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Myth & Sacrifice

The Great Grand Robin Jarvis (Re)Read

Thomas | Chapter 10

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‘Know now the truth of Suruth Scarophion. He whom we in Hara name Gorscarrigern – the Coiled One.’ 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I spoke a little about settings in Chapter 4, but I want to add to that a bit by saying that in that little corner of Crete, strewn with shipwrecked corpses and acrid with the reek of despoiling fires, Mr Jarvis has really excelled himself. The Shrine of Virbius and its environs are vivid and multi-layered enough to host an entire novel, and the drama which unfolds upon its shores in the brief time we spend there is certainly enough to fill one.

There is the shrine itself; ancient, crumbling, now despoiled for good. There are the groves and grasses sloping down to the sands, upon which the twin tragedies of Neltemi, last of the Twelve Maidens, and Mulligan, last of his line, are enacted. Then there’s the shore itself, already a place of death, into which the bearers of the book’s second act march with silver helms and grim intent. What a place, what a stage, and what a well-orchestrated transition into the next part of Thomas and Woodget’s quest.

Behold noble Captain Chattan, ten times the warrior that Fenlyn Purfote ever was, a paragon of grace and righteousness. As a character, he’s impeccable – strong but gentle, brave but compassionate, endearingly rash in his endeavours to get at those pesky forktails. He is Rikki-Tikki-Tavi in armour, a friend to all who abhor the Serpent’s brood, and Sarpy help me but I really like him. Who wouldn’t? Look at that red cape, and those adorable little mask markings around his eyes! If nothing else, he’s a foe I’d be pleased to face in battle, should the occasion ever arise. Karim is equally worthy, but I’ll get to him later on.

Of course, the greatest joy for me in this chapter is that my darling snookums is so far evading discovery. I’d pray to the Dark Despoiler to keep him safe, but I daresay they’re both too interested in what the fragments are doing to take any notice.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’m in a rush to catch up on my Thomas reading, so forgive me if my contributions for the rest of the book are somewhat shorter than my esteemed Scottish colleague. 

So all I’ll say on this chapter is: Mongooses. Genius, genius Jarvis character invention. Because of course, as Aufwader has mentioned with her Kipling reference above, if you wanted rodent-like creatures from India as hero characters, what other type of animal would they be?

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Thomas | Chapter 9

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So perished Mulligan, the last of his line, and penultimate custodian of the ninth fragment. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I loved the scene with Woodget and Zenna so much that it was the first drawing I ever posted on Silvering Sea. The mermouse and her shadowy realm suggest, but never explain, some fundamental things about the Deptford universe. Though I said earlier that I don’t really want to know anything more about the sea-daughters, those ‘nameless spirits and cloistered intellects’ of the deep dark oceans are definitely something to mull over.

Of course, what everyone really remembers about this chapter is Mulligan’s grisly demise. I will happily clutch my pearls with the rest of you over any number of distressing Robiny deaths. Piccadilly? Ouch! Oswald? Get me a hanky to mop my tears! Dab? Vesper? Tysle? Squirrels in the Ring of Banbha? Dreadful, awful, horrific, don’t even talk about it!

Almost any manner of morbidly-imagined exit can make me wince in the right circumstances, but the black blood of Sarpedon runs in my veins, and I’m sorry everybody but however much I like Mulligan, I honour the Dark Despoiler more. Take that, Green Council! Take that, goody-two-shoes wholetails! May your paltry endeavours crumble before your eyes!

On a more wholesome note, bless Woodget in this chapter. Look at him, being all stoic and getting on with things despite that he’s just been in an honest-to-goodness shipwreck and almost drowned. His character journey is similar to Vesper’s in some ways, in that he slowly loses his naiveté as a result of the suffering he endures. It’s heart-rending to read, even for a jaded old reptile such as I. Fare you well, Master Pipple. May you come out of this chapter’s cliffhanger with your fluffy little head still attached to your shoulders.

Matt’s Thoughts: What a dark and devious co-blogger I have …

But I must admit, was there any precedent anywhere in the realms of anthropomorphic animal tales for inserting this sort of body horror? I feel with the original Mice trilogy that the violence was visceral but within enough bounds that it could possibly become an animated film (albeit of a darker shade).

