‘Death is the grand master of all – no-one escapes him.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter introduces us to bat society in London, and quite an introduction it is too. What a rich and interesting culture they have! As a lover of fictional linguistics, I really appreciate the part which describes the bats ‘talking to each other in their secret tongue which, to the albino, sounded like a mixed-up jumble of high pitched squeaks’. This lets us know that the bats in the world of Robin Jarvis do, in fact, make the same sounds as real bats, which in turn implies both that when the mice are speaking to each other, we as humans would hear only squeaks (which is actually pretty hilarious if you think about it) and that all creatures in this strange Robiny world have their own individual languages and dialects.
When I started Silvering Sea, I thought about language in the Deptford books a bit more. I’ll go into this in detail when we get to the Histories, but for now I’ll say that I somehow decided that the tongue of mice, rats, and other rodents should be called ‘murinaese’, after the Latin term for their species as a group. I figured out that this language might be derivative of the tongue of the mustelidae in the way that, say, our modern English is related to Old English, and that both of those languages are separate, but related to, the ‘common’ language that all the characters of differing species must share in order to communicate in the story.
That the bats have a closed-off language that is completely unintelligible to other creatures is a clever mix of fantasy and the realities of nature, as well as being very telling about bat culture as a whole. On rereading, I noticed that the gathering of the bats at St Paul’s is described as a meeting of guilds, and a memory surfaced of getting lost in the area around the Cathedral, visiting the Clockmaker’s Museum, and finding out about the Great Twelve Livery Companies of London. Could the bats have a similar ancient and respected institution? The titles of the elders (Keeper of the Hidden Ways, Lord of the Twilight, oh my!) certainly indicate that these moon-riders are steeped in time-honoured tradition and high wisdom.
Matt’s Thoughts: I think this would have to be my favourite chapter in the whole book. First off, it’s Oswald doing something heroic, which just always rouses me up. Secondly, I love the whole setting. St. Paul’s Cathedral is never mentioned by name, but Mr Jarvis only has to say ‘dome’ and everyone who knows even the slightest bit about London’s architecture knows which building he’s talking about.
Which is as good an excuse as any to throw in another couple of my holiday snaps:
Maybe Londoners take this for granted, but that is an amazing piece of architecture.
On my last day in London I went to see the choral evensong at St. Paul’s, which was quite an experience. So reading the descriptions in The Final Reckoning of the vast space, the statues, the arches, even the amount of dead people that the English like to leave buried above-ground in their cathedrals – it was much more real to me this time. Also of interest was the nod to the Great Fire of London – again, without Robin having to name the event at all. London mythology becomes mixed up with Jarvis mythology and the two work perfectly because they’re both super-British.
And not just London history. Natural history as well. When Orfeo passes his ‘sight’ to Oswald, it’s a nice combo of normal biology (that bats can see in the dark) and magic – the sight is tied in with their mystical foreseeing powers.
Then we have the end of the chapter. Any other kids’ book where the hero goes off on a trek to find the ‘magic item’ that will defeat the bad guy, the magic item usually turns out to be useful. But we have one big empty book haunting us at the end … which only means things are going to get worse.