The Dark Portal | Illustration Nominations

Aufwader here! In these monthly posts, Matt and I will be choosing and discussing two of our favourite illustrations from each of Mr Jarvis’ books, starting today with The Dark Portal. Do describe your favourites in the comments too!

Aufwader’s Pick: 

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‘Magic on the Heath’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1989

This was a toss-up between Morgan and the scene with Audrey and Madame Akkikuyu in Chapter 3, ‘The Fortune-Teller’. Morgan won in the end because he’s a perfect example of an early Robin Jarvis rat. If you look at the long, gnarled snout and and the sightly lumpy shape of him, he resembles Robin’s early sketchbook work much more closely than later specimens. Plus, the context of this scene! Jupiter calling up the unquiet spectres of the Black Death! The shadows in the background almost seem to writhe and move, and look at the reaching claws of that candle flame. It’s dramatic stuff!

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‘The Dark Portal’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1989

The grand finale! How could I not mention this one. The perspective! Audrey teetering on the brink, her brass sliding under her paw! Oswald down there in the background! Jupiter’s shadow where it looks as if he has horns and shows him without revealing what he truly is! There’s such a sense of scale in only a few small lines! I’d love to see this one in colour honestly.

 

Matt’s Pick: I must say – I love all of these illustrations. I’m sure there are people who have successfully read the book without them, but they so bring the story to life, that to me, Deptford Mice without pictures would be like Narnia without the Baynes illustrations, Dahl without the Blakes, Milne without the Shephard. (You get the idea!) Oddly enough, Aufwader and I managed to pick two completely different sets of favourites, which is great. So here are mine:

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‘Three in the Dark’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1989

Look at this – Skinner, the rat with a peeler for an arm, is about to take a vicious swipe at Twit. As soon as you see it, you get a number of bits of information straight away. Size differential: rats are much, much bigger than mice. Strength differential: despite having a missing hand, Skinner still looks muscly. By contrast, Twit looks practically fragile. This is not one of those fantasy fights where the good guys and bad guys are evenly matched – these are ordinary creatures up against something much bigger and nastier than themselves.

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‘Hot Milk and Honey’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1989

And this one I like because it’s remarkably human. Arthur looks exactly like a teenager who has just woken up. And there is something remarkably kind in Twit’s eyes. (And we also realise that, even compared to the other mice, he’s a bit of a shorty!) We get a sense of the friendship that exists between the mice.

 

So which are your favourite illustrations?

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3 thoughts on “The Dark Portal | Illustration Nominations

  1. A huge part of the charm of The Deptford Mice comes from the illustrations which were drawn by none other than the author himself. Not only does he describe the delightfully macabre world he created, he shows it to us in slides! Seriously people, how cool is that? And let me tell ya’ll, if they were available at the concession stand, you’d have to run before I bought them all up! Ha, ha ha! Only kidding! I’d leave some for the rest of you!

    Aufwader, the gripping picture of Audrey backing away from the ungodly magnificence of Jupiter is a personal favorite of mine too. And if you look reeeeeally closely, you can make out Oswald on a ledge in the distance, taking the scarf from his head as he prepares to throw Audrey her Mouse Brass. That illustration is a fantastic example of a moment captured and preserved in a still image.

    Say Matt, d’you remember what I said a few days ago about just how distinctive the character designs of the mice and rats are? It just so happens that one of the illustrations you chose is a perfect example of that! Since it shows Skinner getting closer and far more personal with Twit than the poor fearful field-mouse cares for, the sheer difference between the two of them could not be clearer! You can tell that they’re from two different races even though they’re both rodents!

    One of my own personal favorites just has to be Gwen Brown with her face bathed in moonlight as she says goodbye to the husband she has lost. No question about it. Look at her and I promise that what you’ll see is the pure essence of that scene. You need only look at her to feel her sadness even if you wouldn’t know why she’s sad without the story to accompany the picture.

    Another would be Piccadilly with the skin of a murdered mouse in his paws for pretty much the same reason as the other illustration I chose. You can see the disbelief on his face as he looks down at what he’s holding and sees what true evil is, feel the crushing weight of the silence that has descended over this corner of Hell that has just revealed a horror the grey mouse wasn’t prepared for.

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  2. I definitely agree that the illustrations are an integral part of the books. I can’t believe that in recent years there have been editions without them! The oddest case is the US editions; The Deptford Mice books actually have their illustrations, but The Deptford Histories don’t. Overall, the US Histories seem to have been put together in a slapdash manner compared to the earlier trilogy (even Leonid Gore’s cover art is arguably of a lesser quality than the ones he did for the Mice, looking more cutesy and far less sinister), with the latter two never even getting paperback editions across the pond. The worst part is that there is no way for US readers to know that there ARE illustrations for the Histories as well unless they happen to get their hands on the original UK books.

    As for my favourite illustrations from The Dark Portal…

    The Fortune-Teller: There is a lot of mystery in this one. Audrey hesitantly steps up to Madame Akkikuyu as the latter stares into her crystal ball. You can tell that, for the moment, Audrey is in awe of the rat who she initially believes has real magical powers.

    The Dark Portal: I’ll add another vote for this one as well. Though Jupiter has been fully shown in illustrations since and the text reveals what he is and what he looks like, you still don’t see him here, and the shadow you do see is positively menacing. While she valiantly stands her ground, Audrey’s horrified expression says it all.

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    • Have you seen the German and Japanese editions? Speaking for myself, I have no choice but to say that my fealty will always be pledged to the Robin Jarvis originals. That said, the editions I mentioned have their own intriguingly unique take on the character designs of the mice. I find the German cover for The Final Reckoning particularly compelling…so oppressive and bleak!

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