The Dark Portal | Chapter 12

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Warning: Contains spoilers!

‘Dear lady, have you not thought that our two problems are linked? They have a common root, a dark, poisonous canker that must be cut out before it does any more harm.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: In this chapter, we spend some time at home with Gwen and Arthur, and observe through them the rather specific torture of those who are left behind while their loved ones embark on life-threatening adventures. In the opening scene you really feel Gwen’s restlessness and worry – she fumbles absently around the house, she tidies needlessly. Eventually, she runs out of distractions and sits, anxiously awake, waiting for news.

This perfectly sets up Thomas’s entrance. The midshipmouse’s no-nonsense attitude seems to bring out the best and bravest in everyone, and he swiftly galvanises  Audrey’s friends and family into action. That Thomas is still willing to take on Jupiter after having witnessed the ritual on Blackheath says much for his character; without Mr Jarvis ever spelling it out, we can infer Thomas’s courage, and Twit’s loyalty for staying at his side throughout.

For myself, I have two favourite things in this chapter. The first is the way Mr Jarvis waxes artistic in his descriptions of Thomas. With his white hair that ‘waves about like a frothy sea’ and his eyes that ‘twinkle beneath his frosty brow’, the midshipmouse is the sort of character that one feels the need to draw, or indeed, see brought to life in a stop-frame television series. Like Madame Akkikuyu, he seems born for the screen.

The other is Mrs Chitter. Set up as an interfering busybody in Chapter 2, this shrill little mousewife finally gets her moment in the limelight, and the scene where our heroes try to come up with some sort of workable plan while she wails in the background is fairly hilarious. Someone give the poor lady a strong cup of tea and a quiet sit-down!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: A simple chapter, but it provides a nice relief from all the darkness that has gone before it – and, better yet, it gives us a glimmer of hope. There’s something awesome about how Thomas Triton walks in, takes charge of the situation and everyone joins in.

However, it did cause me a couple of random chuckles:

First off, how many comments about poor old Arthur’s weight does he have to put up with? First time someone meets him, they have a go at his stomach! I didn’t notice this so much the first time around, but it happens a lot.

However, there’s something rather special about all of this. In the Hagwood books (which we’ll get to next year), there is a bio about Robin Jarvis up the back which contains this interesting little fact: ‘Robin usually includes one small, portly character in most of his books. This character is not the hero, but instead a friend or brother of the protagonist – someone a bit clumsy and a bit too fond of supper. The character is, in fact, Robin.’

So it would seem that Arthur is in fact Mr Jarvis himself enjoying a cameo. Very cool!

But the most cool fact of all, the one I hadn’t even notice, is that when Gwen Brown does her awesome re-entrance to announce that she’s coming along and no one’s stopping her – she has a rapier. A rapier? What are mice doing with rapiers? I know there have been some famous sword-fighting mice in history. (Reepicheep probably being the first.) But the idea that mice just have weapons stashed away in case of emergency is rather awesome.

Presumably it was Albert’s weapon. But how long had he had it? Was it a fairly heirloom? Was it given to him by his father when he got married? Or am I just assuming that it would pass down the male line? It is from Gwen’s side of the family? Or do all mice just go out and arm themselves? After all, the opening line of the book does say: ‘When a mouse is born he has to fight to survive.’

Over to you, readers: do you think mice with swords are a common thing?

Or does this come back up in another book and I’ve just forgotten? (In which case, don’t spoil it for me!)

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12 thoughts on “The Dark Portal | Chapter 12

  1. Poor Gwen Brown. Her beloved husband murdered by the rats and now her only daughter missing. Can you even begin to imagine how she must feel as she’s forced to watch the ones she loves disappear one after another? How she must have looked forward to the Spring Celebration when she would see her children come of age but since that day came, a curse seems to have fallen upon her family and she’s powerless to do anything to stop The Grill from devouring the ones she loves. Yet my pity for the widow seeps away to be replaced with awe when Thomas, Piccadilly, Arthur and Twit are about to venture off into the sewers and then turn around to see Gwen standing there, a sword in her paw and a will of iron reflected in her eyes. Gwen’s blunt declaration that she has no intention of waiting to see if they come back, that she will join them and fight every rat in Deptford to protect her children, has got to be one of the most epic moments in this book or any other in the Deptford Mice saga. And yes folks, I am including the prequels in that sweeping claim. Is there a more awe-inspiring demonstration of the love a mother has for her children? I don’t see how there ever could be. The way I imagine that scene playing out in a movie, we would see a reaction shot of the male mice looking stunned by what they’ve seen before the camera switches perspective and Gwen is revealed to be standing there in all her magnificence, ready for battle. And it is so amazing that just thinking about it makes me squeal with joy. Damn Gwen, you’re the best mom ever!

