Mr Jarvis’ Book of the Dead | The Whitby Witches

Gravestones at Whitby abbey
In this post we record for posterity and remembrance the names all those who have fallen to the fatal stroke of Mr Jarvis’ pen. Hero, villain, or neither, we honour their sacrifice for the greater myth of the story.

The deceased of The Whitby Witches are as follows: 

ABE SHRIMP  (The Whitby Witches | Chapter 5) Beloved husband, father to Nelda. Abe was murdered by his brother, Silas Gull, who attempted to defer the blame for his evil deed by swapping Abe’s gansey with his own. The tribe now knows the truth, and condemns Silas for his villainy.

MRS PRUDENCE JOYSTER  (The Whitby Witches | Chapter 1 – The Whitby Witches | Chapter 6) The first victim of Roslyn Crozier/Rowena Cooper’s sinister arts, Prudence will be fondly remembered by the Whitby community. May she rest in peace.

MRS BANBURY-SCOTT [‘DORA’]  (The Whitby Witches | Chapter 4 – The Whitby Witches | Chapter 9) Mrs Cooper’s next victim. Already in poor health, Mrs Banbury-Scott was finished off by the poisoned chocolates Mrs Cooper continually gifted her. Despite her overbearing personality, Mrs Banbury-Scott is remembered affectionately by her friends, and for her philanthropy.

MISS MATILDA ‘TILLY’ DROON   (The Whitby Witches | Chapter 2 – The Whitby Witches | Chapter 10) Mrs Cooper’s third victim, she was lured to her death after she discovered the truth about Rowena. In life, Miss Droon’s greatest love was her many cats. A gentle, compassionate lady, she will be missed by all who knew her.

SISTER BRIDGET [FORMERLY ESKA, DAUGHTER OF OONA]  (The Whitby Witches | Chapter 9 – The Whitby Witches | Chapter 13) The result of a human-aufwader union, Sister Bridget was entrusted to the Convent of St Mary by her mother some time in the early 18th Century. For several hundred years she endured an existence of relentless internal pain and doubt, before giving her life in the search for the moonkelp. In accordance with her destiny she was claimed by the Lords of the Deep and Dark, and now sleeps beneath the waves.

SILAS GULL  (The Whitby Witches | Chapter 8 – The Whitby Witches | Chapter 13)  Dragged to his death by Sister Bridget, Silas’ name is cursed for his cruelty. Murderer of Abe Shrimp and accomplice of Roslyn Crozier, he lived and died without honour.

HESPER GULL  (The Whitby Witches | Chapter 5 – The Whitby Witches | Chapter 14) Aunt to Nelda, Hesper was unhappy in her marriage to Silas and did not mourn his passing. She was slain during the battle with Roslyn Crozier; the power of Hilda’s staff is responsible for both her demise and the return of her body to her own time. Partially outcast by the tribe for her fixation on the legendary moonkelp, Hesper was nevertheless loved by Nelda  and Tarr Shrimp, and by Ben. Deeps keep and bless her.

ROSLYN CROZIER [ROWENA COOPER]  (The Whitby Witches | Chapter 6 – The Whitby Witches | Chapter 14) Infamous witch, wife of Nathaniel Crozier and serial murderess. In the guise of a malevolent black hound, she stalked the streets of Whitby as the Barguest. In this form was she eventually defeated and her designs toppled to ruin. Where her iniquitous spirit wanders, no one can say.

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The Whitby Witches | Illustration Nominations

Aufwader’s Pick: 

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‘The Aufwader’ (c) Robin Jarvis 1991

Honestly, what else could I possibly choose? Personal bias aside, ‘Nelda on the Tomb’ has got to be one of Mr Jarvis’ most iconic illustrations to date. Even if you don’t recall exactly when you last saw it, there’s something about it that sticks. I love how the grassy hill curves away into the sky, and I want to know whose tomb she’s sitting on. One of my minor ambitions is to recreate this illustration in real life on a visit to Whitby – quite by coincidence, Nelda and I share the same fashion sense, so it shouldn’t be too difficult!

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‘Empress of the Dark’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1991

The reread of this book has really made me appreciate Rowena as a villain. When I was younger I didn’t think about her that much; she was quickly overshadowed by the ghastly nasties of A Warlock in Whitby and The Whitby Child, and I feel like she deserves more credit than she gets. Art-wise, this trilogy is interesting in that Mr Jarvis chose what looks like graphite, as opposed to the ink of the Deptford Mice. Overall it gives a slightly hazy, slightly grainy effect that’s almost like black-and-white television, and in my opinion it really suits the atmosphere of the series.

