The Crystal Prison | Prologue & Chapter 1

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Illness has a smell all of its own and it is unmistakable. Sweet and cloying, it lingers in a sickroom, waiting for the patient to recover or fail.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Of the three wonderful prologues in this trilogy, I think this is my favourite. One of Mr Jarvis’ signature narrative motifs is the idea of monumental struggles with the forces of evil happening alongside the everyday doings of ordinary people; out of sight and out of mind, but affecting us all.

In the dismal scene on the bank of the Thames, we see this in action. The terror of Jupiter, even of his corpse, means nothing to the anonymous builder who finds him. In death, the fearsome Lord of All is rendered powerless – revolting, perhaps, but awe-inspiring no longer. Just how narrowly the world escaped his evil is spelled out to us in no uncertain terms.

It’s incredibly atmospheric for such a short scene. The vistas of Deptford Mr Jarvis paints for us seem grim and drab even on a sunny summer morning, and I love the little aside that ‘nature took a hand’ in ejecting Jupiter’s body from the river. It’s never stated, but I like to infer that that was the work of the Green.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I haven’t read The Crystal Prison for quite a few years – possibly not since I was a teenager – and so I didn’t remember quite how poignant this chapter was. It’s also a lot more personally resonant to me now.

There were a lot of people lamenting at the end of last year that so many celebrities passed away in 2016. But there were other people that never made it out of 2016 either – one of them was my father. We first learned of the heart condition that was to eventually kill him back in 2014, when he had several heart attacks over a period of about a month. The second lot of these put him in intensive care, with a less than 10% chance of survival.

While he miraculously survived and lived for another two years, I’ll never forget the experience of him being in hospital that time. The dreadful waiting by his bedside, wondering whether the particular breath he was taking – exaggerated by the sound of the life support machine – was going to be the last one. Sleeping on chairs in the emergency waiting room in case he took a turn for the worse in the middle of the night. It was a draining week.

Reading this chapter, so much of that is brought to the surface. The quietness of everyone, just waiting around for the inevitable. The lack of sleep, the haggard lines under eyes. It was all there and it felt painful to me. Which makes me wonder, is this just a resonance to me and my experience? Or was it also a resonance for Mr Jarvis when he wrote it? If you look at The Dark Portal, you’ll see that the book is dedicated ‘For my parents’. But in the beginning of The Crystal Prison, it says: ‘For the rest of my family, who now live without the light of my father’. I wouldn’t know for sure, but perhaps this chapter was personal for Robin as well.

Either way, it sets up a tremendous tragic backdrop for the mysterious meeting with the Starwife which is about to take place.

Oh yeah, and in the midst of all that, in a few skillful paragraphs, Jarvis sets up a believable romance between Audrey and Piccadilly as well. The man doesn’t waste words!

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15 thoughts on “The Crystal Prison | Prologue & Chapter 1

  1. My thoughts on the prologue: Okay, now this is one heck of a way for a sequel book to begin. By showing the reader just what happened to the corpse of Book One’s villain in lovingly macabre detail. Our omniscient narrator certainly doesn’t falter as they describe how Jupiter’s lifeless carcass escaped from the dark depths to which it had been cosigned by the shining spinning circle of Audrey’s Mouse Brass and ultimately found its way to an ignoble pyre. I can see his mouth flopping open as the current tugs him along. I can see his eyes glowering with sleepless hatred through the murky water. I can see it all so very clear and the sight makes me shudder with horror. Even in death, the fallen God of the sewers is such a blasphemy of creation that neither the water of the sewers or the river can suffer to stomach him for long, spitting him out like something poisonous. The corpse is literally reeking with evil to the point it chokes the air of the building site it ends up in and even when the fire consumes it, the oily smoke that rises into the sky looms over Deptford like an ill omen. Jupiter’s death leaves as strong an impression as his wicked life did. As long as he existed, dead or alive, he was a filthy stain that brought nothing but misery to the world. One wonders if the swarm of flies gorging themselves on the decayed flesh later dropped dead and their descendants were cursed. You can’t just expect to mess with the remains of an evil being without suffering the consequences. You’ve seen The Mummy’s Curse, right? With the confirmation that Jupiter is truly dead and didn’t fake his death somehow, it would seem that the prologue is sending us a message. The Crystal Prison is going to be completely different from the story that came before it. The summer of which the bats warned us has come. We’re leaving the shadowy sewers of The Dark Portal far behind to discover what lies in the future. It’s out with the old and in with the new for better or for worse.