However, by the time you get to Thomas, I feel like Mr Jarvis had worked out his readers’ limits and how far he could go – and then just goes there. It’s violent, it’s high stakes, it reels us right in. Someone like Nathaniel Crozier might well be one of the darkest villains, but the Scale have a love of violence and suffering that puts them in a class of their own as Jarvis villains.

Anyway, I can’t natter when we’ve got a chapter ending like that hanging over our heads (gag intended). Onwards!

Up Next Reminder | The Power of Dark

 

 

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Egmont UK, 2016

When we set out to do this re-read, Aufwader and I discussed in what order we were going to tackle the Jarvis canon. We have both thoroughly enjoyed working through in chronological order – with all the fascinating switches between the Whitby mythology and the Deptford Histories.

BUT …

We’re also aware that while all of this is going on, all of us have been ploughing through the Witching Legacy books as they appear, and probably have all sorts of fan discussions that are keen to happen as well.

My own philosophy is that I would like this to be a site where we don’t just re-read the old favourites, but even when we’re finished at the end of next year, that this can be a place where we re-gather every time a new Jarvis title appears to geek out, gasp and pass the tissues around. And, hey, it will encourage him to write them fast. (Just kidding, Mr Jarvis – you take your time.)

And so, what we’re going to do is move onto the first three Witching Legacy books for the next three months, which will take us through to the end of the year. That will leave us all well and truly hanging on for Book 4 in 2018. Also, in the interests of full disclosure, I started a new job a couple of months ago. It’s been so busy that I’ve barely been getting through Thomas, and thus there’s a shiny new copy of Time of Blood which I haven’t been able to crack open yet. I’m insanely jealous of the rest of you.

So it gives me great pleasure to announce that we’re returning to Whitby sooner rather than later! Next year, we’ll go back to the Wyrd Museum series in January and continue to go chronologically through the back catalogue, except for the month when Witching Legacy 4 appears, when we will all have a grand read-through as soon as it appears in the stores.

How exciting will that be?

As for editions, there are two floating out there – the general paperback and the awesome hardback edition, which has been autographed by Robin. If you can track down one of the latter, that’s the one to have. (I also must add, that I love the typesetting and look and feel of this series. It’s a beautifully laid-out book and it features tons of superb Jarvis illustrations, so definitely grab a physical copy of it if you’ve got the shelf space.)

Oh yeah, and Mr Jarvis made a book trailer as well, so we’ve got to throw that in!

And now – let’s get back to what Aufwader and I affectionately refer to as Tom vs the Lizard Club.

Thomas | Chapter 8

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Night bright stars from out the void, shining up on high. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I did not enter the forktail fold for reasons of romance – I am one of the Scale out of devotion to Him Wot Kips Up In Them There Bright n’ Sparkly Heavens, and proud I am of my constancy in that regard. However, perhaps by chance or perhaps because the Dark Despoiler watches over His own, romance found me but a few short chapters after my rapturous conversion.

Permit me a soppy sigh at the mention of Dahrem Ruhar; love of my life, holder of my heart, my chevalier in shining talons. He to whom I was solemnly wed in the sight of Sarpedon the Mighty, and to whom I pledged an everlasting vow second only to that which we both swore to our terrible and most majestic Lord.

If any of you are still reading at this point (and frankly I wouldn’t blame you for skipping down to Matt’s section in double quick time) you may be wondering what in the very name of the nine stars I could possibly see in a snizzly little whippet of a mouse with the world’s most irritating disguise. I admit, his real voice is partly to blame, but let’s just say that there’s more to this vile villain than meets the eye.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I know my blogging colleague has a great love of all things Scale but I will be honest – this chapter got under my skin a bit more than I expected. Obviously, I think a lot of us saw Dimlon coming from a while back. But I think this chapter gets to me because, even six or seven years ago when I read this book, things like ritual beheadings and bloodthirsty cults were mostly a thing of fantastic fiction. There was a certain distance to it.

Whereas, nowadays, I feel like we live in bleaker times, where that line between fact and fiction is not so clearly defined. And so I find the Scale just that bit more dark and dangerous relative to other Jarvis villains. (Except perhaps for the characters in the Dancing Jax series, but we’ll talk about them next year.)