    And for the love of the Green Mouse, what a world of difference lies between the brave Gwen and Oswald’s mother, Arabel Chitter. Where Gwen sits everyone down at the kitchen table with something warm and soothing to drink as she listens calmly to what they have to say, Arabel shrieks like a banshee and almost faints when she is told where Oswald is. For Oswald’s whole life, she has smothered him with scarfs and woolly hats but now that the time has come for her to fight for him, she stands frozen with terror even as Gwen picks up her husband’s old sword and swears that she will bring her daughter home or die trying. Part of me wants to curl my lip with disgust at how she fails to rise to the occasion but the better part tells me I really shouldn’t be so hard on the poor mouse-wife. It’s a rare person who can be brave when she is truly tested. Gwen is one of those mice and sadly Mrs Chitter is not.

    Thomas says what we’re all thinking when he tells Piccadilly that in the last few days, he’s seen things that no mouse his age ever should and that nobody can doubt he is brave for being willing to go back into that evil place for a slender chance of rescuing Oswald. I love Thomas with all my heart. He’s like a sturdy ship’s mast for the other mice to hold onto when all around them a storm is raging. While the rest of the community stay in their mouse holes where they believe that the evil lurking down in the sewers will never touch them, Thomas knows that it isn’t true. Evil cannot be ignored when it rears its head. It must be fought with all the courage we can find within ourselves or we will live in fear of it forever. The midship mouse proves his mettle by getting the ball rolling for the rescue party to go into the dreaded sewers and lay down their lives for Audrey and Oswald.

    I groan when Arthur wracks his brain to remember the ridiculously cryptic advice he was given by the bats. What did I tell you, man? You shoulda written that stuff down while you had the chance! Thomas made me chuckle when he tried to piece together the scraps that Arthur could remember. “Water deep, fire blazing and the unknown path, they said? So we burn Jupiter alive, throw his carcass into the sea and…uhhh…I’m gonna need to get back to you on the unknown path bit.”

    When Mrs Chitter accuses Twit’s mother of having brought disgrace on their family by running away with his father, it leads me to wonder just what the heck her reaction was when he showed up on her doorstep during wintertime. Can you imagine the expression on her face as she saw this tiny field-mouse beaming up at her and announcing that he was her nephew who’d come a-visiting? I like to think there were snowflakes clinging to his fur and that as he walked past the gobsmacked house-mouse, leaving a trail of paw prints on Arabel’s nice clean floor. Come to think of it, how did Oswald react to suddenly meeting the cousin he never thought he would actually meet? Did he even know he had a cousin or was Arabel so ashamed that she never mentioned Twit to him? Am I the only reader who would give, like, just about anything to see how Twit meeting his prim and proper aunt went? And when Arabel looks at Thomas and purses her lips with disapproval, is it me or does she suspect that Gwen is courting another mouse only a few days after the death of her husband was reported?

    You know, it never occurred to me to wonder why it is that Gwen has a sword in the house. Was this hitherto unmentioned weapon of war hanging above the fireplace as a decoration until she takes it down and unsheathes it? Did Albert bring it back from his days in the war? What conflict would he have fought in? Or maybe the sword was hidden away in a chest under the bed he and his wife shared. I mean, Arthur didn’t go and fetch it when he, Twit and Oswald went into the sewers that first time so he can’t have known of its existence. Oh man, this reread is giving me so many new questions to ponder! I love it!

    And finally, have any of you been inspired to try making some hot milk and honey yourselves? I’ve been tempted but never actually have and am curious as to how tasty it is…

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    • Decided to take one for the team today and try hot milk with honey. Can report that it is delightful. I added a little nutmeg for extra interest; can imagine that cinnamon, cloves and/or black pepper might also work. (I used regular semi-skimmed, have yet to try it with almond milk).

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  2. While we’re talking about stuff in the books I’ve never questioned before now, how about the Mouse Brasses? We know that Master Oldnose makes them in his forge but where oh where does the metal used for this yearly task actually come from? Huh? Huh? Explain that one to me, Master Oldnose!

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  3. I’ve always liked the idea that they might’ve been made from melted coins, one pence pieces and such that sometimes end up on the ground in cities. Since these don’t actually contain brass as far as I know, maybe the ‘brass’ part in ‘mousebrass’ is more figurative than literal.

