The Dark Portal | Chapter 7

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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:

deptford

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!

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?

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22 thoughts on “The Dark Portal | Chapter 7

  1. In Chapter Seven of The Dark Portal, Twit comes whiskers-to-whiskers with a living legend. None other than Thomas Triton, a midship mouse who just so happens to be the most salty buccaneer ever to have set sail upon the seven seas. Thomas is such a stand-out mouse that an entire book will be necessary to cram his origin story into when we get to The Deptford Histories. And oh but what a book that shall be when we get to it, fellow mouseketeers.

    Here and now, the midnight flight Orfeo and Eldritch whisk Twit off on is not something you forget once you’ve read about it. My mind is awash with the unbridled majesty of Deptford by night as the bats soar over the city, giving their squeaky passenger the best view he could possibly dream of. But the beauty unfolding before his wide eyes is merely the surface of what the city transforms into when night falls. The bats go plunging into its melancholy depths where he is shocked to catch unnerving glimpses of what they somberly call the ferae, wretched creatures for whom the desperate fight to stay alive has become so consuming that they have forgotten who they used to be. At the time, this seems like a strange digression from the purpose of their flight but take it from me, Orfeo and Eldritch are teaching Twit a very important lesson that will one day serve him well. Suddenly the bats tire of their gallivanting and decide to drop Twit off at a convenient spot. Although when I say convenient, I mean convenient for Orfeo and Eldritch who leave the field mouse marooned in the crow’s nest of the Cutty Sark, a sailing ship that now stands preserved as a tourist attraction. An odd thought occurred to me when Orfeo and Eldritch flew so low that Twit’s feet are skimming the surface of the water. His father, Elijah, earned the distinction of being the first mouse to fly when that bird snatched him up in its talon and carried him all the way to Deptford. Does this mean that Twit is destined to go down in history as the first mouse ever to go water-skiing? Probably not, I guess. The mice would need to be familiar with the concept of water-skiing in order to be suitably impressed by his extraordinary fete. Oh well. We know how special Twit is and that’s what matters.

    As the departing bats shrink into two more dots on the horizon, Twit is left to slip and scramble down the side of the mast. And this is when he meets the captain of the ship whom you may remember me having mentioned before. Thomas Triton has arrived and we perceive what an unusual specimen of a mouse he is from the moment he appears, grasping Twit by the paw and pulling him to safety. Unlike the mice of the Skirtings who shun contact with the outside world and the big blundering creatures who make such a muck of it, the place he has chosen to hang his hammock is surrounded by the open air and visited often by humans, informing us that he’s a mouse who has seen too much in his time to be scared very easily. A born sailor who lives on a ship that will never sail again. A recluse who warmly welcomes a complete stranger into his home. A retiree who does not hesitate for one moment to answer the call of adventure when it finds him. Thomas is a walking contradiction and that’s what makes him so endlessly intriguing to me. His past is shrouded in mystery and the speech he utters about all the exotic shores he’s been to and the horrors he has witnessed sends a chill down my spin. There’s no mistaking he’s the type of mouse you’d give anything to have watching your back. He believes the outlandish story Twit tells him just as he would swallow the rum he keeps handy at all times and far from cringing at the thought of getting involved, he’s ready and raring to get to the bottom of the funny business going on in those damn sewers. And he doesn’t mean tomorrow. He intends to head down there right now, pausing only to down the last drop of rum before he stands up and heads for the door. What a guy, huh? You can see why Twit looks up to him so soon after they meet each other! Audrey may be the queen but Thomas rocks and there ain’t no denyin’ that!