But then, by the same token, I think the reason I have been drawn again to Robin Jarvis books in my late 30s is because he does tackle the issue of evil head-on. The world does contain people and groups who sometimes do act in cruel ways – and even if we don’t encounter people who are that bad, we all have to deal with the fact that life throws us curve-balls a lot of the time.

The question is: are we going to be brave? Are we going to stand up, even at great cost to ourselves and do the right thing? And this chapter, with the brave final actions of Mulligan and Neltemi, is a terrific example of that noble sacrifice element that runs through his stories and thrills all his fans.

Thomas | Chapter 7

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‘Fare you well, Master Pipple,’ Simoon breathed in a soft, sorrowful whisper. ‘Many are the ordeals that yet await you. May such blessings as are in my power to grant go with you. But I dread that against the trials to come, their humble strength will fail. I pray that you do not.’ 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The scene where Simoon spies on the ship of the Scale at the start of this chapter is hands down my favourite scene in the Deptford Histories. Yes, over all the other stuff that’s soon to happen in this book. Yes, over Hobb arising from the Pit in The Oaken Throne or Jupiter’s battle of sorcery with Doctor Spittle in The Alchymist’s Cat. It’s just. It’s glorious. I cannot stress enough how much I love that scene.

The way it begins, with Simoon being the only creature left awake on board the Calliope, cloaked in moons and stars in the deadly dark of night. The way the slightly archaic turns of phrase (‘a tranquil, moonlit country rising gracefully from the shimmering sea’) carry the reader along like breaking waves. The blending of the mundanity of the present with the darkly gilded past of which Simoon spoke to Thomas and Woodget, and the sudden revelation that every word of that ‘rattling yarn’ is completely true. Give me this book as a lovingly-rendered old stop-motion, and give me this scene and nothing but this scene for a trailer.

Then comes Thomas’s first storm on board ship, and his first meeting with the pitiless wine-dark sea. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr Jarvis had gone so far as to research real shipwrecks for this chapter, because the nightmare moments in the hold of the Calliope are startlingly realistic, and at times quite queasy-making. The illustration that goes with them also haunts my dreams a bit, and when our heroes finally go down to the deeps, you find yourself fearing for them even though you can plainly see that there’s more than half a book still to go.

Matt’s Thoughts: You know, there was a time when all great old-fashioned classic books seemed to contain a shipwreck: Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson and – let’s face it – what would The Famous Five do in their holidays if there weren’t old shipwrecks to check out?

But I’m not sure that we do nautical tales like that quite so much for kids any more, so this chapter felt somewhat nostalgic but also quite sinister with the arrival of The Threat. It’s one thing to have a mysterious assassin with gold claws. But creatures that can control the weather? Another thing altogether.

Also, where are the humans in this section? It’s unspoken, but the ship being torn apart by an unholy storm really means that the entire ship got shipwrecked (perhaps with no human survivors) because some vicious followers of an ancient serpent decided to go after a few rodents hiding in the hold. Like, if you think about it too much, it sounds crazy. Like the world being torn apart by the ghost of a giant cat.

But the charm of Mr Jarvis is that his ideas always work. Of course the followers of the Scale are trying to sink the boat and rip the whole thing apart. It’s the ramp-up of the tension.

P.S. Sorry, Aufwader, I imagined the whole Simoon vision as a spectacularly engineered computer-generated 3D effect. But given the age of the book, your stop-motion wins, so I’ll give you this one.

Thomas | Chapter 6

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‘Thomas!’ the maidens cried, taking up the name and singing it with their silvery voices. ‘A fine, sturdy title. Thomas Triton we now call you. A friend of the sea-daughters.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Mermousemaids! Halia! Dias! Enalus! Metaneira! Myrtea! Carmanor! Zenna the librarian’s daughter!

The mermice are some of the most intriguing characters in all Robiny canon, putting the ‘Myth’ into ‘Myth & Sacrifice’ and then some. I suppose it stands to reason that if there is a ‘secondary crew’ of mouse mariners on board most ships, then there must be sirens to go along with them, but if you really stop to think about it, the fact of the mermice brings up a plethora of interesting questions about the wider Deptford universe.

For instance, are there other mer-creatures? Are there merrats, merstoats or sundry other mervermin to entice the grog-fuddled wits of pirates and buccaneers who may not, in fact, be mice? Alternatively, are the sea-daughters able to change their appearances to beguile any creature of  ‘the clay’ who might lean too far overboard? Robin’s favourite themes of transformation and deceit do show up very strongly in this book, after all.

