The Dark Portal | Chapter 13


Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Jupiter had made the Plague a living thing with his black arts and the mist was writhing with evil life.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: ‘Dark Rewards,’ reads the chapter heading. ‘Oh no,’ says I.

Of all the horribleness in The Dark Portal, this chapter’s events were the ones that stuck with me as a child. The mouse-skins were pretty bad, and so was the shrine of the Unholy Triad, but it was this wretched mine and these wretched rats and wretched Finn and the wretched sentient Black Plague which haunted my young imagination. I hated it, but I could not stop listening.

Now, I still hate it, and I could not stop reading, and I’m very, very pleased about that because we’ve got one heck of a penultimate chapter here. First of all, the scenes with Oswald pretending to be a rat are like a bad dream; the descriptions of his calloused, dirt-encrusted paws are so visceral that it almost hurts to read about them, and we are made to feel his strain and fear of discovery as if it were our own.

I’ve written about the delightful Smiler on Silvering Sea, and Finn is one of the very few characters I’ve ever come across for whom the only suitable descriptor is ‘creeptastic’ , but for me, it is the setting of this chapter that makes it so terrifying. I am claustrophobic, and the mere idea of small, underground tunnels gives me the heebie-jeebies. Throw in the thin, dark opening which Oswald ends up in and the presence of the inescapable Black Death, and I’m left pretty sure that the only reason I managed to get through this chapter as a child was because the audiobook was abridged.

As much as this chapter scares me, I’ve always loved the moment where Jupiter turns up and starts bellowing to the rats that ‘HE IS THEIR LORD.’ Once again, favourable memories of Tom Baker’s narration surface in my mind, and I always grin at Morgan’s smug satisfaction when the minions are at last suitably cowed.


Matt’s Thoughts: It just struck me for the first time as I read it this time – was this chapter, with its mining strikes and merciless bosses, meant to have echoes of the 1984 Miner’s Strike? The Dark Portal, after all, was written in 1989, so the events of 1984 would have been fairly fresh in the minds of many adults, if not the children reading the book.
Whether there’s anything in that theory or not, this is probably one mine you would want to shut down as soon as possible, given what lay at the end of the dig! Such a creepy reveal – the Black Plague! Instantly British, instantly morbid – conjuring up images of death, disease and mass graves.

In fact, if you’ll allow me another musical interlude, I found that whenever I listened to Symphony No. 3 by William Alwyn (a spectacularly underrated English composer, who you should all have a listen to!), there was one particular moment that would conjure up a scene from a sadly non-existent Dark Portal movie in my head. Around the 7:30 mark in the first movement (here’s a link that starts at that point if you want to skip to it), a massive brass theme rings out, sounding ominous and devastating.

In my mind, I could see Oswald in the mines – the camera zooms into his eye, we hear Master Oldnose talking about Blackheath and the dead buried there – and then, as the music flares up, we see carts tipping bodies into a massive pit. The camera pulls up into the sky, looking down, and we’re horrified by how many people are buried there.

Yeah, now that I’ve written that down, that was never going to happen in any kids’ movie, was it?

Still, the imagery is potent and it’s a great threat, like the magical equivalent of a massive bomb that our heroes have to defuse or (if you have read Dan Brown’s Inferno or caught it in the cinemas recently) a deadly plague that will be unleashed on the world. Which mercifully gets dealt with at the last minute.

Leaving only Jupiter to be dealt with in the next chapter.

(And a few rat obituaries for us to write this week!)



15 thoughts on “The Dark Portal | Chapter 13

  1. Aufwader, you are so right about the descriptions of the pain and terror Oswald goes through as he slaves away in the mine inducing cringes from the reader. I could feel my own fingertips twitch with sympathy as he struggled to pierce the rocky wall with that battered old spoon. Stuff like that always makes me feel for the characters in a story. It was one thing for Twit and Thomas to gaze upon the brutality going on in the mine through a chink in the wall but Oswald is dragged into that waking nightmare himself and through his eyes, we discover how many dimensions of pure suffering there are to it.

    You raise another excellent point when you talk about the claustrophobic atmosphere of the mine elevating the fear factor by a thousand times. Wanna make a scary situation even more tense? Then simply have it take place in an underground cave! Did you ever read The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen by Alan Garner? During that book, there’s a memorable sequence in which the brother and sister protagonists are lost and being hunted through a maze of subterranean tunnels! The descriptions of how suffocating the darkness is were so effective that I actually found myself holding my breath several times!

    I’m glad to hear that I’m not alone in feeling utterly creeped out by Finn, the old codger who takes Oswald under his wing for reasons that are soon revealed to be less than benign. Compared with the terrifying power Jupiter has flaunted at various times throughout the story, Finn’s wickedness may seem fairly low-key but damn if the part where he revealed that he’d known Oswald was a mouse all along and had been biding his time as he waited for the chance to murder and eat him didn’t make me gasp! A rat with a peeler strapped to the stump of his severed arm may be fearsome but when a rat is smiling at you? Now if you ask me, that is when you should take a step back and refuse to let him out of your sight! His remark about how he’ll leave Oswald’s lifeless body hidden in that dark corner of the mine and come back to ‘visit’ him whenever he feels peckish…uuuuuuurgh! Whenever I get to this part, I’m always am so, so, sooooo glad when he dies!

    Skinner’s confrontation with Morgan and the flesh-searing agony of the death which Jupiter metes out to him is a breath-taking scene. In another story, Skinner would be the hero who inspires his fellow slaves to rise up and overthrow their tyrannical overlord but sadly for him, he’s in the wrong kind of story entirely and what an example the tyrant makes of the wannabe revolutionary. Another one bites the dust and quite spectacularly so.

    You know what’s beyond awesome? How all the clues which have been sown during the story finally blossom into the magnificently horrifying revelation of what Jupiter’s fiendish master-plan is! And it is an incredibly diabolical plan that’s so worthy of a villain of his caliber! Forget raising an army to conquer the world! Jupiter intends to endow the Black Death with a malicious intelligent so that it can actively seek out victims to infect and kill slowly and horrible! Excuse me for saying so but that is so sick and evil and so bloody ingenious that part of me wants to bow down before the force of darkness who dreamed it up!

    Oh! My! Gosh! I just listened to the music you hooked us up with and you know what, Matt? I think you’ve got to be the only worthy candidate to direct the Deptford Mice film trilogy! Your description of how the moment when it dawns upon Oswald just what is on the other side of that skull being pried loose by the rats and your choice of music are painting such amazing pictures on the canvas of my imagination here!

    You know, I never connected the short-lived mutiny of the rats with the infamous miners strike in my mind before you suggested it. But yeah, I can see the similarities between the two situations what with the heartless disregard shown towards the the miners by those in power.

    I’ve yet to watch Inferno. I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code but the film treatment of Angels And Demons left me cold which is a shame since I loved the book so much I finished it in one night. Would you say that Inferno’s any good?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is absolutely my favourite chapter in the whole book. I love the creepy chills you experience as you realise Jupiter has turned The Black Death into a living thing and is about to unleash it on London.
    …..mostly though I love that Oswald gets his Indiana Jones moment, running away from the skull at the end of the chapter 😂😂😂 Now THAT’S the bit that plays on my mental movie screen.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. One of my favourite chapters!

    “I have blessed you with the thirst fir blood and murder” – an interesting thought, if Jupiter is to be believed. According to Piccadilly, city rats are rather tame. Were even sewer rats once peaceful, as a whole?

    Also, Smiler captivated me as a kid. I wonder if Robin has any sketches of him?

    Liked by 3 people

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