    My thoughts on Chapter One: And from the first chapter, it would appear that things have gotten so much worse. Discovering that Oswald fainted shortly after the mice prevailed over Jupiter and has been bed-bound for weeks casts a dismal pall upon the already bittersweet ending of The Dark Portal. When last we saw the poor white mouse, he was rolling his eyes with a wry smile at Twit’s joke about him arming himself with some of Thomas Triton’s liquid courage before confronting his overprotective mother. What a world of difference a short and simple sentence like ‘Oswald was ill’ can make. Up until now, we saw Oswald’s fussy mother as a source of comic relief amidst an increasingly grim and gritty tale but when we’re told about how she cares for her son until she collapses in a weeping wreck on the floor…yeah, I feel all kinds of terrible for having cracked a grin at the way she bundled him up in that woolly scarf. We’re really not laughing anymore, are we? I hope that Arthur feels just as guilty for having snorted derisively when Gwen pointed out how upset Arabel would be when she heard that Oswald was lost in the sewers. For your child to fall so ill that they slip closer and closer towards death with each day that passes is surely any parent’s worst nightmare. Children have a tendency to believe they’re invincible but those who have witnessed death know that it can come at any moment.

    We’re reunited with the rest of our cast of mousy characters who are rallying around the Chitter family in their hour of need. Melancholy pervades this chapter throughout. Not only is Oswald seriously ill, it seems that the group of friends whose troubles we’ve been following are on the brink of going their separate ways. We find out that Piccadilly has made up his mind to go back to the city once he knows one way or the other whether his friend will survive whilst Twit is planning to go home to his field. Arthur remarks that Audrey will miss him if he goes. Once again, I’m pining for fanfiction over here. The story doesn’t touch upon it directly but I would give anything to know how things have developed between Audrey and Piccadilly since their return from the sewers. She’s not snapping at him any longer so it’s safe to say that her hostile attitude towards the grey mouse has diminished even if they’re not exactly friends. Did the two of them sit together by Oswald’s bed, watching over their mutual friend until the early hours of the morning? Did they talk about what happened after the grey mouse and the albino entered the sewers to find her lost Mouse Brass? Did Piccadilly tell Audrey that Oswald helped him try to stop the mob of rats who were hunting her? I like to believe that he did and that when the mouse maid says Oswald’s Mouse Brass would surely be the sign of truest bravery, she’s thinking of every instance of danger he went through for her sake, her heart breaking at the thought of what might have happened to him . What might still happen.

    Oh Audrey…she may have triumphed over an evil God but the outcome of her battle with Jupiter was no happy ending for her. Not only was she forced to finally accept her father’s death but now she’s forced to watch as the candle of a dear friend’s slowly ebbs. Oswald would never dream of blaming her for what has befallen him but he doesn’t need to. Audrey blames herself and that kind of guilt has got to eat you up inside. We get to see the more tender side of her personality here. Audrey was a ball of fire throughout The Dark Portal as she braved the sewers and ate rat ears for breakfast, wholly focused on proving that her father was alive, but here we see her put in a situation where she needs to be strong in a completely different way. She sees how drained Twit is from the strain of watching over Oswald and asks Piccadilly to take him back to the Brown mousehole for some well-earned rest. She teams up with her brother to ensure that her mother is properly rested too while she takes care of Oswald even though just being in the same room as him makes her want to cry. She’s not just brave, she cares for her friends and family and would do anything for them, a side of her personality that more than matches the toughness we so admired in Book One. As with Oswald’s decision to pray for the souls of the fallen mice and rats whose skins he and Piccadilly discovered in the sewers, Audrey proves that bravery and compassion in equal measure are the essence of a true hero and can be found within the heart of anyone whether they be man or woman, old or young, big or small.

    The sudden arrival of that lovable scallywag, Thomas Triton, comes as a breath of fresh air after the unflinching bleakness of the sick room and the dissolving ties of friendship. Which is more intriguing? The message he brings or the sorrow which comes stealing across his white-whiskered face as he muses about how bitter it can be to lose a dear friend? It looks like Audrey and Twit are coming with the Midshipmouse to visit one whose name we have heard murmured both in fear and respect. I believe you know who I mean. That’s right, we’re charting a course for Greenwich Park where the renowned Starwife awaits!

    For what reason does the queen of the squirrels call the Deptford Mice away from the bedside of their dying friend? Well, that we’ll need to wait until Chapter Two to find out! So stick with us for the long haul, Mouseketeers!

