

“You have our blessing,” Mara’s father said.

They stood in silence. Mara sighed, turning to look out the kitchen window.

“Well, now what, Mara?” Ivan said. “You have all the cards.”

“No I don’t,” she said softly. She turned back to the kitchen. “I can’t stay here anymore.”

“Why not?” Ivan retorted.

“Here’s a place where no magic can be, yet here I am, manifesting. There’s people out there who know what I can do. They’ll know about me soon enough. There’s places for people like me. You don’t see people like me in public for long.”

“Mara…” her brother started.

“You know it, and I know it,” Mara said. “I have to go.”

“What… what can we do for you?” her father said. Her mother looked near tears.

“You can give me a bowl of that goat water, to go,” she said. “It was always what kept the three of us together.”

“Anything else?”

“The Bootleg Jesus,” she said, a warm smile finally coming to her face.

“I can give you the backpack with the sleeping bag in it,” her father said. “Not like we needed to camp out here with the stars, the open sky…” he caught himself, and coughed.

“I’ll get it,” Ivan said, ducking out of the room.

Mara’s mother began weeping silently, then stepped forward to prepare the soup for her.

“I don’t want you to go,” Sydney said, stepping forward to embrace Mara. She shed tears on Mara’s shoulder for some minutes, before breaking away, wiping at her nose.

“Here, take my poncho,” Ivan said, coming back, dropping the items on the floor.

She didn’t hug her parents as she took the soup and outfitted herself, although her mother looked like she was finally unafraid enough and wanted to do it for all the world. She did hug her brother though.

“Where’s the… oh.” Sydney said as the Bootleg Jesus floated into view.

Mara walked out the door, and down the steps. The sun was maybe a couple of hours from setting, but still hung low enough to set an orange glow across the sky.

The front gate opened of its own accord, and Mara stepped out.

This was all she knew for her entire life. And, just like that, she was unfit to stay here. She’d always been a keen reader, and what technology they had—like television—she knew that it took a massive Gift to do what she’d done today.

The Gift of those considered gods. Townships developed around them. People worshipped them. But they were hard to find, and they might show up in the public consciousness for a while, but just like that, their presence winked out and disappeared.

But she was all of twelve. And yet unafraid.

She looked back to her home. All that stood between her and it was the Bootleg Jesus, bobbing in the air. And it was fitting, in more ways than one.

It started with you, she thought, looking at it, lit up and ready for questions.

Would she ever get the time to control her Gift? Would she be allowed to? How far did her Gift go? Would she ever find out?

She looked forward, to the sky, then to the ground. They were all that stood between her now.

A god.

Mara took one step away from home, and then another.

© 2019 by Tonya Liburd

Author’s Note: If I recall correctly, it was the simplest of things – and this has happened before, for example, with the Ace Of Knives: a name of a player while I was gaming. They had the name Bootleg Jesus and it was a title and an idea generator. What is a Bootleg Jesus? etc.

Tonya Liburd shares a birthday with Simeon Daniel and Ray Bradbury, which may tell you a little something about her. She is a 2017 and 2018 Rhysling nominee, and has been longlisted in the 2015 Carter V. Cooper(Vanderbilt)/Exile Short Fiction Competition. Her fiction is used in Nisi Shawl’s workshops as an example of ‘code switching’, and in Tananarive Due’s course at UCLA, which has featured Jordan Peele as a guest lecturer. She is also the Senior Editor of Abyss & Apex magazine. You can find her blogging at, on Twitter at @somesillywowzer, or on Patreon at

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DP FICTION #39A: “The Efficacy of Tyromancy Over Reflective Scrying Methods in Prediction of Upcoming Misfortunes of Divination Colleagues, A Study by Cresivar Ibraxson, Associate Magus, Wintervale University” by Amanda Helms


My colleagues will note that in writing this paper I have not attempted to divide the research from myself, as can be noted here with my use of “I” and “my.” Unlike some individuals whom I will not name, I have never attempted to pass blame; I take full responsibility whenever it is deserved. Therefore, and because the use of the third person and passive speech loses the vibrancy and verve the subject of tyromancy deserves, I have elected to forgo the more pedantic and tedious tone such works more frequently employ.