Further fascination lies in the idea of the maidens’ grim-sounding father and his halls beneath the waves. There he rules, unnamed and unknowing, a watery enigma about whom only Mr Jarvis probably kens the whole truth. To be honest I like the ambiguity of the mermice and their mysterious undersea doings so much that I don’t think I ever want to know more about them. I am content to consider Halia a secret devotee of the Scale and Zenna the one being in all creation for whom the Lord of the Frozen Wastes has a soft spot, and leave the rest to the murky depths.

(The same cannot be said of Mulligan’s adventures, however. There’s a whole series lying in wait there!)

Matt’s Thoughts: I was a bit afraid that the interactions with the sirens was going to end worse than it actually did, but I feel like there is more to come on this particular subplot. (And like our characters, it’s rather foggy to me how this is all going to play out!)

But can I quickly say that I love the way all the human legends that are thrown in here have a rodent equivalent. So instead of being human sirens, of course they take the form of swimming mice. I hadn’t extrapolated it out to mer-stoats like my blogging colleague, but now that she mentions it …

Thomas | Chapter 5

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Upon the cloth lay the picture of a serpent. Flames dripped from its jaws, and along its twisting back were painted nine bright stars.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  We rereaders like our Robiny cults. We like our peelers and our mousebrasses and our squirrel realms. Many of us have our little corners into which we neatly fold, with a hymn to the Green or a Mabb rest, and of course that had to start somewhere.

Some of us entered the Chamber of Summer with Audrey, or caught the silver with Ysabelle, and knew our destinies to be honourable and true. Others rushed barefoot through the wild woods, young imaginations fired in the Pit, glazed with the runes of the Three. Ever since I first read The Final Reckoning I have jokingly thought of this call to devotion as being ‘got behind the eyeballs’, and for me, it happened in Simoon’s faded tent.

Like Thomas and Woodget, I had the fell chronicle of the Dark Despoiler’s reign narrated to me (albeit on cassette rather than in a creaking ship’s hold) and from ‘all titles are just, yet none do justice’ I was well and truly got. The manifold cruelties of the Scale did not bother me – I was a bloodthirsty little blighter, next door to a perfect heathen in my disregard for the Green, but equally disdainful of Jupiter and the Raith Sidhe. Even then I was a reptile at heart, and Suruth Scarophion summoned me with a venomous and imperial summons.

But of course, you all knew that.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Righto. Once we’ve got past the obvious point – that Simoon is a terrific character, we arrive of course at the tantalising prospect: is there a Robin Jarvis universe?

The legend of Scarophion, the Dark Despoiler, a mighty serpent who caused terror on the earth. One can’t help but draw the obvious comparison between this and Morgawrus. Was there a race of ancient serpents that was eventually defeated by a combo of ancient nature (which could have turned into the Green for the various animals in the story and perhaps paganism, which led to people like Alice Green) and the power of God (which is not mentioned much in The Deptford Mice but gets a nod via Miraculous Myrtle in The Alchymist’s Cat and would be tied in with any of the religious characters like Sister Frances, Hilda, etc. in the Whitby series). Then the third element to that is the powers in the ocean, the Lords of the Dark and Deep, which could be good or evil depending on how they choose to exercise their powers.

However, opposing this, are many dark and evil groupings as well. There are the followers of the Scale, the Raith Sidhe and the dark Satanic forces that were invoked all the way through the Deptford books by Jupiter, Magnus Zachaire and those sorts of characters.

I know this becomes more complex with further books still to come, but help me out, Jarvis fans: would this work for the nine books we’ve read so far? I’m halfway between moving house, so some of my books are in boxes at the moment, which means I’m working a bit from memory with this theory. Either way, I love the idea of these epic ancient forces that are never far away from the surface of everyday life.

But this mythology – regardless of how it plays out – is never allowed to drown out the character journey. Ultimately, this is the tragedy of Woodget and how it impacted on Thomas, and when we see Simoon check Woodget’s real card at the end of the chapter, the inevitability of where this journey will end comes back again.