    The mousebrass maker has their own specific sign (the Sign of the Maker) and they’re generally considered a sort of minister/scholar within mouse communities, aren’t they? On the back of that, I love the idea of a sort of ‘holy forge’ in which the Green smelts the souls of mice yet to be born. I’ve always been interested in the juxtaposition of the Green Spirit being all about the natural world and growing things, and yet one of his sacred marks is the mousebrass, which requires metalworking and goldsmithing knowledge.

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    • So if the metal comes from objects scavenged from the human world such as like lost coins and old discarded screws, is it safe to say that not every Mouse Brass is the same color?

      Aufwader, I am so in love with your idea of a holy forge where the destinies of mice yet to be are forged long before their birth! Do you suppose that Mouse Brass makers have a spiritual bond with the Mouse In The Green? They are the mortal mice whose paws of flesh and blood make the divine will of their deity a reality on this Earth and and The Green Mouse does seem to channel his spirit through Master Oldnose in Chapter Two…

      The Almanack is a book that no fan of The Deptford Mice can afford not to read! I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve picked it up again, started leafing through the pages for a while and become so lost in the wonderful lore contained within that when I glance up at the clock, I always blink with surprise to see how much time has crumbled away! Blind Brass biscuits were one of the tasty treats I thought of when I made that post. I’m sorry to say that I’ve never had the chance to try some for myself. I really want to. Perhaps I’ll see if I can bake some. So you’ve tasted the recipe for yourself, huh?

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      • I suppose so! For some reason I always imagined a certain sign in our next book to have more of a silvery hue, but we’ll get there in due course so do remind me later on. Another idea: perhaps the Anti-fox Charm (which, now I think about it, only appears in the Almanack) comes out a more reddish colour? Maybe the Sign of the Maker is the most golden (with flashes of green in certain lights)?

        Of course the brass makers have a connection to the Green! If I recall correctly there are a few stories of mice being ‘told’ things or receiving signs from the Green on the matter of forging certain brasses. If not, there is certainly a close link somewhere there. To add to my first idea; what if the Green sort of ‘possesses’ certain makers when the brass of an especially important mouse is forged? A similar thing happens during Audrey’s brass-giving, after all.

        Oh bother, I forgot about Blind Brass Biscuits! Yes, I have made the recipe on a number of occasions, usually around Yule time (which I know is not traditional but I’m not a Green Mouser anyway so haud yer wheesht) and I can confirm that they are as good as they sound. A word of caution, though: if you want them rock-solid as they’re supposed to be, make the whole recipe. I tried to do half-measures once and they came out like ginger cake …which, admittedly, was not half bad but it bears mentioning.

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  4. Ahhh, I’ve a fair idea which Mouse Brass you mean when you speak of having always imagined it as being silver! Don’t you worry, I’ll be swift to remind you when the time is right! I love your ideas for how certain Mouses Brasses appear! I particularly like the thought of The Sign Of The Maker occasionally flashing green, hinting at the close bond its wearer has with The Green Mouse!

    You’re probably right about The Green Mouse using Mouses Brass makers as a vessel to channel his spirit. Remember how Master Oldnose was stunned when Audrey rolled back the sun and he saw what the Chamber Of Summer had been transformed into? And how he then turned into The Green Mouse who presented Audrey’s Brass to her in person and afterwards he didn’t remember anything of what had taken place? Come to think of it, Master Oldnose said he didn’t even remember having crafted the anti-cat charm. I think you’re right and The Mouse In The Green had a paw in the making of that particular Brass, much like he had a paw in the moment Audrey received it. It would explain why Oldnose doesn’t remember making it any more than he remembers the memorable spectacle that surrounds it being given to its wearer. The Green Mouse must have guided Oldnose’s paw that day.

    It just so happens that I love ginger cake which means that even if I mangle the recipe on my first attempt, it’s a win-win situation! So you don’t identify with the Green Mousers then? Now that is most intriguing! I can’t wait to discover what your true faith is!

    Woah…it’s crazy how different Piccadilly has become from the cocky young mouse he was when he first stepped into the pages of this story. Where once he laughed at the idea of rats being any danger for a tough customer like him, the horrors he witnessed in the sewers have shown him what danger truly is. And still he’s willing to confront the nightmare head on to protect the friends he has discovered here in Deptford.

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  5. Yo Matt! Been thinking about the mystery of the sword and how it came to reside in the Brown mouse-hole. I have a couple of thoughts on it but we’ll need to wait a couple of books before I can share them with you. Something to look forward to, heh heh!

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