Warning: Contains Spoilers!
Unnatural things walked under the stars and spread fear over the earth.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Now Audrey takes her first steps upon the path set out for her, desperation fuelling her to leave comfortable home and hearth. In the time-honoured tradition of heroic tales, she gives up something precious in exchange for information from an untrustworthy source, and so the wheels of her fate begin to turn.
This is a chapter which I still remember from the cassette version; the shadowy, furtive fortune-telling scene with Madame Akkikuyu had great atmosphere, despite that her accent was not exactly true to the book’s descriptions. I can recall my young indignation that Audrey had to forfeit the tail-bells which Twit had given her in such good faith, but the fact that Audrey is willing to believe that the likes of Akkikuyu can help her at all really shows her desperation.
Madame Akkikuyu is definitely one of those characters through which you can clearly see Robin’s background in model-making. With her tattooed ear, polka-dot shawl, and toy marble masquerading as a crystal ball, she is a perfect stop-motion specimen. It’s easy to imagine her eye-watering perfume and the filth under her long, chipped claws, and certainly in this chapter’s illustration she presents a bold contrast to Audrey’s frilly femininity.
Carrying on from the Chamber of Winter scene last chapter, there is foreshadowing aplenty in Audrey and Akkikuyu’s introductory conversation, as well as in the vision which follows. We are still in the early chapters, however, and the dread and doom are balanced with the occasional humorous moment. One that always make me chortle (and which is also a scathingly accurate summation of Madame Akkikuyu’s character) is when she admits that while her potions make her gullible patrons strong and happy, those spurious concoctions also ‘make them a little bit dead sometimes too.’
Matt’s Thoughts: Ah, Madame Akkikuyu! I don’t think I quite appreciated where Morocco was when I was younger, and so I always imagined her as having a vaguely exotic accent but I wasn’t sure exactly what it sounded like. And so, to make sure I get this correct in my head, and in case you find yourself reading this book out loud to little people, here is a YouTube of a how to speak in a Moroccan accent for reference.
This chapter is a great example of Mr Jarvis’ cinematic writing. Swirling colours in a crystal ball, flickering flames. It all reminds me of 80s animation, even though I couldn’t point to any one particular film. But a great example is this scene from The Secret of NIMH.
Also, pay close attention to Akkikuyu’s vision. Like another prophecy we’ll encounter in a few chapters, it foreshadows not just this book but the entire trilogy.
Finally, Piccadilly and Audrey meet for the first time, and it sets up two ideas: 1) Audrey’s denial about her father being dead. (Which, hey, I totally get.) And 2) Piccadilly’s crisis of faith. These may seem more mainstream now, but in 1989, there were few books aimed at kids with this much darkness, spiritual crisis and trauma going on. (And Robin hasn’t even started. He’s just cracking his knuckles in readiness for the real unpleasantness!)