 

Matt’s Pick:

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‘Difficult Cases’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1991

I always enjoy watching a master craftsmen when they decide to have a go at doing something different. So we knew from the three mice books that Robin Jarvis could (seemingly) crank out illustrations of anthropomorphic animals in his sleep. And so every picture in those books could – to my eyes – instantly turn into an animated film.

Which then makes the illustrations in The Whitby Witches stand out. First off, as Aufwader mentioned, they have a different texture to them, which renders them different from the fine line drawings of the Mice. But also, they instantly take me into a ‘live action’ world as well. It’s as if the director of animated films is now working with real life actors. So you look at this first picture of the book, of Jennet and Ben on a train, and this is not the kind of cartoonish kids that we’d see in an animated film. The crumpled paper, Ben slumped on one hand, the netting above their heads – it all has a realistic feel to it and I love that turning point.

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‘Cream Cakes and Death’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1991

And this one I love because it’s the quintessential British gothic stuff I loved as a kid (and still love). An old lady, wearing a cardigan, heading down the Whitby steps, with the old houses in the background, looking frightened and there’s fog. Oh yes, fog! It’s Jack the Ripper, it’s Miss Marple, it’s Hound of the Baskervilles, it’s echoes of all that stuff and just dripping with atmosphere. Love it.

The Whitby Witches | Chapter 14 & Epilogue

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‘I am Empress of the Dark,’ she exulted. ‘Armies shall fall before me and nations tremble at the mention of my name.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  Matt mentioned during the ‘Up Next’ post for this book that when it first came out there was no indication that it was part of a trilogy. This is really interesting, because the ending does read like an honest-to-goodness series finale. Like the ending of The Final Reckoning, it is positively apocalyptic in its proportions, and when all is said and done, it feels like our heroes have really faced the worst that Rowena and the Lords of the Deep could throw at them.

This final chapter was as vivid on cassette as it is in book form, if a little pared down. It’s certainly one of my favourite of Mr Jarvis’ finales, and, along with Deathscent and the entire Wyrd Museum Trilogy, showcases his love for history in a way that is amazingly cinematic and exuberant. The finale sequence, with Mrs Cooper cackling and Whitby flashing through the ages and our heroes in deadly peril, makes a fantastic case for a Whitby Witches television miniseries. I’ve often thought of this book being most fitted to TV adaptation with 1990s techniques, but since that can never be, I’ll take today’s digital effects if it means bringing the awesome power of Hilda’s staff to life.

As with any Robin Jarvis finale there’s going to be a lot of myth and a lot of sacrifice, and the ending of The Whitby Witches surpasses expectations on both fronts. Poor Sister Bridget, and poor Hesper! I cried when she was snatched cruelly from us, but I understand that her demise was inevitable. After all, she was simply too nice to live.

Then there’s the fact that everyone’s efforts to find the moonkelp amounted to nothing, and the aufwader’s are, as Miss Boston says, ‘doomed to extinction.’ If this were the ending to a stand-alone novel, it would be a poignant and unsettling one, but we all know that these are only the shallows. Darker things await us further out, Readers all, and we will need all our fortitude (and a bit of aufwader magic) to survive those grim and fearful depths.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I am a bit of a fan of ‘classic’ films. (I think I’ve bought Lawrence of Arabia about four times since I was a teenager because, you know, first there was a VHS version, then a 30th anniversary VHS version, then a DVD, then a Blu-Ray.)

But, I also love the other type of classics: the big-screen crowd-pleasers where all the elements are set up and then come together in an exhilarating finale. That’s exactly the feel I get from the ending of The Whitby Witches.

What’s not to love? Every little historical story that Mr Jarvis has dropped to our characters throughout the book all come back and everything pays off. Even if you saw the ending coming about the crumbling tower with the dead hound in it, it just makes it more thrilling when that particular gag rolls around. (Can I call it a gag? I like to think there’s a certain humour to it.)

However, it’s not completely fun and games. Losing Hesper on the way is a low blow and the bleak hanging ending of the aufwaders still being doomed … It makes the ending of this book both satisfying and miserable at the same time. In short, exactly what we want from Robin Jarvis and a cracking introduction to a whole new fictional world.

So I shall look forward to getting back into that in two months … But see you in a few days for The Alchymist’s Cat!

