The Dark Portal | Prologue & Chapter 1

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

He had never been brave or overtly curious, so why did the Grill call to him that spring morning, and what was the urge to explore that gripped him so?

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  Ah yes, the infamous Grill. Let’s be honest, the yawning black maw of a tunnel mouth is something which inspires a frisson of unnamed fear in many of us. What, we wonder to ourselves, lies beyond, lurking in the claustrophobic darkness, waiting to leap out and attack? Cover that shadowy opening with cold, writhing ironwork, so out of place in the roly-poly, nature-loving world of mice, and you’ve got a perfect gateway to adventure, danger, and in a lot of cases, doom.

I have a peculiar relationship with The Dark Portal‘s opening pages because my first experience of this book was via audio cassette. Whenever I read that immortal tone-setter, ‘When a mouse is born he has to fight to survive’, I hear it in Tom Baker’s deeply sinister-sounding narration, and am instantly blasted with the feeling of what it was like to listen in mounting glee as this story unfolded in all its macabre glory.

And macabre it really is. The very first paragraph describes in loving detail an anecdote regarding a mouse family who died from ingesting poison set down by humans, a tragedy which, and I quote, ‘only the baby survived because it was too young to eat solids.’ Mr Jarvis was never one for breaking the reader in gently, and in this instance he achieves both of his objectives in one fell swoop: our hearts break for the innocent mousey critters, even as we shriek in horror.

This nightmarish opener really sets the bar for the series as a whole. In the first chapter, we are introduced to the kindly, lovable house-mouse Albert Brown, father of our heroine, Audrey, but our acquaintance with him is short-lived. Albert, having been pulled through the Grill by the vile enchantment upon it, meets an abrupt and sticky end, and we, like poor Piccadilly at the close of this chapter, feel the need to flee sobbing into the night.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This opening chapter put me in a state of denial the first time I read it. That ending, where Albert Brown is peeled (how’s that for a bit of Chapter 1 violence?) by Jupiter, the Dark God of the Rats, refused to sink in. I just assumed that Mr Jarvis was only playing with us – as authors love to do – and that Albert Brown was somehow going to miraculously survive and show up again later in the book. (Just like Gandalf and the Balrog, right?)

But this is a Jarvis book and the man is out to mess you up. And so, a great character – one who I relate to more and more, now that I have young children of my own – is introduced for all of one chapter and then mercilessly dispatched.

I love the opening of this book. It starts with a classic early Jarvis cast of heroes and villains (The Mice and The Rats) which was a trademark of his early books. Then, without any mucking around, the ideas are set out in a brief prologue: a bunch of mice living in Deptford, they have a nasty Grill leading to the sewers in their basement and you just don’t want to go there. And yet there goes Albert Brown.

Still, if Albert’s flame burned brightly for 15 pages and then was extinguished, at least we had the introduction of the legendary Piccadilly. There’s just something so perfect about a City Mouse being named after a tube station.

And let’s not forget the villains. Morgan goes on to become a memorable adversary. And, of course, Jupiter, who wins the vote for my favourite of all Jarvis villains. He also becomes the villain archetype for all following Jarvis books – his shape and identity is hidden, he has a mysterious plot, lots of minions working for him, and archaic turns of phrase. But there will be plenty more to say about those two as the plot moves along …

Finally, bit of musical trivia: I have this habit of listening to classical music and imagining what sort of movie scene that the music might fit. And when I first heard the opening minute or so of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3, I couldn’t help but imagine Albert Brown tip-toeing deeper and deeper into a dark, yawning sewer … Have a listen, if you want (it’s a great piece of music!), but I won’t be offended if it’s only me that hears Robin Jarvis cinema in the music!

3 thoughts on “The Dark Portal | Prologue & Chapter 1

  1. Just popping in to say thank you all for taking time to embark on this marathon! It’s fantastic to read your thoughts. Weirdly, this first chapter was the easiest thing I’ve ever written, as I didn’t know any better and it was all ripe and ready to burst out of me.

    The mice, and their world, appeared in a sketchpad for me one long weekend when I lived in Deptford. It was one of those rare instances of inspiration, mixed with an obsessive compulsion to get it all down before it disappeared back into the ether. By the end of it I had all the characters drawn and named, as well as the mousebrasses and several key moments, even though I wasn’t thinking of writing a book for them at the time.

    I still feel sad about Albert.

    Am loving the Bruckner by the way! I listen to music all the time when I’m writing but this is new to me. I can definitely see Albert stepping warily through the reeking shadows to this, and then there’s all the terrors that follow. I’m going to be listening to it a lot more in future.

    I’ll keep wandering by and contribute when I can!

    best mousey wishes

    Robin

    Liked by 5 people

    • Greetings, Mr. Jarvis! It’s so amazing to see you here. I truly admire your talent for writing, drawing, and world-building. You’ve inspired me quite a bit.
      You know, years ago, I gave my mum The Dark Portal to read, but she couldn’t even get past the opening chapter because of the traumatising death of Albert Brown. She still brings it up jokingly from time to time!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I too love the opening lines of The Grille. In just 2 short pages Jarvis managed to set the tone for the series, kick-start the plot (ohhhhh how I detest books where the plot doesn’t start rolling until chapter 3) and just sucks you straight through that grill along with poor Albert.
    I will say though that I have never found The Dark Portal to be as disturbing as the rest of you seem to – perhaps it’s because when Matt first read this to me I was too young to fully appreciate the horror of mice being peeled and eaten (sure, it seemed a bit gory to me at the time, but I just rolled with it), or perhaps it is because I’m not really into mice that much and so found it difficult to emphathise with the characters. 🤔
    Certainly, coming back this third time (as a much older and hopefully more emotionally-developed reader) I did feel a greater sense of appreciation for Arthur Brown’s quietly understated strength and bravery – although, as with the other two readings, mostly I was just glad that it was Arthur and not Piccadilly because – like everyone else – Piccadilly is my fave too 😜
    Now hurry up and post the next chapter so I can rant about my least-favourite character 😂😂😂

    Liked by 3 people

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