The Dark Portal | Chapter 10

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Without any further ado they opened their dark mouths and with a shock Morgan realised that he could see straight through them – they were ghostly, ephemeral things.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This is one of my favourite chapters in The Dark Portal. It’s got everything; an atmosphere of creeping dread; the bleak, swishing set of Blackheath, eerie even in daylight hours; and, ah yes, an arcane ritual to summon unclean wraiths from the trackless void! Honestly, what’s not to like?

I’ve spoken about Twit at length, and Thomas and the Starwife will get their moments in the limelight soon enough, so let’s talk about Morgan. Oft-overlooked in the annals of Mr Jarvis’ great and bad, that spotted slime-ball is nevertheless the first villain to meet our heroes on their level, so to speak, and he deserves a look-in for that alone.

As an introduction to the kind of vile secondary baddies Robin does so well, Morgan gets top marks. In Chapter 1 he’s responsible for the capture of Albert, so we despise him already, and his appearances in both the previous chapter and this one thoroughly cement our loathing. Here, we get a look into his slinking, beleaguered existence, and begin to see that his cringing fear of Jupiter is completely warranted. At this point, he has been serving the Lord of All for years, and is bound to his malevolent master’s will come plague, fire, and doom.

The Blackheath ceremony is another one of those scenes that is etched into my memory from the audiobook. It helped that Tom Baker’s rendition of Jupiter’s ‘soothing and repellent’ voice was blood-freezingly terrifying from start to finish. To this day, I could probably recite the words of that evil incantation verbatim, just because this chapter made such an impression upon me when I first heard it. I have yet to come across a more gracefully executed yet deeply disquieting scene involving occultism, even in the work of classic cosmic horror and weird fiction writers.

I’d love to hear you opinions on this scene, Readers all. Did you wonder queasily what was in Morgan’s paper parcel? Did you turn the book face-down after reading so you wouldn’t have to see Jupiter’s blazing eyes?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This chapter is more or less burned in my brain. It’s perhaps a throwback to my childhood in the 80s, where in some Christian circles, any tales of magic were immediately branded as ‘occult’ and considered dangerous. (Smurfs was on the dangerous list for some people. And you certainly couldn’t speak about Dungeons & Dragons.)

And so here we come across Mr Jarvis – in the middle of a kids’ book – describing an arcane ritual in enough detail to be highly disturbing but (perhaps) not enough detail to get himself in trouble with publishers.

Now that I’m older, I realise that in many ways Robin was drawing on centuries of legends and traditions about witchcraft and sorcery and the evil things that exist out there if you tap into them. This was the stuff that terrified grown-ups in the classic wave of occult 70s horror cinema, such as The Exorcist, The Omen and – a true British classic – The Wicker Man. But I don’t think anyone back then had thought about putting it in a book for young readers quite like this.

I don’t know – maybe people don’t read this with the same chill that I do. After having so many Paranormal Activity and Conjuring films, is the world of the occult something that is more laughable and familiar now? I’m not sure. But either way, for me, this pushed the book into a new level of darkness. Even Voldemort at the height of his mischief never felt as hideous as Jupiter summoning up dark spirits on Blackheath.

This, of course, became a mainstay of Robin’s books. There is always a moment (perhaps several) where his villains really ramp things up by tapping into dark forces. It usually marks a turning point where things go from being dangerous for our main characters to flat out cataclysmic.

But what about you, dear readers? Do Jarvis’ descriptions of dark forces give you that rising sense of dread as well?

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7 thoughts on “The Dark Portal | Chapter 10

  1. Chapter Ten is…oh my gosh…so the thing is that there’s no way to describe it other than brimming with mystery that taunts us as we try to figure out what this all means and imagery so bewitching that we feel like our imagination has been grabbed hold of and given a merciless twist. Okay, okay…I’ve caught my breath. Sorry about the reeeeeally long and unwieldy sentence but my fingers were flying across the keyboard so fast that it was up on the screen before I even knew it. This story has sunk its hooks into me all over again and I find myself swept along by the sheer momentum it has picked up.

    As Matt pointed out, the sinister ritual and the evil forces awoken by it are madness as its most wondrous. A sense-shattering phantasmagoria. Nothing beats the first time I read this chapter and the magic on the heath was unleashed. I could hear the wind howling and see the evil faces in the mist trying to gnaw Morgan’s face off as they swirled around him like a tempest of pure evil. Chapters like this are a perfect example of The Deptford Mice movie trilogy making its own argument for why the day needs to come when it will cease to be a wistful dream for us and become a sight that nobody can tear their eyes away from as it plays out on the big screen.

