The Dark Portal | Chapter 14

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

All the rumours, all the legends, and all the horror stories were wrong.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: We have come this far. We have had fights with rats and flights with bats. We have hidden in peeled mouse-skins and witnessed the fruits of arcane, profane ritual. Now water deep, fire blazing, and the unknown path await. Now does Audrey face her first great trial.

I didn’t realise until I reread this chapter that it’s almost a direct mirror of Chapter 2. Audrey passes through a time of terror (the rapidly-heating, hell-like tunnels) and a time of hope (with Madame Akkikuyu and the brief possibility of escape) before coming into the presence of a mythic being of power. In this case, however, it’s the Dark Portal itself that she stands before, and it is Jupiter who is revealed to her despairing sight.

Since Matt has shared his musical ideas with regards to this chapter below, I thought I’d chip in with mine. The grand emergence of Jupiter, so brilliantly and frighteningly illustrated for those with physical copies of this book, immediately puts me in mind of the first thirty seconds or so of Liszt’s Totentanz. That menacing, discordant opening evokes both the harshness of industry and the approach of something cataclysmic and thoroughly malevolent, and as far as I’m concerned it fits the Lord of All perfectly.

What I love about our arch-villain’s reveal is that it should be something of a let-down, but it isn’t. Jupiter; the Mighty One, the Evil One, the Father of Murders, he who supposedly has two heads and commands powers dark and dangerous …is a cat. A ghastly, grotesque, abominable, unnaturally long-lived and fire-breathing cat. A cat on the level of Claudandus from Akif Pirinçci’s Felidae; a tyrannical, deathless monster in feline shape. He should be ridiculous, instead he inspires awe and terror in our heroes and in us readers.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: It’s such a big climax, that it’s easy to forget how poignant that opening interaction is between Audrey and Madame Akkikuyu. While there are many cut-and-dried villains in The Dark Portal, Akkikuyu is fascinating because we realise she is struggling with the regrets of the decisions she made. In some ways, she’s like the rat equivalent of Michael Corleone at the end of The Godfather: Part II. Haunted by the life she could have chosen, but feeling too far in to turn back.

Until a mouse-girl offers her grace and a second chance. It reminds me a little bit of another famous moment of literary grace – where Bilbo spares Gollum, even though Gollum hardly deserves it. At the time you read it, it just seems like a small moment illustrating Bilbo’s kindness. But that act of grace later has huge repercussions. That is somewhat similar to this moment here, but you’ll have to join us in Book 2 for more of that …

In the meantime, there’s only one word for this finale: cinematic. Mr Jarvis himself has said that he simply imagines his stories unfolding on a big screen in his head and writes them down, and you can see it in this chapter. It’s classic fantasy-film stuff: the monstrous villain, the heroes banding together to dish out his final desserts, flooding rooms, last-minute rescues.

I should also add another musical interlude in here – I always think of the opening of the fourth and final movement of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3 reading this. Again, it could just be me, but that moment where all the brass and heavy instruments drop out and it’s just the violins playing a repeating set of notes – an ostinato, if you want the nerd term for it – that always makes me think of bats in flight and this final showdown.

The only sad thing about this chapter is that I’ll never know what it was like to have that satisfying moment where Jupiter appears and you think to yourself, ‘I thought he was a cat!’ Unfortunately, the first Jarvis book I laid eyes on was The Final Reckoning, and I remember browsing through it and it had a little plot synopsis of the earlier two Deptford Mice books which sort of gave the game away on the identify of Jupiter.

But, by the same token, Audrey did get an anti-cat charm back in Chapter 2, so I’m sure that gave the game away to most people. And, of course, we now understand a bit more what the bats meant when they spoke of ‘water deep’ and ‘the spinning, shining circle’.

Though my favourite piece of foreshadowing in the whole trilogy is in Chapter 2, where the mouse band is playing at the Spring Festival and people are shouting song requests to Twit. Someone yells out ‘Old Mog’s Drowning’, which always now gives me a chuckle every time I read it.

And how amazing is that Stephen King-type scene (or James Herbert, if we want to be a bit more British) where the shades of all Jupiter’s victims reach out and drown him? Love it.

All in all, it a satisfying ending to The Dark Portal. If Robin had stopped there, it would have been an entertaining and dark young people’s fantasy, with a satisfying ending and memorable characters. It was perhaps a bit darker than you would expect from books about small animals, but it was still awesome.

