Warning: Contains Spoilers!
All the rumours, all the legends, and all the horror stories were wrong.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: We have come this far. We have had fights with rats and flights with bats. We have hidden in peeled mouse-skins and witnessed the fruits of arcane, profane ritual. Now water deep, fire blazing, and the unknown path await. Now does Audrey face her first great trial.
I didn’t realise until I reread this chapter that it’s almost a direct mirror of Chapter 2. Audrey passes through a time of terror (the rapidly-heating, hell-like tunnels) and a time of hope (with Madame Akkikuyu and the brief possibility of escape) before coming into the presence of a mythic being of power. In this case, however, it’s the Dark Portal itself that she stands before, and it is Jupiter who is revealed to her despairing sight.
Since Matt has shared his musical ideas with regards to this chapter below, I thought I’d chip in with mine. The grand emergence of Jupiter, so brilliantly and frighteningly illustrated for those with physical copies of this book, immediately puts me in mind of the first thirty seconds or so of Liszt’s Totentanz. That menacing, discordant opening evokes both the harshness of industry and the approach of something cataclysmic and thoroughly malevolent, and as far as I’m concerned it fits the Lord of All perfectly.
What I love about our arch-villain’s reveal is that it should be something of a let-down, but it isn’t. Jupiter; the Mighty One, the Evil One, the Father of Murders, he who supposedly has two heads and commands powers dark and dangerous …is a cat. A ghastly, grotesque, abominable, unnaturally long-lived and fire-breathing cat. A cat on the level of Claudandus from Akif Pirinçci’s Felidae; a tyrannical, deathless monster in feline shape. He should be ridiculous, instead he inspires awe and terror in our heroes and in us readers.
Matt’s Thoughts: It’s such a big climax, that it’s easy to forget how poignant that opening interaction is between Audrey and Madame Akkikuyu. While there are many cut-and-dried villains in The Dark Portal, Akkikuyu is fascinating because we realise she is struggling with the regrets of the decisions she made. In some ways, she’s like the rat equivalent of Michael Corleone at the end of The Godfather: Part II. Haunted by the life she could have chosen, but feeling too far in to turn back.
Until a mouse-girl offers her grace and a second chance. It reminds me a little bit of another famous moment of literary grace – where Bilbo spares Gollum, even though Gollum hardly deserves it. At the time you read it, it just seems like a small moment illustrating Bilbo’s kindness. But that act of grace later has huge repercussions. That is somewhat similar to this moment here, but you’ll have to join us in Book 2 for more of that …
In the meantime, there’s only one word for this finale: cinematic. Mr Jarvis himself has said that he simply imagines his stories unfolding on a big screen in his head and writes them down, and you can see it in this chapter. It’s classic fantasy-film stuff: the monstrous villain, the heroes banding together to dish out his final desserts, flooding rooms, last-minute rescues.
I should also add another musical interlude in here – I always think of the opening of the fourth and final movement of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3 reading this. Again, it could just be me, but that moment where all the brass and heavy instruments drop out and it’s just the violins playing a repeating set of notes – an ostinato, if you want the nerd term for it – that always makes me think of bats in flight and this final showdown.
The only sad thing about this chapter is that I’ll never know what it was like to have that satisfying moment where Jupiter appears and you think to yourself, ‘I thought he was a cat!’ Unfortunately, the first Jarvis book I laid eyes on was The Final Reckoning, and I remember browsing through it and it had a little plot synopsis of the earlier two Deptford Mice books which sort of gave the game away on the identify of Jupiter.
But, by the same token, Audrey did get an anti-cat charm back in Chapter 2, so I’m sure that gave the game away to most people. And, of course, we now understand a bit more what the bats meant when they spoke of ‘water deep’ and ‘the spinning, shining circle’.
Though my favourite piece of foreshadowing in the whole trilogy is in Chapter 2, where the mouse band is playing at the Spring Festival and people are shouting song requests to Twit. Someone yells out ‘Old Mog’s Drowning’, which always now gives me a chuckle every time I read it.
And how amazing is that Stephen King-type scene (or James Herbert, if we want to be a bit more British) where the shades of all Jupiter’s victims reach out and drown him? Love it.
All in all, it a satisfying ending to The Dark Portal. If Robin had stopped there, it would have been an entertaining and dark young people’s fantasy, with a satisfying ending and memorable characters. It was perhaps a bit darker than you would expect from books about small animals, but it was still awesome.
What we perhaps didn’t realise that first time round is that the first book of a Jarvis trilogy, no matter how full-on, is just the warm up. The real perils and heartache are yet to come … Or ‘Until the summer’, as the bats would say.
So we hope to see you all next month for The Crystal Prison!