Warning: Contains Spoilers!
‘Sometimes in the dead of night I catch her out. Maybe it’s just the timbers shrinking after a warm day, but there are occasions when I fancy I hear the old girl sighing and sobbing for what was.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter kind of crept up on me. I was busy being all excited about Twit’s history and the bat’s prophecy, and suddenly, oh look who’s next! Thomas Triton, midshipmouse; retired, and sometimes pickled! At the opening of this chapter, however, we have yet to arrive with Twit in the rigging of the Cutty Sark. First, there’s an aerial tour of London to be had, and what a tour it is.
Twit’s flight over the city in the claws of Orfeo and Eldritch perfectly echoes the tale of Twit’s parents which we were privy to last chapter (especially when the bats almost deposit him in the icy, fast-flowing Thames!) but its main purpose is to reveal to us the world beyond the small, mousey confines of the Skirtings. Through Twit’s startled little eyes, the Deptford of the 1980s rolls out like a vaguely shabby carpet, revealing its Frankenstein’s monsters and its dark Satanic Mills, presenting a shadowy, dream-like stage-set for the action of the trilogy.
When eventually Twit does arrive on the Cutty Sark, it is as if to another world entirely. Having never seen a ship in his life, he has no frame of reference except the high corn-stalks of his field, and I’ve always loved the way he squares his tiny shoulders and just copes, despite that the bats have recently subjected him to more alarming experiences in quick succession than he’s probably ever had in all his born days.
Then there’s Thomas; the first whisper we get that the world is greater still than the London of the Deptford Mice Trilogy, and that it is indeed tall and dangerous. What secrets gleam in the blade of the midshipmouse’s sword, now hung on the wall like a trophy of nameless battles past but terrible? What sorrow lies at the bottom of the bowl of rum he gives to Twit? What wondrous places do his old and faded maps depict, and what has he seen that he has no fear of Jupiter, Lord of All? Dear Readers, that’s another story.
Matt’s Thoughts: I got the chance last year to visit London for the first time ever. I set aside a day – primarily because of this trilogy – to go and visit Deptford and Greenwich. (And drag my kids along.) I’m assuming Londoners have a much more immediate idea of what the place is like, but as an Australian, having only these books to go by, I was less sure what to expect.
Here’s a photo of the Deptford Markets from when I went through:
The first thing that struck me was that it was similar in many respects to some of the inner-city suburbs of my city, Sydney, that used to be a bit rough in the past but are now becoming quite trendy. (So you now have the strange combination of the young and trendy living side-by-side with the less-well-off.)
I would probably need a Londoner to help me out on this one, but the feeling I got from Deptford was that this was a suburb on the up now but that perhaps was less popular back in the day.
All of which leads me to one of the most interesting things about Robin’s books: they are all very particular about place. While he has created some completely fictional settings for some of his books (e.g. Hagwood), there are also a good number of places like Deptford, Greenwich and Whitby, that are real, living locations.
Which makes me wonder – what did people think, back in the late 80s, of a book being set in Deptford? Did it carry some sort of social weight that we wouldn’t be able to appreciate overseas? What does it say about his heroes that they live in a place like Deptford?
I’d love to hear from any of our British readers in the comments on this topic.
And here’s my photo of the Cutty Sark!
It’s been damaged by fire (and repaired) a few times over the last couple of decades. And it now sits on a sort of glass platform rather than being in a concrete trough like the book. But still, it’s there and larger than life and a total must-see for those doing the Deptford Mice walking tour in London! (As is the Greenwich Observatory, but I’ll save photos of that for Book 2.)
Back to the chapter, I also love the little moment flying over London with the feral creatures and the song of the night which Twit and the bats can hear. It’s just one of those scenes you read and never quite forget.
And speaking of unforgettable, Thomas Triton! Aufwader has said pretty much everything I w0uld want to say about him. But I would like to know – what sort of accent does Thomas have? Any help from our readers on that point?