    Braving the darkness of the sewers, the two new-found friends spy on the slow and miserable progress of the mining operation that Jupiter and Morgan were talking about waaaaaay back in Chapter One. The rats are singing as they work and I’m sorry but I can’t help imagining the song from the beginning of Les Miserables. Come on, you know the one I’m talking about. It would actually fit this grim scene rather well as Twit sees one of the rats collapse, his tired old body giving out under the strain of hauling a sack of earth. We never know the name of this rat but his passing leaves an impression on us despite that. As terrifying as they are, the rats themselves are victims of their underground world just as much as the mice who are lured there, something that is made clearer than crystal to us when the still warm corpse is kicked aside like trash and promptly forgotten by the other miners who show no sense of loss for their dead comrade. The rats are little different than the ferae who roam the world above. These wretched creatures are fated to spend every waking moment serving the whims of their evil master. For them, there is nothing but the desperate struggle to survive for one more day and in the end, the only reward for their misery and suffering is the everlasting embrace of death. As long as the evil force known as Jupiter reigns over the sewers, life is nothing more than agony and hope an impossible dream for the rats of Deptford. Can you truly call their bleak state of existence life? I, for one, cannot. Who do you pray to for salvation when your only God regards you as little more than a tool to be used and then thrown away once you break?

    As horror swells until it is bloated like a maggot gorging greedily upon us, it is accompanied by the curiosity ignited by the question of why Jupiter should command his subjects to dig this seemingly endless tunnel. What he can hope to gain by throwing their lives away with such wicked disregard. Keep guessing because the answer to this question is one of the great mysteries of The Dark Portal.

    While we’re on the matter of questions worth asking ourselves, I must admit that yours has me stumped, Matt. What accept does Thomas speak with indeed? Do we ever find out where he originally came from?

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  2. What accent would a sailor on the Cutty Sark have?
    All that comes to mind is the series of ports in the British Isles. The three that are particularly linked together in my mind are Belfast, Glasgow, and Liverpool. But then London as a seaport is something else again…

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      • I too have a very specific voice for Thomas in my mind. The problem is that I can’t quite describe it to you. The nearest I can come is that he sounds as though he’s weathered but still holding on through pure inner steel which doesn’t really help since we’re talking accents here.

        By the by, I love that song! Thank you so much for introducing me to Mr Waits!

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      • I’ll be honest, I think the accent I have in mind is the stereotypical West Country English accent that you’d associate with pirates, except toned down a little bit. So in my head, Thomas speaks quietly for the most part, but everything he says carries great weight.

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    • I like what I’m hearing! If you know of any more songs that would at home in a Deptford Mice musical, please don’t hesitate to point me towards them! Little Drop Of Poison seems familiar to me! Was it among the mix tracks on the Beyond The Silvering Sea blog?

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      • Oh, I will! (Also yes, it was in my first ever Deptford Histories mix, but that’s long since been taken down. Do you mean to tell me that you’ve been reading Silvering Sea since I made fanmixes, way back?)

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      • Oh I do, Aufewader. I do indeed. I’m sad about there fans of Robin Jarvis not having more of a presence on the web but Beyond The Silvering Sea makes up for it by being the essence of awesomeness. You need only take one look at it to recognize the blog as something made for fans by fans.

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      • That’s very kind of you to say, and I’m glad you enjoy. If you really have been …what’s it called? Lurking? For over a year, thank you for putting up with my many theme changes and all the silly in-jokes!

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      • Are you kidding me? That sort of thing is exactly what makes Beyond The Silvering Sea such a fun place for a Robin Jarvis fan to be! And the fanfiction! Seriously, where has the fanfiction been all my life? What I’m saying is that you guys are the greatest and should keep up the good work!

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      • Haha, well, thank you again, I’m rather touched! I have anonymous asks open on there if you ever feel like sharing any theories or writing of your own.

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  3. I’m sorry to say the chance to visit Deptford has never come my way. A shame since I would love nothing more than to ask for permission to come aboard the Cutty Sark. I did go to Piccadilly’s home turf AKA London once in the past but that was when I was a very small child and my parents were toying with the idea of relocating there. From what I remember, the neighborhood our house would have been was such a gloomy part of the city that my parents took one look at it and decided “You know what? This really isn’t going to work out.” which spelled the end of that. Since it was so long ago, I don’t remember much about it but my hazy memory seems to consist of a smoggy sky. Maybe the house we were checking out stood close to a factory or something like that?

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  4. This might be something others have already caught on to long ago, but the name of Thomas’ long lost friend Woodget has a significance. I happened to pop it into a search engine one day and found out about Captain Richard Woodget, who was once the master of the Cutty Sark. I used to think it was just a nature-related name (like, say, Mr. Woodruffe), but I was stunned when I realised the clever reference Robin had made.

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