    The legend continues and it is going strong as this turn of the wheel starts a new cycle. Since the beginning of The Crystal Prison opens the story so soon after the close of The Dark Portal, it means we get to see how the downfall of Jupiter has rocked the world of The Deptford Mice. Audrey destroyed the mouse equivalent of Satan in his own domain and you’d be insane if you doubted for one moment that her triumph has shaken things up in the place she calls home. As the mice of The Skirtings react with great joy to the news that the shadow of the sewers has finally passed, we see that even though Book One is behind us, its events did not take place within their own self-contained bubble. What happened in the sewers won’t be restricted to the recap of what happened in The Dark Portal but will have consequences that resonate throughout The Crystal Prison and you’d better believe it.

    Matt, I know that nothing I can possibly say to you will seem adequate but I’m truly sorry about your father. We’re never prepared to lose someone so important to us. Nothing can possibly prepare you for that and nobody deserves to go through it.

    Oh my gosh. I never even though of connecting the dedication at the beginning of the book with what happens in the first chapter. If the author really was pouring his own experience of losing a family member into this then I feel so foolish for not having noticed until someone pointed it out to me.

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  2. This first chapter stuck with me for many years after I first read it, and it is something that I return to whenever I read a similar scene, because it is simply so well done. It is incredibly bleak for a children’s book, and yet incredibly truthful. Perhaps one of the best depictions of a grieving family, and those affected by that grief, I’ve ever read.

    Matt, I am so sorry to hear about your father. Much love to you and the rest of your family <3.

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    • I know, right? Stories tend to begin with sunshine and rainbows in the sky before taking that downward plunge but not The Crystal Prison! This story is bleak as Hell right out of the gate as the protagonists try to put the pieces back together in the wake of the harrowing adventure they barely just survived!

      J.K Rowling is another author who immediately springs to my mind when I think of scenes that depict people waiting frantically to find out whether their friends and loved ones will be okay. She’s a writer who knows how to weave tension into the fabric of the stories she tells!

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      • Agreed on the Rowling front! One scene that I remember so well is in OotP when the Weasley family are waiting to hear whether their dad survived Nagini’s attack at the Ministry of Magic… the slowness of that chapter really brings the whole thing home. They’re all exhausted, all miserable and anxious, and they can’t even bring themselves to talk to one another. It really is difficult to pull chapters like this off, but there are certain authors that dare to go there and do an excellent job!

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  3. Also, I agree that Audrey and Piccadilly’s potential relationship is set up well, here. You fill in the blanks and assume they’d spent some time talking together, sharing little moments here and there even amidst all the sorrow. Hmm, sounds like a fanfic waiting to be written!

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    • Piccadilly and Audrey are one of my earliest ships! If this was a TV show, I would sit up straight the moment I saw the two of them onscreen together even if it was a scene in which they didn’t actually speak or interact with each other!

      I hope somebody will choose to answer the call of the fanfic! We could do with more in our fandom!

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    • My deepest condolences to Matt, and to Mr Jarvis as well.

      I’m another reader who didn’t quite connect the dedication to the events in this book when I first read it. Now that I do, they have a new, and deeply sad, cast. I admit I was going to write about the first chapter in my post, but on rereading I found it just a little too close to certain experiences I went through last year, and felt in the end that I wasn’t really able. Matt has said everything I intended to say far better than I could have, in any case.

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      • I guess this chapter has hit home for a few of us here. It may explain why The Deptford Mice and the author’s other books have always stayed with us, because they are so true to life which isn’t always happy. I’m sorry for what you went through, Aufwader. I really and truly am. Just know that you’re not alone, okay?

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  4. Emmyaclarke: I was thinking about that very chapter! I was overwhelmed with disappointment when the film-makers omitted that because it was one of the most distressing parts of Order Of The Phoenix! Which is saying something when you consider that it’s Order Of The Phoenix which is renowned throughout the fandom for being a deeply unsettling book! I guess it might have been tricky to pull that sort of scene off in a film but skipping straight to Arthur coming home for Christmas was a no good cop-out that drained the entire thing of its impact!

    Another superb example would have to be in Deathly Hallows when Harry and The Order are watching the starry sky, praying for the other members of the escort guard who clashed with The Death Eaters to join them so that they’ll know their friends survived the battle! The contrast of the beautiful sky and the unbearable tension painted such a picture in my mind and the fact that it was the final book of the series and nobody was safe from mortal danger did a lot to enhance the moment!

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