This report discusses whether tyromancy, divination using cheese, might be more effective and accurate in its predictions than the more popular methods of scrying through reflective surfaces, such as mirrors or bodies of water. Specifically, the report considers whether tyromancy is more effective at divining colleagues’ misfortunes. While the literature on tyromancy must be greatly expanded, this study’s results indicate that indeed, cheese might tell us more than the average crystal ball, mirror, or pool of water.



Much has been written about cheese: how to make it, including the specifics necessary to produce particular varietals; its healthfulness (or lack thereof, depending upon whom one consults); with which drink or other foods it pairs best.

Much has also been written about divination: which method might provide the most accurate predictions; the meditative state in which one must be to “see the clearest skies”; and whether particular persons might be better suited toward one method than another.

This author feels that scrying though a reflective surface–the divination method favored particularly at Wintervale University–has been given excessive favor over the noble art of tyromancy, or divination through the study of cheese curds. This is exemplified by tyromancy’s sublimation into the Animalistic Magic Department at Wintervale, a structure re-ratified by certain personages whose names have no bearing on this study. Yes, cheese does come from milk, which comes from animals, but tyromancy is too easily lost among the reading of paw prints and entrails. The budget won’t keep us in milk and rennet, let alone replace the fifty-year-old churns!

This should not be. Not only is tyromancy more functional than reflective scrying–one can eat the cheese previously used to predict the future, but one may not do so with mirrors or crystal balls, unless one likes the idea of shards of glass cutting up one’s intestines–but this author believes it is more effective, with more consistent and more-often correct predictions. In this paper, I will elucidate the trials I undertook order to give tyromancy its just due, and report on my findings.



• 3 lbs Roquefort cheese
• 3 listen-in bugs
• Magus Minerva Hiddleton’s heirloom mirror
• Magus Theodore Linwood’s crystal ball
• Wintervale University’s general-use scrying pool
• A small sample of Magus Septima Wolfe’s skin scrapings


I myself acted as the tyromancer.

Magi Minerva Hiddleton, Theodore Linwood, and Septima Wolfe of Wintervale University participated in my study, although due to the nature of my experiment, it was necessary to hide their participation from them.*

I also enlisted the help of two of my co-magi in the Animalistic Magic Department at Wintervale, Associate Magus Beatrice Myne and Undermagus Leopold Mixon.

*Some may think I selected Magi Hiddleton, Linwood, and Wolfe due to their loudly aired ill-opinions regarding tyromancy, or that I harbored an unscholarly personal vendetta against them. In fact, I selected them because they are exemplary practitioners of their chosen scrying methods. It would have been unfair to match my own immense tyromantic powers against lesser magi.



One potential issue with attempting to prove the efficacy of any divination method is the potential timeline involved; I could not afford to wait years to discover if my tyromantic predictions were true. Therefore, I required relatively immediate results, and ones that I could not know myself, so as to avoid skewing the outcome. Thus I engaged the aid of my friends Beatrice and Leopold to prank Magi Hiddleton, Linwood, and Wolfe.* I emphasized strongly that since I, the practicing tyromancer, could not be biased into predicting the exact pranks, they were not even to hint what they might plan for Magi Hiddleton, Linwood, and Wolfe. Nor could they tell me exactly when they planned to enact their pranks, albeit–again due to the time constraints–I told them the pranks could not occur more than two months out.

However, since this paper is on the efficacy of tyromancy over reflective scrying, I needed a means of tracking the latter efforts. I am no great scryer; my strengths lie with coagulated milk. Plus, I could not risk an unconscious desire to “fail” at these other scrying methods and therefore invalidate the results. I could not act as a scryer, and nor would it have been proper for Beatrice or Leopold to do so.

Thus, I set about employing a means of monitoring the scrying methods employed by Magi Hiddleton, Linwood, and Wolfe, viewing respectively: a crystal ball, an heirloom mirror, and the general-use scrying pool on the grounds of Wintervale University. To maintain the blind nature of my study, Magi Hiddleton, Linwood, and Wolfe could not know of their participation. Naturally, I checked out three listen-in bugs from Wintervale’s Security Department, with the intent of placing one nearby each Magus’s chosen scrying surface.