 

The Whitby Witches | Chapter 13

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With a rumble that shook all the oceans of the world, the nightmarish spectacle roared towards them. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  So it was Rowena who invented Whitby Goth Weekend! I knew it!

This chapter sees a few answers dredged from the depths. As we all no doubt suspected, it was Mrs Cooper who was behind the grisly murders of the Ladies’ Circle, and with the help of her dark powers, no less. What’s great about this reveal is that we saw it coming, and yet it doesn’t feel like a let-down at all. Mrs Cooper is not just a murderess, she has other, grander plans up her billowing black sleeve, and they are beyond our wildest nightmares.

Then we have the down and dirty business with Silas Gull. Unlike the Mrs Cooper Mystery I actually didn’t see that one coming the first time around, and while it was a shock, it was also slightly comforting to know that Nelda’s father was not, in fact, a double-crossing backstabber who murders people’s relatives on the sly and threatens small children with knives.

While Silas does not quite inspire the vitriol of Esau, to call him unpleasant would be a grave understatement. He is a ghastly specimen, worthy of any Deptford rat, and his vileness only becomes more pronounced as we witness him taunt Sister Bridget and assault Nelda. When the Lords of the Deep and Dark finally turn up to claim the half-child, our sorrow at her passing is mingled with relief that Silas is no more.

What about the Lords of the Deep and Dark? They are a revelation, and the ghost of Lovecraft arises with them. Too vast for human (or aufwader) minds to perceive, manifesting before our heroes as terrible tentacled abominations of the deep, one gets the urge to cry ‘Cthulhu fhtagn’ and abase oneself in despair. If it wasn’t H.P.L. who inspired these cataclysmic nightmares, I’d love to know what, if anything, Mr Jarvis was drawing on to bring them to awe-inspiring life.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: So here we are. Whether you took a bit longer to warm up to the world of Whitby after the blood and thunder of the Deptford Mice, or whether you took to it straight away, it doesn’t matter.

We are on the Jarvis home stretch. We know these passages instantly now. The natural elements will be in full force. (Storms! Waves! Thunder! Lightning!) Supernatural light crackles and fizzes. Eerie things glow. Villains gloat. The stakes are high.

And then we get the Oh no! Moment when Ben utters the wrong incantation. I think I mentioned in The Final Reckoning read-through that there is a moment where all the options get cut off and you can’t see where it’s going. That sort of happened in Book 3 of the Mice, but here we are, second last chapter of the first Whitby book and we have no idea how this is going to be sorted out. It looks like absolutely everything is ruined.

The Whitby Witches | Chapter 12

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‘Very well, child. If thou do indeed bring back the treasure of the Deep Ones, I shall lift my judgement. But if thee return empty-handed, then expect the full measure of my wrath and abide by my decision.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: What a grim and gripping chapter this is! It’s only the first book in the trilogy and already we have the beginnings of a killer finale (no pun intended). Ben has found the moonkelp just in time, and the sprint to reach it and save the fisherfolk o’ Whitby bay from extinction is underway. As if that were not enough, we are also deluged with enough aufwader lore to keep me busy for weeks, so let’s have a look at some of that.

A few posts ago, I speculated as to whether the aufwader’s gift of foresight was ubiquitous. While that has not yet been answered, we do get to see another power which is definitely shared by all the tribe; the ‘aufwader snare’. This is worded in such a way that it might be a metaphor, but to me it reads as if Nelda and her family are literally rooted to the floor by the collective gaze of their fellow angry fisherfolk.

This raises some very interesting questions. Ben was caught in the snare when he first came upon Nelda, and later Silas Gull used it on him again with malevolent intent. However, the snare must have had other uses before the mother’s curse took hold and the tribe began to die out. I wonder, does this hypnotic power bear any relation to the luring song of sirens and other mystical beings of the deeps, if they exist in this universe?

In this chapter we also have the honour of venturing into the ancient home of the tribe. I shed a tear with Hesper when I think of the ammonite caverns where marvellous festivities were once held, now blocked up by a dwindling community who have run out of causes for merriment. A few old wonders still survive, however, like the hidden entrance to the caves, operated by a simple but sturdy mechanism and invisible to prying outsider eyes. One is reminded of the bespelled doorways devised by Tolkien’s dwarves to protect their mountain halls, though in this case, there is more engineering than magic involved.

