Warning: Contains Spoilers!
‘Piccadilly,’ he announced grandly, ‘I name you the official Minister for War.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: One of Mr Jarvis’ gifts is that he can make even the most mundane of places seem like the eeriest, most atmospheric, most magical of stage sets. In this chapter, the London Underground gets this treatment, and it gives me shivers every time I read it.
Having stood on those echoing platforms and been squashed into those creaking carriages myself, I can speak from experience when I say that there’s something special about the Tube. Maybe it’s because it’s so archaic and haphazard, maybe it’s because it seems, when you’re down there, like its own subterranean world. Certainly, I’m not alone in my thinking, as the Underground has been immortalised by writers and creators of all sorts, appearing in everything from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and China Miéville‘s King Rat to cult horror comedy An American Werewolf in London.
In this chapter, we catch up with Piccadilly at last, and discover a little about how he has grown up (I can hear his fans screaming from here). I love how he gives Smiff and Kelly lip while still remaining wary – it’s apparent that whatever thoughtless courage he might have once possessed has been quashed by his death-defying run-ins with the power of Jupiter in The Dark Portal.
The rats in this chapter are collectively fantastic. What’s great about Mr Jarvis’ bewhiskered villains is that they are not just a homogeneous crowd of nastiness with tails and claws; each has a separate, distinct personality and look. Smiff and Kelly demonstrate this perfectly – they are majestically horrid. We can practically smell their reeking fur and hear their mocking laughter, and I would not like to be around when Kelly gets hungry!
Then there’s Barker. The Final Reckoning was another of those books I had on cassette first, and I can remember how that pitiful, whinging old codger stood out to me, as much for his manner as for the information he reluctantly imparts. Further chapters will tell, however, whether there’s anything more to that one than an empty belly and a lumpy head.
Matt’s Thoughts: That explains the origins of mouse weapons as well – a combination of heirlooms passed down (like the old spear that the Holeborn sentry amusingly had that he’d inherited from his great great grandfather) and a bunch of new ones (like Sid, the Minister for Craft, was ordered to make).
As well as that, we now have another system of mouse government, which is quite fascinating. So the Deptford Mice have Master Oldnose, who’s more like an old school teacher than anything else. The Fennywolders have a democratically elected King. Meanwhile, the Holeborners have a Thane whose title is passed down by heredity. But nonetheless, a very well ordered fair society … They’re all interesting forms of cooperative communal living.
Is this, in some sense, one of the themes of the Deptford Mice (perhaps even unintentional on the part of Mr Jarvis)? Cooperative communities of various stripes on one side (the mice) vs selfish every-man-for-himself communities where even your best efforts are just to benefit the ‘fat cat’ at the top (the rats)?
Interesting … but of lesser importance than the fact that Piccadilly just got appointed the Minister of War! (I know, how awesome is that?)