What we perhaps didn’t realise that first time round is that the first book of a Jarvis trilogy, no matter how full-on, is just the warm up. The real perils and heartache are yet to come … Or ‘Until the summer’, as the bats would say.

So we hope to see you all next month for The Crystal Prison!

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24 thoughts on “The Dark Portal | Chapter 14

  1. Congratulations on finishing the first book! A bowl of berrybrew to each of you. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy reading all your comments. I’ve had to keep biting my tongue and stop myself joining in because the last thing your imaginations need is the dreary old author laying down definites. This is so brilliant, thank you!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Aufwader, you’re so right when you point out how the final chapter mirrors the beginning of the story in many ways. Where Albert stood before the Dark Portal and listened in on Jupiter’s plans, here it is his daughter who stands before the lord of the sewers as the plans come to fruition. And where Piccadilly was powerless to save Albert from the slavering jaws of Jupiter, here he grabs Audrey’s paw and pulls her back from the brink of the watery grave which would have claimed her. I like to believe that Audrey is not the only traumatized mouse who finds closure in the aftermath of the final conflict, though I remember feeling disappointed that she and Piccadilly didn’t get the chance to talk before the story ended. One of the reasons I was dying to get my eager hands on The Crystal Prison and continue the story was so I could find out where Audrey and Piccadilly went from here. Did the ghost of Albert look up from the water below and catch a fleeting glimpse of Piccadilly saving his daughter? Did he give the grey mouse an unseen smile of gratitude? I like to believe with all my heart that Albert knows what Piccadilly did.

      Speaking of last conversations, that sweet little moment Audrey and Akkikuyu share has never failed to engulf my soul with sadness for the jaded fortune teller. Akkikuyu was right when she told her captive that the paths we take never lead back to where we started out. But no matter what circumstances you find yourself in, you always have the chance to do the right thing. When she looked into Audrey’s eyes, Akkikuyu sees person she could have been if she’d made different choices in life. And the person she might still be. During the precious moments before Morgan comes barging in and drags Audrey the final step to The Dark Portal, she realizes that she can still renounce her wicked ways and save this mouse girl but she falters and allows the chance to slip away forever She chooses Jupiter over the world of light and life and in doing so, she seals her own fate. When the master of the sewers reveals himself for what he truly is and she beholds the monstrosity she has sworn to serve, Akkikuyu flees, paying the price for her evil as her sanity breaks under the crushing weight of the horror. Madness is such a sad ending for a character whom was as easy for us to to admire as she was for us to despise.

      I was puzzled for a while about why the air and stonework of the sewer tunnels become raging hot as Madame Akkikuyu leads Audrey to her fate. Perhaps Jupiter’s domain has always been extension of his evil will and as such reflects whatever his mood happens to be at the time. Dark and oppressive throughout the centuries he spent biding his time in the shadows and now as hot as the fiery depths of Hell itself as he rejoices in the arrival of the moment he has been awaiting for so long. Remember when I talked about how the darkness that infests the sewers of Deptford were an enemy in their own right? It would seem they are indeed and that enemy is none other than Jupiter who is one with his domain.

      It’s time for the grand finale of The Dark Portal and the floodgates are opened in more ways than one as Audrey confronts the dreaded Jupiter who shows the mouse maid his true face. The narrative beats leading up to the actual moment of the reveal are so freaking intense it’s unbelievable. As the fiend crawls out of the shadows, Audrey’s horror at what she’s seeing is revealed to the reader drip by drip, piercing us in the gut with the dagger of tension and twisting it slowly for good measure. What a corker the final illustration of the book is! Get a load of that picture and the pure terror it communicates! Audrey backs away so frantically that she almost plunges over brink of the ledge, desperate to escape from this immense shadow which keeps coming and coming endlessly as it spills forth from The Dark Portal! By the time Jupiter’s monstrous head emerges, we are right there with the two mice, our mouths hanging in the struggle to comprehend what we’re seeing. This has got to be the end of the line for Audrey, right? How can she hope to stand against this…this thing alone?

      But she’s not alone! She’s got back-up! Only one mouse can do the job! Thomas Triton, it’s time for you to swab the deck that is Jupiter’s warty face! And he gets right in there, attacking with all his might as he holds onto the paw of Orfeo who circles around Jupiter’s head! How come Orfeo and Eldritch here? The bat brothers can see into the future and probably foresaw that their aid would be needed in the battle but when did they hook up with the rescue party? Were they waiting for the mice on the other side of The Grill or did they literally drop in mere seconds before they save Audrey from Jupiter? Oh who cares because JUPITER CAN BREATHE FIRE LIKE A DRAGON AND WHEN GWEN SEES HER DAUGHTER BEING THREATENED BY THIS MONSTROSITY, SHE DOESN’T TO ATTACK IT WITH HER RAPIER! COME ON, THIS IS SO AWESOME!

