The Crystal Prison | Chapter 11

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Thin, long fingers appeared out of the mist and came for him.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The closest I can get to describing the mood and feel of this chapter is by referencing an almost-nonexistent American literary subgenre; Midwestern Gothic. Related to the journal of the same name, Midwestern Gothic focuses on the uncanny, disturbing or bleak qualities of the rolling cornfields and abandoned buildings which are a prominent feature of the Midwestern United States.

As in the rest of the American Gothic genre, there is a preoccupation with the derelict and grotesque.  The natural world is characterised as a harsh and temperamental ruler, and there is often an emphasis on suspense, occult themes, betrayal and regret, unexplained murders, the unquiet dead, and the fervour of small-town religious fanatics.

I know that this subgenre exists in a similar form in the UK (for a recent example, see the terrifying BBC drama, The Living and the Dead) but I have yet to come across a name for it. I’d love for somebody to step in and tell me what this fields-n’-damnation thingumy is called in Britain, but for the purposes of this project I’ve labelled it the ‘Fennywolde feeling’, and this chapter perfectly encapsulates everything that makes it what it is.

The hot, dry wind rasps through the Hall of Corn, bringing ill mutterings and laden glances. The bat’s prophecy, which Arthur was privy to in Chapter 6 of The Dark Portal, unfolds its grisly wings. Pain and horror stalk the summer fields in straw-clad form. When noon is hot and corn is gold, beware the ear that whispers.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: From serial killers to Stephen King territory – something about sinister things lurking in tall fields reminds me of ‘Children of the Corn’. Reading about the dark and creepy thing that takes out Young Whortle, I’m thinking I might hold off a bit before I read this to my more sensitive 7-year-old!

But to me, the most disturbing thing in the chapter is actually the way Nicodemus bullies Madame Akkikuyu into doing the dark deeds necessary to release him from limbo. By feeding her doubts about whether the mice will love her, he cruelly uses manipulation to force her to do something she doesn’t want to do. It’s heartbreaking to see, given how you can see in many ways Akkikuyu is starting to find elusive happiness in her life.

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4 thoughts on “The Crystal Prison | Chapter 11

  1. And it was roughly around this time when Aron shook off any lingering doubt that Nicodemus was not really the benevolent nature spirit he claimed to be. Why now? Because the demonically-possessed ear (and come on, how often do you receive the opportunity to type that description) had committed a sin that put him past any hope of finding redemption. He made Akkikuyu cry.

    No, I’m not kidding in the least when I say that. Look at Audrey. Our leading lady was worn down by a truly horrible day when she refused to stay awake and comfort the rat woman. Now that was a selfish thing she did and she was ashamed of herself but there was some excuse for her poor behavior in that earlier chapter.

    Now look at Nicodemus. This guy shows no remorse whatsoever as he bullies his helpless victim until she has reached the point of tears. He keeps pushing the knife in and twisting it as if he relishes the power he has over her. Because he totally does. For him, their relationship is all about Akkikuyu submitting to his power.

    The devil lies within the details and so many that eluded my younger self now stand out much more clearly as I return to The Crystal Prison and peer into its swirling depths through the eyes of an adult. Do you remember how I drew comparisons between Audrey and an overworked mother, too drained from the long and grueling day she just got through to pay much attention to the needy daughter who was pleading for her help?

    Well, can you guess what my eyes now see when they turn to regard Nicodemus with growing suspicion? I see an emotionally abusive father. If your response is to raise a skeptical eyebrow, just look at how the otherworldly spirit treats poor Akkikuyu. He mocks her for believing that the Fennywolders could possibly love her as a person rather than being eager to get their paws on the free potions she hands out like candy. This is one of the many insidious ways a parent can hurt their child.

    When Nicodemus sneers that Akkikuyu is a horrible person who would be completely alone without him, the one and only person in all the world who gives a damn about her, what the wicked spirit is trying to do is cut the rat woman off from anyone who could help her recognize this nightmare of abuse for what it truly is. Nicodemus is chipping away at Akkikuyu so that she’ll believe she is weak and become all the easier for him to control. What frightens me about the nature of this twisted relationship is that Nicodemus does not need to be supernatural in nature to ruin Akkikuyu’s life. Monsters like him and Isaac Nettle are much more threatening than any fiend from Hell because they exist outside the pages of a story-book and are just as difficult to see for what they truly are. As Akkikuyu dissolves into tears and promises to do everything the cruel voice tells her, I’m screaming for her to tell him no, she won’t listen to what he says. I want so badly for her to go and tell Audrey everything so that the mice who are her friends and who do truly care for her can help the rat woman get away before her tormentor inflicts any more damage.

    Audrey’s refusal to look after Akkikuyu when she was in pain and needed a kind voice to counter the cruel one grows more unspeakably tragic as each chapter passes and Nicodemus continues to poison Akkikuyu with his black words. If only Audrey had listened to the kindness within her heart that fateful night, she could have protected Akkikuyu from the abuser who now preys upon her. But that chance was allowed to slip away and now she is unaware of the evil unfolding behind her back. Unaware and powerless to protect the poor suffering mouse-child-in-rat-woman’s-clothing who has fallen under the thrall of someone who will hurt her.

    The monstrous cruelty is emphasized when Akkikuyu reluctantly does everything she’s told only for the rain to last barely a few minutes, rendering the dreadful price she paid to make it happen utterly pointless. Even when Nicodemus is pretending to be kind, he hurts her foully.

    As Matt pointed out to us, the whole reason Nicodemus is wearing Akkikuyu down so mercilessly is so that she’ll agree to do something which makes her feel horribly uncomfortable. Let that sink in for a moment and you’ll understand why I wish Audrey would discover what’s going on so that that THING could be sliced off. I don’t mean Akkikuyu’s ear. I mean the thing which has taken possession of it like the most despicable parasite imaginable.

    And the unknown killer lurking among the corn-stalks has struck again! Young Whortle’s life is claimed by a pair of murderous claws that reach out of the mist and wrap around his throat. Praise be to The Green Mouse that Twit survives his own close encounter with The Corn-Stalk Killer as we of The Fennywolde Times have dubbed this menace. I don’t know how I could have withstood his death. As he struggles, he gets a glimpse of the assailant and so do we in the form of a truly horrifying illustration. Get it away! GET IT AWAY FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Poor Madame Akkikuyu! It really is testament to Mr Jarvis’ storytelling skill that Akkikuyu goes from someone we’re not sure whether to trust, a sort of liminal villain, to a truly sympathetic figure who we root and cry for.

      And yes, that illustration is quite terrifying! It’s actually scarier because we don’t see all of the murderer – only those gnarled, reaching, grasping claws.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh I couldn’t agree more. The Crystal Prison truly deserved to win some sort of award for its sympathetic portrayal of a character who suffers from mental illness and is struggling to put her life back together. Akkikuyu pretty much shares the protagonist spotlight with Audrey in Book Two. Which is natural since it is her plight and the choices she makes which the drama in Fennywolde hinges upon.

        Imagine those things being the last thing you saw before your throat was crushed. Sheer terror.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A little late to the game, but “folk horror” neatly encapsulates this- encompassing things like The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General and Blood on Satan’s Claw, but also the Owl Service, and, more recently The VVitch, A Field In England. And of course The Crystal Prison is in that fine tradition. (I might suggest that Robin Jarvis has a fondness for this in his second books of each trilogy- the Hobbers, Glastonbury, the cult of a certain dark magician…)

    Like

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