The Crystal Prison | Chapter 6

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

A terror was hunting in the night.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  Oh, Alison Sedge. Queen of the barley, nymph of summer, mousey sun-goddess of our hearts! When I was younger I don’t think I quite appreciated the glory that is Alison, but now I find her adorable and, frankly, hilarious. There she lounges on that rock like some sort of siren of the meadow, counting off the faults of her rivals with venomous glee and rehearsing her ‘seductive country wench’ routine. But this is the Deptford Mice Trilogy, and as with all Robin’s characters, there is more to our Miss Sedge than first impressions would have us believe.

There’s a lot to delight the eye and imagination in this chapter. The soft, watercolourish descriptions of the English countryside in high summer. The antics of young Whortle Nep and his friend Sammy. The imposing threat of Mahooot the owl (love that name!) and the final triumph of Madame Akkikuyu, resulting in her acceptance into a community we were all certain would shun her the moment they saw her.

There are less pleasant aspects, however. After the levity of Alison by the still pool, things take a dive with the introduction of Jenkin and his terrifying father, Isaac Nettle. As a child, Mr Nettle frightened me silly. He still does, but perhaps for slightly different reasons.

I think the scariest thing about this character is that there is nothing supernatural about him. Jupiter was scary because of the god-like powers of evil he wielded; Morgan was scary because he served Jupiter. Whom does Mr Nettle serve? The wise, compassionate, ever-thriving Green Mouse. Yet he treats that vocation as a chore and a burden – something to be endured through gruelling prayer and the decrying of those who he believes fall short in their displays of piety. He is abusive and tiny-minded and, unhappily, the kind of mean, petty individual you find in real life. He is someone who hurts because he himself is hurting, but rather than excusing his actions that fact only brings his cruelty into sharper focus. We know from the outset that he is going to cause trouble for our heroes, and we wait with trepidation and mounting dread to see what sort.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I think I’ve finally put my finger on what I like about the Fennywolde location: it’s expansive, it’s sunny and it’s outdoors. (Compared with the locales in The Dark Portal which were predominantly damp and narrow sewers or small houses, and set during an English springtime – aka an Australian winter.) And mostly indoors. So visually – and you really do have to visualise Mr Jarvis’ work on a big screen – Fennywolde is the complete opposite to that.

And yet, no one is getting a chance to enjoy that space because of Mahooot …

My favourite bits about this chapter:

  • It contains a fictional character with my last name (that would be Hodge) – always awesome.
  • Watching Madame Akkikuyu move from villainess to heroine – and more importantly – her gaining a sense of belonging.

What is also of interest is the character of Isaac Nettle, Jenkins’ father. Growing up religious, I always found myself rolling my eyes at characters like these, because there seemed to be an awful lot of them in the 70s, 80s and 90s in movies and books. But now that I’m a bit older and understand more about the history of the 20th century, I think I’m realising more about where these religious extremist characters come from.

Nowadays, we usually think of an extremist in really strong terms – someone who carries out acts of terrorism and such. But, from what I can tell of Western history, if you went back to the 1950s, there was a harsh streak that seemed to run through much of Christianity (which was the dominant religion on the landscape back then). It was probably well meant – a way of showing the fervency of your faith and of keeping the next generation in line.

But instead, this harshness created a cultural split we’re still feeling echoes of decades later. As the 60s took shape, a huge number of people jumped ship from the culture of their parents – they had different music, different ethics, different religious beliefs, different clothes, different politics. Different everything. By the time that generation grew up and had children, we started to see echoes of some of their parents’ religious harshness in fictional characters. Just read Stephen King’s Carrie and see the portrayal of Carrie’s fanatical mother and you see this harshness transformed into something terrifying.

So I see that in the character of Isaac Nettle. Robin portrays him with compassion – it is not the faith that makes Nettle so brutal, but the fact that he has twisted it into something harsh and tyrannical as a way of bringing order to his world, of dealing with the grief over his wife’s death. But he has become a violent abuser of his son in the process.

And this, remember, is in a children’s book. About mice. It’s tough going, but it makes for a gripping story. See you next chapter.

