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: 

‘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!

‘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:

‘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.

‘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?

One thought on “The Dark Portal | Illustration Nominations

  1. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

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