Considering that Magi Hiddleton and Linwood keep their crystal ball and mirror in their respective rooms, this was initially somewhat challenging. However, I tracked the schedule of each and knew when he or she was to be out of his or her tower room for a suitable length of time. After feeding the two listen-in bugs a bit of my own choice Roquefort, I planted them where they’d be able to listen-in on the Magi’s scrying sessions.

The general-use scrying pool proved more difficult. I am sure that Magus Wolfe would prefer her own private pool, but that is a decision for administration. It has therefore become widely known that in addition to her regular teaching duties, she scries at the general-use pool for her own private matters, usually at odd hours when she can expect the students to be abed. I did not want the listen-in bug tracking all scrying sessions; that would have overwhelmed me with students’ amateur attempts. It became necessary to sneak into Magus Wolfe’s rooms, whereupon I was able to collect some skin scrapings off her pumice foot stone and feed them to the last listen-in bug, along with some Roquefort. This meant I still captured Magus Wolfe’s demonstration scrying, but at least weeded out the students’ feeble attempts.

I experienced momentary discomfort that my subterfuge would be discovered, ruining my experiment, but happily Magi Hiddleton, Linwood, and Wolfe are self-involved. That they never suspected what I had done came clear in the trial of The Province of Wintervale vs. Cresivar Ibaxson, in which I was legally bound to divulge my methods.

With all listen-in bugs in place, I set about my own plan: Each morning at dawn, I would take my morning Roquefort and engage in tyromancy, directing my attention toward Magi Hiddleton, Linwood, and Wolfe, and seek to determine what ill fates might befall them, and whether I could do so in a manner more expedient and accurate than their various methods of reflective divination.

* Accusers have made much of Beatrice’s and Leopold’s so-called “motivation” in helping me. Though it has no bearing on my paper, I understand that some readers may also consider this matter of some import. I therefore write now what I stated at trial: There is no greater motivation than that of human curiosity and inquiry.



Over the course of the two-month period, I foresaw seven fates.

For Magus Hiddleton: a most ignoble defeat at Wintervale University’s annual mirror toss; a poisoning of her morning crumpet with a laxative in advance of her keynote speech on Weasels as Familiars at the annual Witches’ Compendium, resulting in a rather embarrassing moment on-stage;

For Magus Wolfe: falling through a rotted stair as she descended into the University’s dungeon; a case of head lice after her hair powder was infested with their eggs;

For Magus Linwood: plague rats in his chambers; flubbing his courtship of Magus Hiddleton when his rat poison nearly killed her weasel familiar*; and the extreme misfortune of contracting bubonic plague.

My review of the listen-in bugs showed that Magi Hiddleton, Linwood, and Wolfe foresaw three and one half of these fates.**

Magus Hiddleton foresaw the poisoning of her crumpet. She skipped eating her crumpet the morning of her keynote speech and thereby avoided that particular ill fate. She did not foresee her defeat at the mirror toss, but I learned later that she prefers her performance to be a surprise to herself. Henceforth, I hear, she will check for “tampered equipment,” but for the purposes of my study, I must consider this instance inconclusive.

Magus Wolfe foresaw the head lice. Feeling rather irked by the splint she was forced to wear following her accident with the rotted stair, she took the extreme precaution of throwing out her hair powder, along with that of all the other magi whose chambers share her floor.

Magus Linwood foresaw his misstep in his courtship of Magus Hiddleton and took adequate precautions to clear his chambers of rat poison. While he did foresee the rat infestation, it left him with too little time to enact preventative, vs. corrective, measures, and he missed the unfortunate detail that the rats were infected with plague.*** This meant he didn’t take adequate precautionary measures in handling the specimens. I must consider his foreseeing only partially effective.

I will allow that Linwood might have also foreseen his contracting the plague and his eventual demise; however, he located my listen-in bug while clearing his chambers of the rat poison, so results here are also inconclusive.

*I’ll note that I was unaware of Linwood’s courtship prior to my tyromancy. Though having no direct bearing on my planned research, this additional prediction further proves tyromancy’s efficacy.

**Among the three of them, Magi Hiddleton, Linwood, and Wolfe foresaw fourteen other fates besides, but as those had nothing to do with their misfortune, they are irrelevant here. Nonetheless, let it be known that I saw six additional irrelevant fates, which is higher than the average of the fourteen fates divided among Magi Hiddleton, Linwood, and Wolfe.