    Even at this late stage in the story, we’re finding out so much about the world it takes place in. The tapestry of Deptford continues to be woven as we are introduced to Greenwich Park with its majestic observatory and Blackheath which is infamous for the unnerving urban legends that have soaked into its very ground over the years. We discover more about the matriarchal ruler of the squirrels as a name is finally put to her by Thomas who very tellingly speaks of her with nothing but the deepest respect. Tell me truthfully, who wouldn’t want be as eager as Twit to go and meet someone known as The Starwife?

    I love that Morgan was expecting Jupiter to come meet him on the hill in person. It was hilarious when he was holding his breath as he waited for a two-headed monstrosity from his worst nightmare to step out of hiding only for the hill to remain still and silent. I like to think that Jupiter’s laughter when he manifested within the crystal ball came from his glee at having trolled his minion so hard by giving him that expectation. Jupiter has a sense of humor and like every other aspect of his personality, it is irredeemably wicked. Not that he would ever want to seek redemption because he is having sooooo much fun doing what he does. You’ve got to admire the dedication he (a creature so immense that he looms over his lieutenant) put into making that candle small enough for Morgan to carry all the way up the hill. I imagine that the implements for the ritual must have taken an excruciatingly long time for him to get just right. Do you think he has a pair of tweezers and a magnifying glass back there in the dark portal?

    Chapter Nine’s focus on Jupiter gives me an ideal chance to talk about one of the main reasons why I feel The Lord Of All deserves to be called one of the best villains of all time. The sheer presence he has throughout the story. Many of the big bads you come across in other epic fantasy novels for the most part remain out of sight until the hero meets him and the final conflict is fought at long last. Jupiter is different because he makes frequent personal appearances to remind us that he’s a terrifying threat, relishing every opportunity to make even his own loyal servant quakes at the sound of his voice. The Dark Portal is a story about the beast who lurks beyond it every bit as much as it’s a story about about the small but courageous mice who defy him. Now I can to think of it, that’s something you can say about the villain in just about every book Robin Jarvis has written, that the antagonist is one of the protagonists in his or her own right and not simply an obstacle for the heroes to overcome.

    As for the final question you left for us to ponder, Aufwader…those parcels Morgan found in the sack were darkly tantalising to me as a child. After wracking my brain for years, I believe I have an answer as to what nasty secret lay hidden within them. The remains of a mouse. More specifically, a mouse who was recently given to him by Morgan. Albert. Sometimes I terrify myself.

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  2. This chapter is very memorable to me too! As a kid, I felt scared reading Morgan’s lines out loud, in case I’d summon Jupiter (or ghouls) haha. Also, Aron, I reckon you’re probably right in thinking Albert’s remains were in that bag…. arghhhh!!!

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  3. When you put everything together, the idea of the contents of that sack being Albert becomes chillingly compelling.

    Jupiter made the candle a day after Albert fell into his hands. My guess is that he was planning to demand that Morgan capture a mouse and bring it to him alive but then Albert came walking right up to The Dark Portal, very conveniently for Jupiter who realized that he wouldn’t have to wait for Morgan to get the job done after all and very tragically for Albert who…well…was horribly murdered.

    Then we have Morgan’s reaction to the candle when he pulls it out of the sack. The smell wafting from the thing makes him drool so openly that Jupiter has to warn him sharply not to even think about taking so much as a nibble from it. And what is a rat’s favored snack? Mice.

    Finally, we have the ritual that this candle plays a part in. This was some pretty nasty stuff we saw here. It would make sense that the stuff used to bring it about was horrifying in its own right. There are so many films in which we see the high priest of a demon-worshiping cult hold his ceremonial dagger in the air before he brings its murderous tip plunging down into the heart of a victim who lies screaming and struggling on a stone table beneath the full moon. Granted, this wasn’t quite the same situation but Thomas did remark that the ritual reminded him of something he once saw in a land across the sea, didn’t he?

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  4. Twit mentioning that he met a squirrel family once makes me pine all the more for the fourth Deptford Mouselets book. That was going to be all about what happened to him during his brave journey to Deptford in the grip of winter, right?

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  5. Damn. It totally never crossed my mind that the candle could be made out of a mouse. 😖😖😖
    I did however spend the entire chapter expecting the round thing in the paper sack to be a severed head (I kept thinking it might be Madame Akkikuyu’s head – have I mentioned this is my THIRD time through the series? 😂😂😂 #shorttermmemory #itsswholenewadventure)
    Anyway, when it turned out to just be the crystal ball (which I finally worked out is actually just a kid’s playing marble 😂), I was like, “Oh.”
    Still, Matt is right in that the arcane ritual here is quite detailed enough to be disturbing – especially in something that I’m sure was originally marketed as a kid’s book 😳😳😳😳😳

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