      The most shining moment in the final battle belongs to Audrey who proves that she is most certainly no distressed damsel waiting to be rescued. As Jupiter scales the wall, his jaws spread apart in readiness to devour the mice above. And what does she do to turn the tide against this unstoppable powerful force of evil? She gets angry, that’s what she does! Cursing him, she throws the Mouse Brass between his eyes with no idea ahead of time that this will do anything! All she knew was that she refused to give this beast the satisfaction of cowering before him! The charm explodes in a ball of emerald fire and Audrey Brown, a mortal mouse, smites this evil God and sends him tumbling down to Hell! And it is too cool for words! This is the Deptford Mice equivalent of Luke Skywalker blowing up The Death Star! You never forget it once you’ve seen it for the first time!

      The moment when Audrey looks into eyes of her father’s ghost and finally accepts that he’s never coming back makes the ending so bittersweet. Since we met her in Chapter Two, she has been so determined to believe that he was alive and coming back to be with her. And here at the end, she knows that it won’t happen. Jupiter has been slain, his dark kingdom overthrown and his plan to unleash death upon every living creature in world foiled all by Audrey’s paw. The Dark Portal is no longer the heart of supreme evil. It will now forever be nothing more than a gaping hole in the wall. But she’s not thinking about any of that right now. The father she loved and tried so hard to find is dead and suddenly the fiery heroine who faced off against the rats and their evil master is sobbing in the arms of her mother. And that hits me right where I’m most vulnerable. In the feels. Poor girl.

      I love Jupiter’s downfall. It honestly feels like justice as he’s finally brought down by the very creatures he saw as being beneath him. For countless centuries, he reigned supreme over the sewers with nobody to oppose him. Then this particular band of mice decide that they’re sick and tired of his crap and march right into the very place where he has been worshiped for so long as a God to challenge him. He should have realized that the wind had changed direction from the moment Audrey told him to come and get her if he wanted her. Jupiter said it himself way back in Chapter One. He controlled the rats with fear but she was not afraid of him because she had faith that The Green Mouse would protect her. When she refused to obey him, that was when he lost the control he’d had for so long and it was proven that he was not truly all-powerful. Audrey looking him in the eye and telling him where to go was the beginning of the end of Jupiter’s reign of terror. Of course, she couldn’t have done it without the help of Oswald who threw her the Mouse Brass and the friends and family who entered this evil place to fight for her. Mice may be small but they’re survivors and together they won this day.

      I bit my tongue along with Matt when one of the songs suggested for Twit to play during the celebration in Chapter Two foreshadowed the climax of the book. There are so many hints in that chapter about where the story was heading right from the start. When you arrive at the glorious conclusion, your breath is taken away as you understand just how tightly-written The Dark Portal truly is. It was the author’s first book and he started out as he would go on, promising that there would be countless thrills, chills and kills for fans of his books to drop their jaws over with each one that was published. Shine on for eternity, Robin Jarvis! (Was The Dark Portal advertised as the opening book in a trilogy back when it was published for the first time?)

      I just want to tell everyone much fun it has been to read this book with you all. I had so much fun experiencing The Dark Portal all over again, sharing my thoughts on one of my favourite stories of all time and finding out just how much it means to other fans who love as much as I do. Bring on The Crystal Prison!

      Liked by 3 people

    • Sir Robin, you are the absolute opposite of dreary and it goes without saying that you may lay down definites as and when you see fit. We only hope that our wild surmising is entertaining!

      I had the idea that I might present a ‘fan question’ relating to each book at the end of each month, so! A peculiar one to start off with, but one I’ve always wanted to know the answer to:

      Was Audrey’s design, in some small way, possibly, inspired by Audrey Hepburn? I can’t help but see a resemblance to that timelessly elegant lady in your Audrey’s fairylike looks and unique dress-sense.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Ditto on Aufwader’s call about dreary! But appreciate being given free range to come up with all sorts of theories on things! I love the Hepburn question, though.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Audrey Hepburn? Now why does that name sound so familiar? *pops off to look her up and then comes back, puffing and panting* Ohhhh, the actress who played the main character of Breakfast At Tiffany’s! I can see why she’d make you think of our heroine, Aufwader! Her eyes have such a haunted look about them in all the pictures I’ve seen which is how I imagine Audrey seeming to her friends as she thinks of her lost father!

