Mr Kempe is one of my favourite side-characters in the Deptford Mice Trilogy. He’s jovial and irreverent and has probably seen some remarkable things in his time as a travelling trademouse. To me he seems not quite ‘Property of Robin Jarvis’, but more like the kind of archetypal character who could turn up in any talking-animal story. Who knows, perhaps Mr Kempe’s travels extend outside the realms of the Deptford Mice entirely. Maybe he passes by Toad Hall every summer. Maybe Mrs Frisby’s children pester him for new toys. Maybe the folk of Mossflower Wood know him by another name. No matter where he strays in his wanderings, however, his true home is in a cosy nook between the pages of The Crystal Prison.
I had a hard time choosing another illustration from this book – they’re all so good, it was really difficult! This one won out over both the grizzled Starwife on her throne in Chapter 2, and the one of Twit in a similar life-threatening situation as shown here (which, by the way, beautifully echoes the cover). Congratulations, Jenkin! What I love about this piece is the sense of movement and urgency. It’s like a moment trapped in time; the young mouse dashing past; the murderer in pursuit; the golden field become a dark horror-film forest. There’s also something that you can find in almost all of Mr Jarvis’ illustrations, but put to especially good use here; the breaking of the frame. The corn dolly seems to leap out at us as if nothing, not even the sides of the page, can contain it.
Look at the characterisations on this one. I know Robin describes his characters in the text, but the image of the Starwife visually reinforces her character. Her face is hard and set – is it the physical pain of old age? Is it meanness? It’s ambiguous as to what exactly drives her, but there is a hardness and weathering of her features that speaks to her age and mental toughness straight away. Contrast this with Twit – who, in my opinion, wins the award across the trilogy for Mouse of Great Character. He has a stance that says he’s not sure what is going on, but will trust the Starwife to do the best by his sick friend.
And this one is just brilliant because of the sheer savagery of the whole thing. The owl with the mouse in its claws would be terrifying enough just on its own, but when you throw in the third element of Akkikuyu furiously ripping its feathers out, it just crackles. It also is an interesting different take of Akkikuyu. Normally, she is described as physically big and awkward – thumping along, not fitting in places. But going head-t0-head with Mahooot, she finds this hidden strength and agility (and violence!) that we don’t normally see in her. She must have grown tough in her younger years!