The Crystal Prison | Chapter 4

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

He bowed his head and wept silently beneath the crescent summer moon.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  There’s quite a bit going on in the layer under this chapter’s main events. We’ve got Arthur and Gwen’s mutually healing relationship (I surmise that in the Brown family, Arthur is closer to his mother, while Audrey spent more time with Albert). Then there’s Piccadilly’s first uncomfortable stay in the Skirtings and his feelings of being unable to fit in no matter how friendly the Browns and Twit are. We’ve also got the beginnings of Gwen’s tempestuous duel-of-wits with Thomas, the bond of the Chitter family and insights into Oswald’s parents, Twit’s strained bravery in the face of his cousin’s decline, and finally, Audrey and Piccadilly and their …thing.

I admit I never really boarded the Audrey and Piccadilly Train when I was younger. Nowadays, I’m so on board that train I’ve got a seat in the front carriage, but while I love both these characters individually and agree that their relationship is a wonderfully-written drama, I’ve always sort of had the idea that they’re not really that compatible. Or at least, that they met at completely the wrong time and in the wrong circumstances.

Their trouble is that they both have really strong personalities – neither is willing to give any ground whatsoever to the other, so instead of communicating, they stew in silence, bottling up things which really need to be spoken aloud. There’s also Audrey’s unaddressed grief and Piccadilly’s deep-rooted existential angst to complicate matters. By the time this chapter draws to a close,  we share Audrey’s frustration and Piccadilly’s regret, and the joy of Oswald’s recovery is mingled with sorrow for a friendship that seems unsalvageable.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This chapter is a little bit of a mouse soap opera: someone is sick and gets miraculously better, a boy and girl have a fight instead of telling each other how they feel. Mr Jarvis actually packs in a whole bunch of moods and feelings in one chapter, which I’m in awe of. I’m still not entirely sure how he does it!

But we have the heartbreak of Oswald dying, the humorous aspects of the altercation between Master Oldnose and Thomas Triton, the joy when Oswald recovers and the inevitable moment where a budding romance runs into an obstacle – in this case, Audrey and Piccadilly being unable to say what they really feel.

The only possible problem that you might be having – if this is the first time that you’ve read the book – is that it’s not entirely clear who the antagonist is in this book, and what kind of peril our heroes might be in. So far, it just sounds like Audrey, Arthur and Twit (and not Piccadilly) are facing an unpleasantly long holiday in the countryside with a mad rat. But have no fear, readers – The Crystal Prison is going to ramp up quite nicely in the second half. So savour the sounds of the whisker fiddle and bark drum and enjoy your berrybrew – things are going to heat up.

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14 thoughts on “The Crystal Prison | Chapter 4

  1. Chapter Four is such a heady mixture of joy and sadness that my head is always left spinning out of control by the end.

    The joy explodes throughout The Skirtings when Oswald makes a miraculous recovery from his illness while the sadness grips Audrey by the heart as she reflects upon the price she has paid to make that miracle happen. And when she goes to try and talk Piccadilly into coming with her to Fennywolde and makes a careless slip of the tongue that hurts him deeply…damn it, how can that be the chapter’s end? What is this book and why does it have so much power over me even after so many years?

    Okay, okay… deep breaths now. We’re going to get through this somehow… yeah, somehow…

    I’m reminded of an animated film called Once Upon A Forest which was about a group of young woodland critters who go on a journey to find a way cure for a friend who is deathly ill. The story of the film is conventional in that it begins with the journey and ends with the group’s triumphant return with the cure their dying friend needed so desperately. Though similiar to Once Upon A Forest, the story of The Crystal Prison is quite the opposite because it begins with the group of friends bringing home what they need to cure their endangered friend and then having to go on a journey afterwards. See what I mean? The cure for Oswald’s illness would be the goal of their journey in any other story but here they are handed the cure and the journey is the price they must pay for it. I just think that’s a neat reversal from what we may expect from a story about a ragtag band of mice going on an adventure together.
    We return to The Skirtings to see how Piccadilly and Arthur have fared in the absence of Audrey and her companions. The tension of Oswald edging closer and closer to death with each minute that ticks by is so well done. Even though the reader is aware that Audrey has been given a cure and is heading back to save him, there’s still that grain of doubt in your mind about whether she’ll make it back in time. And that’s if The Deptford Mice is the first Robin Jarvis series you’ve read. If you read another of his trilogies first and then came to this one afterwards, you’d be far better prepared for how ruthless he can be with the lives of his characters and Oswald’s survival would hang in far greater doubt for you even when the cure is tipped into his mouth.

