The Crystal Prison | Chapter 2

dm2

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘You must think me a rude old battleaxe,’ she said calmly.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Now the Starwife gets her moment in the limelight. One of Mr Jarvis’ most iconic characters, this grizzled old beldam is another fantastically stop-motionish specimen. I love the description of her chamber in the Great Oak, with its hanging baubles and ancient tapestry, and of course, who could forget the Oaken Throne itself!

I’m going to nerd in a different direction here and suggest this track by Howard Shore for the scenes with the Starwife in this chapter and the next. Meant for Tolkien’s woodland elves, it evokes both the cunning and strength of the primordial forest, and something that is also a little cold and otherworldly.

The Starwife; ancient, all-seeing, with one eye fixed upon the heavens and one paw rooted to the earth, rather suits the comparison. Mr Jarvis has admitted to a fondness for Tolkien’s legendarium in the past (to the point that he once made models of the characters!) and if any of you are also Tolkien fans, you’ll enjoy spotting the influence of that esteemed master of high fantasy in Robin’s work  as this project progresses.

In this chapter we also get to see Audrey display some of her signature fire. I love her clash of wills with the Starwife, and I commend our heroine for standing up for herself even in the midst of her grief over Oswald.

While rereading, it also occurred to me that there is perhaps a little bit of class commentary going on in this chapter and Chapter 3, especially with regards to the way the Greenwich Park squirrels treat the mice and the way the Starwife behaves toward Thomas and Twit. Mr Jarvis himself lived in Deptford for some time before moving to Greenwich, so he is perfectly placed to offer insights of that kind. This is yet another example of how his work is so firmly rooted in place; this may be a fantasy about mice, but it is imbued with so strong and specific a culture that it simply would not be the same were it set anywhere else.

 

 

Matt’s Thoughts: The Starwife! This is the kind of character that you see being voiced by Maggie Smith or Judi Dench. Acid-tongued, arthritic, with little patience for cowardly squirrels or being contradicted. (I’m not sure why, but I also find it hilariously funny having a squirrel called Piers.)

This might also be a good time for another one of my photos from the Greenwich trip last year. Sadly, it looks like I didn’t take a photo of the Observatory itself, but you can check out their website if you’ve never seen it. But this is my photo taken from the Observatory looking down, so as I was reading this chapter, I was realising that it must be a massive hill when you’re only a mouse! It’s steep enough climbing it as a human!

greenwich

There are a whole bunch of interesting things foreshadowed in this chapter: the darkness with twinkling lights behind the Starwife’s throne, the throne itself, Thomas Triton’s past, his attachment to Twit, all of which are elaborated on further, either in this trilogy or in the Deptford Histories. But, of course, this is all by the by – the most important thing is that Madame Akkikuyu is back on the scene … On to chapter 3!

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One thought on “The Crystal Prison | Chapter 2

  1. We see more evidence of how much the death of Jupiter has changed the world as Thomas leads his two young charges through The Grille and into the sewers. What would probably be a throwaway moment in the hands of another writer becomes a great one as we get to see the mice display their character. Realistically, Audrey and Twit still get the willies just from looking at The Grille what with the painful memories it holds for them both. Jupiter may be dead and his subjects gone but their ordeal has left them both with scars that aren’t going to disappear overnight. The sewers are devoid of the evil they were once infested with but memories of evil never die. Thomas proves once more that he’s the best as he helps Audrey and Twit overcome their lingering fears, first by making faces at them through The Grille to show them that it no longer has any power and then by treating the sewers as a pleasant stroll through a handy shortcut rather than a tense journey through a place where any who enter should abandon all hope. Thomas is such a father figure for the group, a older mouse who shares with the youngsters the valuable wisdom he has gained during his life. You’ve got to wonder about the price he paid for it.

    Another neat touch is the way Thomas’s character is used to heighten our curiosity about another character before we actually meet her. The Starwife. We saw The Midshipmouse stab an evil God in the face while taunting him and yet he’s clearly nervous about Audrey’s upcoming meeting with an elderly squirrel. That should tip you off about what sort of person we’re about to encounter even before Thomas hints that she may have powers that allow her to know any secret lurking within the minds of those who stand in her presence. Thomas is hasty to promise Audrey that The Starwife won’t eat her but you’re not so sure that she won’t eat your mind, leaving you a gibbering wreck, if you look at her the wrong way. We’re excited not only that we’re about to meet her but because Audrey Brown of all mice will fall under her gaze. What shall she make of this fireball of a mouse? What will the fireball make of the formidable squirrel queen? That, as they say, is the question! And I have more questions for you to ponder. Why did the Starwife summon Thomas Triton to come and see her when he first arrived in Deptford? What about this old sailor could have drawn the attention of one of the most important creatures in the world?