Thomas | Chapter 4

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘I’d be careful if I were you, Titch. I dun heard odd tales about that one.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  This chapter is full of intriguing new faces. The prophet Simoon is a fascinating figure who’ll no doubt be seen again before too long, and chirpy Dimlon provides some necessary, if vaguely irritating, levity. My favourite introduction, however, has to be the rat Jophet.

I’ve had many years to look at this story from many angles, and I still feel that Jophet is an underappreciated character in a lot of ways. The cryptic warnings he gives to Woodget are on par in their obscurity and vague malevolence with the prophecies of Orfeo and Eldritch which Arthur receives in The Dark Portal. Plus,  I’ve always loved Jophet’s line about how there’s ‘terrors out there to wither your tail and staunch the blood in your veins.’ What a positively chilling turn of phrase!

We all know, however, that the main set-piece of this chapter is finding out ‘what them blades can do’ as Morgan put it, and getting the first definite idea of just how threatened the lives of our heroes are. Richard Griffiths did an outstanding job with every single character voice on the audiobook, but I cannot quite express what he did with regards to Able Ruddaway’s murderer. Let’s just say, that particular voice turned my heard.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Oddly enough, the thing that jumped out to me about this chapter was the lighting effects. We’ve commented many times on Mr Jarvis and his cinematic writing style, but if you read over the introductions of Jophet and Dimlon both, his description of the way they are lit is quite interesting. If you were to film both these characters arriving, you almost have the directions of how they are lit.

And I don’t think this is just coincidental either. Unlike our main characters like Thomas and Woodget, where Robin takes us inside their thoughts and feelings, we only observe Jophet, Dimlon and Simoon and are left to our own guesses about their true motivations and character.

So thus the fact that they all emerge, in one form or another, out of the shadows of the hold, into the light, feels symbolic of the fact that they are all, in one way or another, shadowy characters to us.

(I’m not going to ask Robin to confirm this one or it’ll end up like the time I asked him about the 14 chapter pattern, thinking it was going to have a deep symbolism and then it turned out to be 14 chapters for no particular reason … I’ll just live with my own theory!)

Thomas | Chapter 3

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Thomas’s first voyage had begun.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  All Deptford universe settings are great in their own ways. Who could forget Fennywolde in high summer, or Doctor Spittle’s fetid attic laboratory, or the mere at the mournful willows where Vesper and Ysabelle nearly lost their lives? Each has a specific presence and atmosphere, and part of why I love this book so much is there are so many varied and diverse examples of Mr Jarvis putting place to good use.

We’ve had Thomas and Gwen’s cramped berth on board the Cutty Sark, made all the more claustrophobic by the spectre of their troubled marriage. Then there’s Betony Bank, a Fennywolde in miniature, and, last chapter, the shadowy, villain-infested harbour. Now we come to the great hold of the Calliope – as labyrinthine and cloaked in menace as the story itself.

This is definitely one of my favourite settings in this book. For Thomas and Woodget, and for us as readers, it is a new world. The Cutty Sark was more of a romantic notion of a ship; a creaking old dame upon whose deck it would be easy to imagine fearful battles with pirates, and deeds of derring-do. However, the Calliope, if we puzzle through our Deptford timelines for a moment, is more likely to be a 1970s cargo vessel. This is something that I didn’t really consider as a younger reader, but it bears mentioning, because it’s another case of Mr Jarvis giving a degree of romance and mystery to otherwise mundane locations.

Consider: Jupiter, Lord of the Rats, lived in a sewer. The Deptford Mice themselves resided in an abandoned house in a run-down area of London. In the same vein, there’s very little that’s romantic about a hulking cargo ship shunting a load of cotton from one trading port to another, and yet somewhere between the explanation of the mouse-sized ‘auxiliary navy’ and the melancholy mole thinking of those he’s left behind, the stage is set for a grand maritime adventure. Or misadventure, whichever.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I love the whole idea of the ‘secondary crew’ of a ship. And, of course, if Aufwader is right on the timeline and we’re dealing with a 70s cargo ship, vermin on board was quite possibly a real problem.  (After all, James Herbert’s The Rats was published in the 70s, and that was based in part on his remembrance of seeing rats in London as a child.)

And also, why is everyone traveling? To see the world? To emigrate somewhere with family? Where are they hoping to get to? Why did they leave England? There really are endless stories that could emerge from the Jarvis canon.

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