Finally, I must begrudgingly mention Esau, as we make his acquaintance in this chapter. Those of you who are reading this book for the first time will forgive the rest of us for pausing to spit at the mention of his name. Believe us, you’ll be spitting too before the trilogy is over.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: For the first time we get to have a look around the aufwader digs, with caves, secret doors and all sorts of awesome stuff. (That’s my less poetic description of the place.) I do have to ask, though, for those of you who are actually British: are there really that many caves in the UK? Growing up on Enid Blyton books, I just assumed that wherever you went in England, you were within half an hour’s walk of a cave or a railway tunnel. So of course there are secret caves all over Whitby. But are there that many famous caves? Do any of you go exploring caves for fun

Anyway, moving on from caves … Robin Jarvis is usually fairly respectful of his community leaders – they might be a bit stuffy (like Mr Oldnose), but on the whole people like the Thane and Mr Woodruffe are a good sort. So it’s a little bit out of character (but totally awesome) to have Esau come out, deliver a resounding banishment and then get fairly solidly told off by Nelda. (Cop that, Long Whiskers!)

And just when we start to get all excited about moonkelp … Rowena! It’s that moment when the arch-villain shows up and it’s every bit as iconic and brilliant as we want it to be.

But before I breathlessly flick over to Chapter 13, I do have a question for Aufwader: Tarr’s accent? Does that sound a little bit like he’s migrated down from your part of the world?

The Whitby Witches | Chapter 11

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The hair which she shook loose was a thick tangle of green that grew far back on the top of her head. She swept the heavy, seaweed-like hanks over her shoulders, and, as she did so, Jennet saw the scales beneath her scalloped ears glisten in the moonlight. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I am not the first reader of the Whitby Witches Trilogy – and I daresay I will not be the last – to notice the echoes of that most notorious of cosmic horror writers, H.P. Lovecraft, in these books. We’ll sink further into that particular murky rock pool when we get to The Whitby Child, but for now, let’s take a gander at this chapter and unpick a few soggy nets.

When I asked Mr Jarvis about the relationship between this trilogy and the works of ol’ H.P.L., he told me that he had never read any Lovecraft. This makes a deeply uncanny co-incidence of the rather startling similarities between the Whitby Witches and Lovecraft’s mythos, because frankly, these books gurgle ‘Lovecraft’ from every page.  (That said, there were other writers who were doing what Lovecraft was doing to a certain extent long before that lantern-jawed shut-in arrived on the scene, so I can only assume that Mr Jarvis read the likes of them instead.)

So, how does this chapter, specifically, relate to Lovecraft and writers of his ilk? The half-child, dear Readers. Perhaps one of H.P.L.’s most famous novellas, The Shadow Over Innsmouth (remember that title, we’ll need it later) revolves around the inhabitants of the eponymous fishing village, who, we discover, have interbred with the ghoulish, amphibious Deep Ones to create a town populated by malevolent, gill-sporting, fish-eyed horrors.

The implications of The Shadow Over Innsmouth are deeply racist, but thankfully the Whitby Witches Trilogy demonstrates none of those unpleasant insinuations. Instead, it illuminates the other, more savoury motivation for the story. To wit: Creatures From The Deep Sea Are Positively Supernatural In Their Grotesquerie And Boy Oh Boy Aren’t They Fun To Write About.

In our version, the half-child is the product of a human-aufwader union, and her existential crisis comes from within. She is not remotely malevolent, but rather a sad, lost soul who will never be quite at home on land nor sea. Although her appearance is initially alarming, Miss Boston is quick to tell her that she ‘looks marvellous’, and Aunt Alice’s enthusiasm helps to dispel any lingering fear of Sister Bridget that Jennet, or indeed us readers, might have had.

I feel like I’m going to be saying ‘then there’s the Lords of the Deep and Dark’ quite often during the reread of this trilogy, so please bear with me on that front. If anything in the Whitby Witches is an echo of Lovecraft, the Triad most certainly are. Malevolent and tyrannical, dwelling out beyond the waves (or out beyond the stars?) cruel, callous, vast and uncaring, they reign in the long and not-especially-proud tradition of Dread Cthulhu, monarch of the undersea realm of R’lyeh and Lovecraft’s most infamous eldritch god. Cthulhu, it is said, will sleep and dream until the end of days, when He will arise from the depths to usher in a new era of suffering and despair for the world. What we must now ask is whether the Lords of the Deep and Dark have a similar advent in mind.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Ah, what a sad bit of seafaring mythology we have here as we find out the sad back story of Sister Bridget. I just love the whole way this unfolds. I can’t explain it, but there’s something simultaneously sad about it but also wondrous at the same time. Where the normal world and the fantasy world start to collide.