***Accusers have also questioned me as to whether Leopold, as Wintervale University’s rat expert, may have deliberately infected the rats with plague. While some people may find “contagion vectors” and “disease epidemics” interesting or even important, how the rats contracted plague has no bearing on my paper.


To those critics who have stated in person to me and who might believe, after reading this paper, that I should have warned Linwood of the future I foresaw, and that I should have warned the University of imminent plague outbreak, I remind you of the importance of research. The pursuit of knowledge will at times have consequences. We must be willing to bear them if we are to progress in our understanding of tyromantic, and other, arts.



I hope my paper makes clear just how crucial it is to allocate increased funds toward the field of tyromancy in general and at Wintervale University in particular. Though I, Beatrice, and Leopold are now under investigation for willful misconduct leading to death*, I believe the importance of our research speaks for itself. The results clearly show that tyromancy is a viable option of divination, and may in fact be more reliable and accurate than scrying through a reflective surface. For the visually inclined, I have created a chart summarizing this point:

Note how the bars representing the use of tyromancy are higher than all the others.

Yet literature on the efficacy of tyromancy remains sparse, and my study cannot stand alone. Clearly, more research remains to be done on the efficacy of tyromancy over reflective scrying methods, and indeed, the field of study must be expanded past the imminent misfortunes of colleagues, and performed over longer periods of time. Tyromancy must be attempted with the variety of cheeses available to us. With suitable funding for cheese-making and subsequent trials, we might decipher which cheeses best lend themselves to tyromancy; what effect individual ingredients have upon the resultant visions; or if certain cheeses may make up for the deficits of tyromancers weaker than myself. Further, double-blind studies incorporating bean curd may also weed out charlatans and false tyromancers.

In addition, we, as magi and researchers, must turn our eyes toward the long-term: Might tyromancy be more effective than reflective scrying when searching for the latest Chosen One? Could it not reveal to us forthcoming war tyrants, enabling us to take action against them before they rise to power? And, since so many people keep harping on the matter, could it not be effective in warning us of widespread disease?**

I leave such discoveries to other discerning tyromancers.

*Posthumously, in the case of Leopold.

**Of course, my experiences have already proved tryomancy’s effectiveness in predicting disease outbreak, but reporting of such findings–whether at time of publication or as a kindly warning to the general populace–are more appropriate in a study devoted to that matter.



I thank my friends, Beatrice Myne and Leopold Mixon, for their willingness to help facilitate my study.

Beatrice, I plan to visit you soon. Indeed, the curds indicate I will have before this paper sees publication! Condolences again on your continued difficulty in procuring bail.

Leopold, you will not be forgotten. I promise to one day retrieve your bones from the mass pyre. They will have a proper burial, and I will honor your grave yearly with cheese platters. My fondest regards to the plague-free survivors of your family.



This paper in no way constitutes any admission of guilt on my part or on that of Associate Magus Beatrice Myne and Undermagus Leopold Mixon in the matter of Magus Theodore Linwood’s untimely demise. Nor does it constitute guilt in the resultant epidemic that took the lives of nearly one-tenth of Wintervale University’s student body and staff, or of their infected families. Pending the findings of The Province of Wintervale vs. Cresivar Ibaxson, I remain innocent within the eyes of the law, just as I remain confident that tyromancy is indeed the best whey to divine, understand, and prepare for the future–thanks to the power of those sweet, tangy curds.


© 2018 by Amanda Helms


Author’s Note: This story came out of a seed from the Codex Writer’s Group that read simply “tyromancy: divination via the coagulation of cheese.” I didn’t use it for the particular contest it was associated with, because I wanted to write Something Serious. The idea of tyromancy stuck with me, though, and I wondered about the type of person who would attempt to use it, and how they would feel if people constantly belittled their chosen profession. The bungled scientific paper and even worse approach to the scientific method developed as I considered how this person might struggle to make clear that their work is not pointless, dammit. And thus was Cresivar’s “scientific study” born unto the world.


Amanda Helms is a science fiction and fantasy writer whose fiction has appeared in Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science FictionCast of Wonders, and the Cackle of Cthulhu anthology. She tends to be funnier in her writing than in person, but don’t hold that against her. She lives in Colorado with her dog, and new husband. She blogs infrequently at and tweets with a smidgen more frequency @amandaghelms.






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