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12 thoughts on “The Crystal Prison | Chapter 6

  1. I think it was during Chapter One that Matt remarked about how Robin Jarvis wastes no words. Well, Chapter Six proves him correct beyond the faintest shadow of doubt. Would you get a load of how much goes on here! Barely have Audrey and her cadre arrived in their new surroundings when countless new plot-hooks establish themselves! A very appropriate name is put to the religious fanatic whose existence was previously hinted at by Twit and Mr Kemp and a fearsome new villain swoops down from the sky in a storm of feathers and talons that are only too eager to rip tear mouse-flesh to bloody chunks. All this and we still have that creepy voice whispering in Madame Akkikuyu’s ear to get to the bottom of. To all newcomers who are reading along with us, I just want to say how deeply I envy you all. I wish I could be reading The Crystal Prison for the first time and rediscover all over again how the goings on in Fennywolde are destined to play out and what consequences they shall have for Audrey.

    My first impression of Isaac Nettle was “Wow, why is a meteorite not hurtling down to Earth and crushing this guy to powder? We saw rats die by the dozen last book so why is a huge jerk like him still alive?” It was the first time I’ve seen a father abuse his child in a children’s book, another one of those pinches of real life that I wasn’t expecting to find here. When I realized that he was the Mouse Brass maker for the mice of Fennywolde, I was mystified. How could somebody as terrible as him loyally worship the same deity as Audrey and the community she belonged to? I was so young and, let’s face it, kinda stupid back then. I had no idea that the world was not neatly divided between light and darkness. It was the sour-faced Mr Nettle who made me realize that there are shades of grey within the spectrum of morality and that some are dirtier than others. I felt awful for Jenkin. Your father is supposed to be the person who shows you how to act with wisdom and treat the people around you compassionately, not punish you for the crime of being young. The part when his father forces him to pray to the Green Mouse for forgiveness reminds me of a similar scene that plays out in Disney’s The Hunchback From Notre Dame. Isaac does have a very Judge Frollo vibe to him what with his fire and brimstone personality. Who do you think would play him in the movie? As with most of the mice and rats and other creatures we meet in these books, I have my own distinctive voice for him. Try and imagine a sour voice that makes you feel like the prickles of a nettle are brushing against your skin with each bitter word which comes out its owner’s mouth and you’ve got it. You make a great point about Carrie, Matt. It would be so easy to roll your eyes and write off Momma White as a ridiculous caricature. But perhaps her over-the-top personality was the product of a lifetime of abuse she received from her own parents. And we all know what happened to her own daughter who was then treated with the same cruelty…

    Aufwader, you nailed what it is that makes The Crystal Prison so incredible as the continuation of the story begun with The Dark Portal. In Book One, the threat to the mice came from the shadows lurking in the underworld but here everything is reversed. Here, the antagonist stands openly in the light of day and is embodied by no rat but rather another mouse who believes in the same God they do. In a move of pure brilliance, all that we believed we could seek comfort from has been flipped around and nothing is as safe and certain as it first seemed. I love it when a story does something clever and unexpected like that.

    In another stunning reversal of where we were probably expecting this story to go, Akkikuyu makes her entrance among the field-mice by fighting bravely to protect two of their children from the bloodthirsty Mahoot. She’s a rat and rats are at best disliked and at worst feared by mice. So you’d expect her to spend the book trying in vain to fit in among the field-mice while Audrey groans and moves in to do damage control for this rat she’s looking after by order of The Starwife. Yet the first thing Akkikuyu does amidst the field-mice is become their hero. Much like the incredulous Audrey, I doubt any of us saw that coming.

    The lovely Alison is one of my favorite mice too. She’s a country beauty but you get the distinct feeling that she has wits which give her the ability to use that loveliness as a weapon far more deadly than any sword. If there was any doubt she was being set up as a foil for Audrey then it’s shattered when their eyes meet and the sparks of mutual rivalry are kindled. I’m giddy for the two mouse girls to clash head-on. Oooohhhh Auuuufwaaaader! I take it that Miss Sedge is the mouse maid whose Brass you always envisioned as silvery? That makes perfect sense to me as well! It would match her flirtatious voice so well as she melts out of the cascading sunlight like a vision of heavenly beauty and starts teasing Jolly Jenkin!

    The voice I give Mr Woodruffe in my mind is that of the late Sir Vincent John Hurt. He was so wonderful at playing somebody who acts as a mentor for those who are younger. There was such a warmth and wisdom in his mild voice that could also become sharp when a drastic situation called for it to do so. Among the many other memorable roles he played in his time, you may remember his voice from the Lord Of The Rings film directed by Ralph Bakshi and also from Watership Down in which he played the parts of Aragorn and Hazel respectively.