    See what I meant when I said The Crystal Prison would be tonally separate from The Dark Portal? Book One had a gloomy atmosphere for the most part. I would go as far to call it downright Noirish. There were rare exceptions to this rule such as the breathtaking visions of horror and beauty that greeted Audrey when she entered The Grotto as well as Arthur, Twit and Oswald’s exploration of the yard but the bulk of that story was wreathed in the murk of an abandoned house, the dark and smelly sewers, the mysterious hold of a landlocked ship, a deep and suffocating mine-shaft. Not so with Book Two as Thomas and the two younger mice literally leave the house and the sewers behind and emerge into the warm glow of a bright summer’s day. As Twit is swift to point out, the change in atmosphere is stunning! How amazing the fresh air must taste and liberating the open expanses must feel after having been cooped up indoors for so long! Of course, this doesn’t mean that the story will any happier in tone. Even sunlight can cast shadows and where there is a great deal of light, the shadows are deeper. I always laugh when Audrey says that she’s in no mood to meet a bad-tempered old squirrel and Twit exclaims “Oh I am!” That field-mouse!

    With Mrs Chitter out of action, it falls upon the bushy-tailed denizens of Greenwich Park provide us with a new source of comic relief. Blimey, the squirrels are a twitchy bunch which makes absolute sense when you think how squirrels behave in the real world. Always glancing this way and that between each bite they take from a nut, always leaping up the trunks of trees whenever the merest hint of trouble rears its head. Seriously, the escort party who come out to meet the mice are aware they’re no danger yet still need to pluck the courage up to go down and greet them! It was so funny when Thomas lost his patience and decided to speed the process along by the blunt method of checking a stone up at them!

    I love every piece of music from The Lord Of The Rings movies! Peter Jackson and his crew hit it out of the park with everything about those films and The Woodland Realm does indeed perfectly capture the mood of The Starwife’s mysterious and beautiful domain! I would love to visit Greenwich Park myself! Hey Mark, did you get the chance to visit St Nicholas Church? Is the gateway really guarded by two stone skulls? Tell me truthfully, who else wishes that the entrance to their home was a slide? One of the things I love about these books is finding out what kind of place each group lives in. We’ve seen the dwelling places of the mice, the rats, the bats and now we enter the heart of the squirrel kingdom where the Starwife reigns with an iron fist.

    Mr Jarvis said a while ago that he based lots of his characters upon people he’s known in real life. Which formidable lady gave him the inspiration for The Starwife? And why is it that when first Thomas and then Twit are called into her chamber before Audrey who’s forced to stand listening as she deals with them, I’m reminded so much of standing outside the school headmistress’s office? She really does give off that sort of vibe from the moment we hear her voice. When Thomas said that she made him feel insignificantly small, he wasn’t kidding. I can feel the regal scorn withering me even as I’m typing these words. Just like Thomas, we’re in absolute awe of her from the moment she speaks. Hate her though you certainly may by the conclusion of this meeting, there’s no mistaking the sheer power of The Starwife’s personality. The question mark looming over Thomas’s past becomes much more pronounced when the squirrel queen touches upon the cryptic purpose of their past meeting and warns him never again to take to the sea. If I could tell you how much I’ve wished I knew just what exactly it is she whispers to him that we’re denied access to. What will happen if Thomas goes to sea again? What, I say?

    Twit doesn’t fare much better and out in the corridor, Audrey clenches her teeth with outrage at the way her friends are being treated. Come on, Audrey! You can totally take her! The come of dread comes at long last as she marches past the curtain and finds herself face to face with the owner of the scornful voice. And we’re so taken aback by just how old The Starwife is that we find ourselves disarmed. When your body is so ravaged by age, I guess your wits and tongue are the only weapons available to you and you get used to exercising them at every opportunity. Then she chucks her stick at the nose of her attendant and the pity is somewhat diminished as she turns her milky eyes upon Audrey. It seems confirmed that she can read minds when she replies acidly to a few of the things her guest thinks while in her presence. Aufwader was right when she said that sparks go leaping into the air as the finely honed blade of Audrey’s will clashes with the proud Stawife! Gasp! Can it be that our heroine has met her match this day? Surely that can’t be!

    Audrey is asked to relate what happened to her down in the sewers after she was kidnapped by One-Eyed Jake and his crew. Intriguingly, The Starwife dwells on the blood-soaked events that took place within the sinister shrine of Raith Sidhe. The Three may be old Gods but who’s to say they’re not listening to any prayer that might be offered to them? And who indeed can predict what may happen should they decide to answer? Orfeo and Eldritch seemed to know something but whatever insight they gained from their foresight, they were content to hint darkly about rather than flat out say. I wonder what The Starwife would do if she was armed with their secret knowledge? If Arthur were here to tell her what little he heard from the bat brothers, perhaps she’d sit up and take notice but alas for he’s far away in The Skirtings where his voice cannot reach her. And who’s to say that he’d even remember seeing as he didn’t write it down like I suggested. Yeah, I know that it was whole book ago and nope, I will never ever let it go.

    We don’t have much time to ponder what could have been as The Starwife comes to the other reason she had for requesting Audrey’s presence here. There’s someone she wants the mouse maid to meet or rather be reunited with. As The Starwife warned Thomas, reality and memory should never be allowed to blur together and Audrey discovers this for herself when none other than Madame Akkikuyu enters the chamber. Try not to let your jaws drop, people! As Matt pointed out, there’ll be plenty of time for that in Chapter Three! Heh, heh, heh…

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