    Poor Piccadilly, being lumbered with the unenviable job of keeping the crowd of concerned neighbors at bay. Paddling for your life on a floating plank while bloodthirsty villains are nipping at the tip of your tail has got to be hot milk and honey compared with trying to make yourself heard over the voices of just about every member of the mouse community who are asking questions all at once and pressing more and more bowls of ointment into your paw. At least you can give the rats a punch on the snout which is hardly an acceptable solution here although it’s tempting for Piccadilly all the same. I enjoyed Mr Oldnose’s frosty reaction to Piccadilly cheekily thanking him for helping to calm the crowd. Book One hinted that the brown mice wouldn’t know what to make of Piccadilly and his city-bred manners. Since he was a major character in The Dark Portal, Piccadilly is familiar to us and a source of comfort during the bleak beginning to The Crystal Prison. Which is why we’re no longer laughing along with him when Chapter Four comes to an end…

    Thomas sure knows how to make an entrance, swaggering into the Skirtings and calling Master Oldnose ‘Nosey’ as he ruffles Piccadilly’s hair and heads for Oswald’s sickroom with Audrey and Twit in tow. It occurs to me that what with the arrival of Thomas and Piccadilly and Twit, the downfall of the dreaded Jupiter and the heartbreaking plight of The Chitter family, The Skirtings mice really have been going through an era of dramatic upheaval since the trilogy began. Apart from the odd mouse vanishing through The Grille never to be seen again by mortal eyes, the recent events have got to be the most that’s happened around here for generations. Why is Audrey is so mysterious when Piccadilly asks her about Twit being so cheerful? Why doesn’t she come out and tell him right there and then about the cure and how they obtained it? It would have saved so much trouble and heartache for both of them in the long run…I guess that Audrey’s mind is full of turmoil as she thinks about the fate before her but why does nobody else mention the awful circumstances to the grey mouse? I guess it wouldn’t occur to Twit who is so jubilant that his cousin is going to live despite all expectations. And Thomas probably assumes that one of the other mice will tell Piccadilly if the thought occurs to him at all. When you come down to it, so much of the trouble that follows shortly after Oswald’s recovery comes from none of the three mice who went to visit The Starwife thinking to say to Piccadilly “Oh by the way…” Of course you can also turn this around and ask yourself why Piccadilly doesn’t go after Audrey and ask what’s wrong when he sees that she’s crying. And the answer probably lies with the awkwardness the two of them recently went through. Audrey and Piccadilly may have been healing that breach but the memory of it may play a part in him staying put when she runs off. Going down into a dark labyrinth beneath the earth can seem far less frightening going to talk to a girl when you’re unsure how she’ll react to you. Take it from me when I say that…

    By The Green Mouse’s beard of lichen and coat of leafs, that description of Oswald approaching the brink of death is so mesmerizing that I rewound the audio-book to listen to it again. But thankfully we get to share Twit’s tears of relief when the magic medicine pulls his cousin back from the brink. Oswald is alive and he’s going to stay that way. But as I said, the joy that we feel in knowing that he has survived is mixed with the sorrow of what Audrey must now do. She is the price for this miracle and even though neither she nor the reader can forget that for one moment, so few mice will ever know about it. She must suffer in silence, feeling exuded from the community’s jubilation as her neighbors throw a party to celebrate Oswald surviving.

    And the suffering reaches a new peak of agony as we come to the bruised and bleeding heart of Chapter Four. Audrey seeks out Piccadilly and has what may be her final conversation with the grey mouse with whom she has shared such a rocky history since the two of them met. The first time I read The Crystal Prison, I was leafing randomly through the pages between chapters and happened upon the illustration which depicts Audrey and Piccadilly standing facing each other at the party. My first reaction was a gleeful “Ooooh! This is the chapter I’ve been waiting for since the end of Book One!” I was so excited that things were finally going to come to a head between the leading lady and my favorite mouse as they shared what looked like it would be a meaningful conversation. Audrey was finally going to apologies for the way she treated Piccadilly and they would become the friends they always should have been as they journeyed to Twit’s field and faced the new adventures that awaited them there. I just knew it. Then I read the chapter and the ground seemed to fall away beneath my feet as everything was ruined forever. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. The conversation begins with a weirdly uncomfortable vibe as Audrey stands and watches Piccadilly dance with another mouse maid at the party. Then he comes over and they talk and…what are the two of them doing? Perhaps the jealousy Audrey feels is what causes her to speak so formally as she thanks him for everything he’s done before announcing that she’s going with Twit tomorrow when he leaves for his home, unintentionally hurting Piccadilly who interprets this as an uncaringly abrupt goodbye from the girl he has feelings for. When he retaliates by saying that he was going back to the city anyway because there’s no reason for him to stay here for now, what gets me is that he never raises his voice to Audrey or calls her names. He stays calm but there’s an unmistakable savagery beneath the coolness of his voice which took my breath away as a child because I simply wasn’t expecting to encounter something so emotionally raw. It was so like watching two real people have a nasty altercation, you know? I was crying out for Audrey to just tell Piccadilly the reason she was leaving but she stays gagged by her own shame and then the moment has passed and it’s too late. An experience I’m sure we can all relate to, having gone through something similar at some point in our lives. Coming back to this chapter as an adult, it strikes me that a great deal of Piccadilly’s anger comes from the way Audrey assumes that he’ll gladly come along to the field. From his point of view, she practically commanded him to go down into the sewers and now she’s commanding him to come to the field. After everything he’s been through since he found his way to The Skirtings, his misguided belief that she sees him as being there for her own convenience causes something to finally break inside him and anger flares, destroying any chance they had to come to an understanding that could have healed the problems between them. The chapter comes to such a sad ending with the two mice off in their own corners of The Skirtings, weeping at how badly they have hurt each other. And younger me is wondering what’s going to happen because Piccadilly has been such an important part of the story, a part of this group who have been through so much together. Is this really it for him? He can’t leave!There’s just no way it can end like this! This isn’t how it’s supposed to go!