    The illustration of Akkikuyu fighting Mahoot is so dynamic. As she rips pawfuls of feathers from his back, his eyes are two pools of pure malevolence. Old Hooty is not the least bit pleased with the rat who has deprived him of a screaming and squirming mousy snack…

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  2. Fennywolde is based on some farmer’s fields where I grew up, and where I spent many happy, rampaging summer days, trying to climb the oak trees and jumping across the ditch which became a parched channel of cracked mud between june and august. The only alteration I made for the book was reversing the layout of the cornfield and the meadow and omitting the railway line and nearby roads.

    A few years ago I revisted that place. Not surprisingly it’s a lot smaller than I remember. Fortunately that fact hasn’t dimmed my childhood memory so that’s what I tap into whenever I want to think about Fennywolde – a perfect distillation of summer, set in a sea of rippling gold.

    Hard to believe that a climactic battle between ancient powers is going to rage across that beautiful spot one day…

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    • I sat down to watch a Blu-ray last night and threw on an old film called ‘Days of Heaven’ which some of you may have seen – I’m looking to my film studies co-blogger here! I hadn’t seen it before but clearly the filmmaker, Terrence Malick, had become visually besotted with wheat fields because the whole film is full of elegant shots of fields at sunset. Was just reminded of that here when you were talking about fields in summer, Robin.

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    • And had to chuckle at things being smaller. A few years ago I went back to the school building where I did my first couple of grades as a youngster and it too was a lot smaller than I remembered it as a 6/7 year old.

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      • I know the feeling. The school I went to when I was younger seemed like a huge sprawling campus. These days when I walk past on my way to buy the Saturday paper for my grandmother, I can see that the grounds would take not even a minute to walk across. The jokes time plays on us as it crumbles away…

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  3. And yes, Aron, it was Alison’s mousebrass I was referring to when I mentioned one that I thought of as silvery. I liked the idea that Alison might compare her own ‘silver bell’ to Audrey’s tail adornments and comfort herself in her envy by thinking ‘well at least MINE is a Green-given right!’

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    • The more I think about it, the less surprised I feel about how immersed in her own supreme vanity Alison is. If God himself told you that you had a place among the most gorgeous mice who ever lived, wouldn’t it go to your head just a bit?

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  4. I’m a little far behind, so bear with me!

    Alison Sedge is one of my favourite characters in this series. I’m so happy to see everybody saying they love her too! Those that know me know that I have a soft spot for mean girls, especially when those mean girls have a heart of gold at their core. Alison doesn’t really have a heart of gold – at least not on the page – but there are certain things she does throughout the story that give us a hint that she MIGHT have more to her. After all, she is a kid. A teenager becoming a grown up, if we’re to assume getting a mousebrass means that a mouse is on their way to becoming an adult.

    There are things I don’t particularly like about Alison’s character development (or lack thereof) but overall, she hits me right where I’m weak. She’s mean, she’s spiteful, and yet, as we’ll see in future books, she does CARE. Sadly we don’t get to meet her family, which is odd, considering we get to know almost everybody else’s parents. Does she have siblings? I want to know so much moooorrrreeeee.

    Anyway, I’m still behind. I’ll be back when I’ve read the next chapter haha!

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  5. Oh my gosh! I loved every page of the future book which includes the Fennywolders. It puts so much into perspective about the field-mice and just how their community came to be the way Audrey finds it when she arrives in their midst. Together with Fleabee’s Fortune, it made me ache for the remaining two Deptford Mouselets books and the grand finale for the entire saga. Some day…yeah, it’ll happen someday…

    Alison comes off as the earthly embodiment of vanity when she’s introduced admiring her own reflection, flirting with bumblebees, teasing Jenkin and rehearsing the devastating put-downs she will unleash upon her rivals. But much like the Still Pool, while she sparkles with beauty upon the surface, there is so much depth concealed beneath the surface of the mouse maid who wears the silver bell. It is weird indeed how neither of Alison’s parents show their mousy faces on-screen as it were during The Crystal Prison. The proud mouse maid’s father receives fleeting mention when she ponders going to see whether he’s finished making her a nest yet but that’s all Sir Robin had to say on the matter. You have to wonder how Mr and Mrs Sedge feel about their daughter’s overnight transformation from a normal girl to a diva. Do they reprimand her for the way she behaves whenever she makes an appearance in public? When she throws every ounce of effort into playing the part she has embraced, is she rebelling against them in some measure?

    I can’t wait for you to read Chapter Seven and tell us what you think of the startling events that unfold during it!

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