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  2. Gosh, Audrey Hepburn never once entered my head, sorry. Audrey was loosely based on someone I knew, in fact many of the mice were.

    And yes, I absolutely love the fantastic surmising that’s been going on.

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  3. I’m glad Aufwader broached the topic of character design because I love how you drew the mice and rats! The populace of the sewers, the empty house, the attic and all the other locations we’re whisked off to during the story might very easily have been run-of-the-mill furry critters that were interchangeable with one another! But instead each and every one of them have faces of their own! Rather than Rat #1 and Mouse #2, One-Eyed Jake and Audrey look like people who just happen to be mice and rats!

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  4. Sorry I’m a little late to the party!

    But phew! What a fantastic end to the start of this series. You’ve got Oswald the Mighty playing his part, and Audrey the Incredible summoning the courage to stand up to a demonic cat! WOO!

    (Not to get overly political, buuuut…) In these dark times we can learn a lot from Audrey’s refusal to bow down to the likes of the tyrannical Jupiter. Even when facing what seems like certain death, she fights back, gets one last hit in, and tells him to CHOKE. ON. HER. BONES.

    ABSOLUTE QUEEN!

    Anyway, I’m very much looking forward to The Crystal Prison, and meeting one of my all-time favourite characters… (points for guessing which, haha!)

    Thank you Robin, for a gorgeous story, and to everybody else for making this reread so enjoyable!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Don’t worry about it! You’re fashionably late!

      In this era, we have never been in greater need of heroes like Audrey and Oswald. There are some fights it may seem like there’s no way you can win. You may not even be able to make a dent. But that’s not what matters because some things are more important than whether you can win. Sometimes what matters is that you stand up and do not go gentle into that good night.

      Or to put it another way, spit in the God’s eye before he crushes you.

      One of your favorite characters is due to debut in The Crystal Prison? Oh my gosh, there are so many memorable newcomers in Book 2…

      Liked by 2 people

      • Very true! Times like these are why we will always have need of stories about good vs evil (almost wrote good vs elvis, which is an entirely different kind of story haha) – we always need that reassurance that good will succeed, and light will burst forth, in the end.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Phew! Thank goodness you picked up on your typo before making the post. I would have found myself terribly confused about what the forces of good had against Elvis. What’d he ever do to anyone? Seriously though, you’re right. We all need a light that burns brightly to give us hope when all around us is darkness and danger.

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  6. ………………………….okay, I would never have guessed that was actually a thing! Now that you’ve made me aware of its existence, I’ve got to see it!

    Hey, did any of you ever watch a cartoon show called The Dreamstone? The reason I bring it up is because it gives me real Deptford Mice vibes. The leader of the villains is cut so clearly from the same pitch-black cloth as Jupiter with his fearsome appearance and booming voice. Not only that but he’s served by cringing lackeys who carry out his will more out of fear of what will befall them otherwise than out of genuine loyalty. The bad guys were out to steal the titular Dreamstone, a powerful magical artifact that was in the possession of a kindly wizard who used it to bestow beautiful dreams upon the peaceful Noops who were…umm…I suppose that the best description for them would be a cross between Hobbits and Ewoks.

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  7. One last thing while I think of it! Aufwader, you’re probably already aware of this, but the opening of the Liszt uses a famous four-note motif that has been used for centuries in music to represent the Day of Judgment. It usually goes by it’s Latin name of the “Dies Irae”.

    Here’s the original oldest version of it:

    You can hear straight away how those opening few notes turned into the Liszt piece. Then there’s the Mahler Resurrection Symphony (aka The Greatest Piece of Music In the World), which uses it all over the place. Just listen to this minute:

    But what was even more mind-blowing was this video showing how many films have used it:

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Consider my mind blown just as you predicted! I never would have believed that The Lord Of The Rings and It’s A Wonderful Life (two movies whose plots could not be more different from each other) have something in common like that!

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      • Is that part of A Series Of Unfortunate Events? I’ve never gotten around to checking out those books although I have heard many compelling things about them which is why I must fix that unforgivable gap in my reading resume someday soon. Apparently a mini-series based on them is due to be released via Netflix.

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