It’s also great to see Jennet not being neglected – despite being one of the few characters in the story who hasn’t at least had a crack at practicing magic!

I’m starting to feel like this whole book is a long-lost BBC miniseries that got made somewhere in the 90s, was out on VHS for a little while and then disappeared into obscurity, but long-remembered by those who sat glued to the telly back in the day.

I’m possibly also contrasting it with The Witching Legacy, which is quite a different kettle of fish, despite being in the same setting. The latest one whips through at a super-fast pace with terrors at every corner, this has a slightly slower but very elegant speed, which means that the big moments are truly big. They’re both awesome, but I have felt a bit like I’m caught in two periods of history in the same place.

Meanwhile, just what is Rowena looking for at the Banbury-Scott house? (To be honest, I can’t quite remember, so I’m just going to have to rush on to the next chapter!)

The Whitby Witches | Chapter 10

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It was too terrible to contemplate. Anything that fell from that dizzy height would be smashed to pieces on the jagged rocks below. Tilly felt ill and the strength left her legs. Her sobs choked her as she plucked up enough courage to peer over the edge, preparing herself for this distant sight of a small, furry body floating on the water. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  I didn’t notice this until now, but the scene in which Miss Boston meets the Mother Superior in her office is the first mention of a Bakelite radio we get in Robin Jarvis canon. Like coiling ammonites, those slightly sinister-looking relics of the early 20th Century have become one of his trademark narrative props. I can’t recall if a Bakelite appears in the Wyrd Museum Trilogy, but I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy spotting them here and there as we venture further into this project.

This chapter could more-or-less be summed up as ‘Miss Boston investigates’, but it seems the Mrs Cooper Mystery has more layers than she could have imagined. The scenes at the convent have the same unearthly feel as when Jennet interrupted Sister Bridget on the cliff, and the fact that nothing is ever explained fully only makes it more unsettling. The ‘novice’ has been living in the convent since 1738, but what sort of a being is she, who glows faintly green and lives an unnaturally prolonged span of years? Moreover, what could Mrs Cooper, suspected murderess and doer of sundry foul deeds, want with her?

As illustrated in the Deptford Mice Trilogy, no small detail or passing reference is ever just a small detail or passing reference. Here Eurydice the cat illustrates this perfectly when she presents her owner with the Hand of Glory, thus revealing Mrs Cooper’s perfidy to another member of the Ladies’ Circle. Poor Tilly Droon, whose only crime was to be a slightly-wiffy cat lady!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: ‘Miss Boston investigates’ is a perfect title for the goings-on here. I love the image of her harassing the town doctor, harassing the local police, accusing people of murder. It’s just like Heartbeat but with, you know, ghosts, witches and small invisible creatures that look for moonkelp.

What also fascinates me is the conversation between Aunt Alice and the Mother Superior. First off, short of watching The Sound of Music, when was the last time a Mother Superior showed up in a story, anyway? In many ways, this first Whitby book gives you the sense that, really, it could be set in the 1930s and you wouldn’t notice much difference to it. (Unlike The Witching Legacy series which is very much conscious of its time and place and features all manner of modern-day references. Dancing Jax even more so.) So it has a certain Agatha Christie feel to it that I like.

But more than that, I’m fascinated by how the two women view each other. Witchcraft would, of course, be openly condemned by the Catholic Church. So Stereotypical Version 1 of this scene would have had Miss Boston running into a hostile and unhelpful Mother Superior. Stereotypical Version 2 would have been slightly softer and feature an oblivious Mother Superior and a sly Miss Boston pretending to be innocent.

However, the way it’s written is far more fascinating, because you can’t help but get the feeling that both women know exactly what each other is like and what they get up to. But both of them are also aware, though probably in different ways, that the town needs help and that Sister Bridget is important to everything. I don’t think the Mother Superior ever shows up again, but she just fleshes out the interesting group of side-characters that feature in this book.

Finally, what a chapter finale! There’s not much I can add, because it’s so well written. But the final image is utterly freaky. It’s like something out of a disturbing 70s film. I could just imagine it freaking people out at a movie theatre. Brilliant stuff.

But utterly disturbing as well. Who’s going to be left for the second Whitby book at the rate Robin is churning through them in Book 1?