    Matt makes a stellar point when he says that there doesn’t seem to be an antagonist for Book Two and since the major problem of Oswald’s illness has already been wrapped up, not much of a goal either. This is part of what I meant before when I said that Crystal Prison is so different from Dark Portal in many ways. This is a real change of pace from how the trilogy began. In Book One, we had an adventure with the fate of all life on the planet at stake whereas in Book Two, we have all the makings of an emotional drama. Or to put it another way, a soap opera. With talking mice.
    Best. Book. Ever.

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  2. I totally agree with Aufy in that Audrey and Piccadilly are the very DEFINITION of star-crossed lovers. It breaks my heart, but its true – they just aren’t very compatible, however much they may wish to be.

    The art of Audrey in this chapter is lovely. The way her skirt poofs out makes her look so dainty and cute! In fact, this illustration itself is one of my favourites. The shapes are so perfect!

    I do wonder how things would’ve gone if Piccadilly DID join them though…

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    • I love the illustration in this chapter too! Is that Nel Poot in the background?

      Reminds me: if anyone has any Robiny art requests they’d like to see from me, please don’t hesitate to ask. I love drawing people’s faves and filling in the blanks of dramatic scenes. I’m always rolling out Robiny artwork of some sort anyway, so it’s no trouble.

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      • I’m rubbing my hands together as I contemplate the world of boundless possibilities that your offer just opened up to us! Hmmm….I’ve got one! How about Audrey screaming with anger at Piccadilly during their first encounter in the sewers? I don’t want to put the poor grey mouse through that again but I would love to see how you capture that moment!

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  3. Me too, Emmyaclarke. I have pondered the wistful question of what might have been for as long as I’ve been re-reading The Deptford Mice.

    I love the accompanying illustration with all my heart. Every detail in it from the merry-making mice whose carefree faces are at such odds with the pain and sadness etched into the faces of Audrey and Piccadilly to the barely suppressed anger of Piccadilly’s expression and, yes, the way Audrey’s clothes are drawn. The stuff of which dreams are woven by the dream-maker’s loom. This chapter is one of the reasons I was obsessed with The Deptford Mice as a child and continue to be as a grown-up.

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    • Don’t worry, they were spiffy! There was only a little bit of formatting needed (please excuse me putting on my editor’s hat haha). They’re up now – I put One and Two together because they were about the same chapter, hope that’s all right.

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      • I’m tickled pink to hear you liked them! And no worries, I’m grateful to you for giving them that extra dab of polish on my behalf! You put them up already? Oh boy, I have to rush over and check them out!

        I’m okay with One and Two going up together! I’m just happy to know that they have a place on Beyond The Silvering Sea! It really makes me feel like I’m contributing to the Robin Jarvis fandom!

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  4. You did a wonderful job of editing the theories, Aufwader! They read so much more smoothly now! Thank you again for giving them so much attention! I ought to work on making the posts I make here as smooth as that! And rest assured, I shall send you more head canons as they come!

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    • Then I shall stand back and prepare to be amazed! You do what you love and you do it soooo magnificently! I admire the collage you recently made of one of the scariest villains in the entire saga! I can tell you’ve a special place for that character in your heart! And Aufwader? I totally get why! Mwahahahahaaaaaa!

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      • Well, thankee kindly! On Silvering Sea I just draw what folks request or what comes into my head. I admit I gravitate toward my favourites probably too often ….(nervous laughter) but I appreciate your enthusiasm in that regard.

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  5. Ain’t no such thing as showing us the weird, wonderful and occasionally bone-chilling characters of The Deptford Mice the way you see them too frequently! In my eyes, you’re to be commended for your own enthusiasm! And for providing fans who would otherwise be cast adrift with a safe harbor!

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  6. In this chapter is the moment that pretty much dooms the relationship between Audrey and Piccadilly (because, as the former would state later, if she had been kinder maybe they would have traveled to Fennywolde together and things might have turned out differently). No matter how many times I read it I inwardly hope she’ll say the right thing even though it’s an unchanging book and so I know full well she won’t.
    I find it rather suspicious that Audrey seems not to be in control of what she is saying, and she even wonders if the Starwife has put a spell on her. There might be something to that… the Starwife already has thoughts of making her her successor, so maybe she knows romance will only get in the way and it must be sabotaged for the greater good.

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