Warning: Contains Spoilers!
Silence fell over Deptford.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Poor Mr Kempe! I chose him in the illustration nominations for The Crystal Prison precisely because I knew he didn’t have long. I wanted to honour his character before I had to honour his memory in the obituaries at the end of this book.
In all respects, this prologue is supremely Robiny. Here’s a little mouse; we’ve met him and got to know him previously. He’s jovial and provides mild comic relief. He’s kind to our heroes. He seems like a nice enough gent. In the first scene, we find out a bit more about him. He has hopes and dreams, a special lady of whom he thinks fondly, a wish for a warm place to stay on a cold night. What’s that? He should encounter a fiend from the depths of the brumal abyss, be rendered incoherent with terror, and die a horrible, lingering death all alone in the cold? All righty then!
I love how the horror of Jupiter creeps up on us here. As Matt says below, the prologue really is a tone-setter, warning us that things are only going to get worse for our heroes from here on out. Again, the Lord of All arises as a threat, but this feels more like an overture than a reprise. Freed from the bonds of mortality, Jupiter can unleash his full might at last.
The first chapter fulfils what the prologue promised and then some, with the revelation that the Deptford Mice now face the very real risk of starvation. If Oswald and Arthur had not discovered the empty larder, the implication is that the mice would have cheerfully used up the last of their stores at the Yule feast, and starved to death all the sooner. Tidings of comfort and joy, indeed!
As the plot begins to rattle along in earnest, it’s easy to miss the little instances of character development in this chapter. The quiet moment we spend with Audrey in her room is a perfect contrast to the lively celebrations in the Hall. As at the start of The Crystal Prison, all may seem to be well for her loved ones, but the weight of past regrets and sorrows weigh too heavily upon Audrey’s small shoulders for her to fully enjoy anything. Meanwhile, in Thomas’ story, we hear the name ‘Woodget’ mentioned again, and witness Thomas’ discomfort when pressed to discuss his old friend outside the safe confines of the ghostly tale. Evidently, the midshipmouse has a few ghosts of his own who are as yet unwilling to be put to rest.
Matt’s Thoughts: Well, I guess the tone is set right from the start in this one. In a slightly longer prologue than the previous ones, Kempe gets taken out of the picture rather quickly – and savagely. If innocent characters like that are so easily dispatched, what does that mean for everyone else?
(Side note: did the once-mentioned Milly Poopwick ever find out what happened to Kempe? And where did she live in London?)
Anyway, on to the first chapter. Which helpfully answers my question about how the house was laid out: mice downstairs live in the Skirtings, mice upstairs live in the Landings, and they all gather for celebrations in The Hall.
It should be noted, with some significance, that this is now the third ‘shared celebration’ that we’ve seen in the trilogy. We had the Spring Celebration in Book 1, the Midsummer celebrations (the building of the hall and also the Midsummer Night ‘dream’ of Audrey’s) and now Yule. Clearly, there seems to be something about shared communal experiences that speaks to Mr Jarvis (even on a subconscious level) that has filtered through in these books here.
Which made me curious – what are our shared communal experiences today? (Not counting religious services.) Are there any things that we have nowadays that match the idea of a small community of people getting together, all of whom know each other? Family gatherings or get-togethers with friends seem too small to compare with this but large events like live entertainment / marathons / festivals seem too big and impersonal.
Is this something we’ve lost as we’ve moved into a busier, more individualistic culture?
Anyway, enough philosophy on that point, because we have the bigger problems of a) no food for our mice, b) all the bats mysteriously leaving and c) Jupiter being on the loose.
I also realise, which I didn’t when I originally read this, that it’s quite possible that the old lady next door died of pneumonia, or some such winter-related illness, thus why the house and larder is now empty. It would be just the kind of tragic touch we’d expect in the world of the Deptford Mice …