‘I hate you!’ she stormed. ‘You’re nothing but a load of old witches!’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Oh, ammonites! To choose a single, all-encompassing symbol for every Whitby book Mr Jarvis has ever written (or will ever write) is to choose the ammonite. That curling, many-segmented, ancient remnant of Britain’s prehistoric past has become deeply connected to everything that Robin’s Whitby is about, and they’ll turn up time and time again in the chapters ahead.
In this post I feel I absolutely must make passing reference to Paul Magrs’ Never the Bride, the first book of the ‘Brenda and Effie’ mysteries, which follows the Whitby-based paranormal escapades of a pair of meddling old dears who are themselves not all they seem. It was my love for The Whitby Witches which lead me to Never the Bride, and the subplot with Miss Boston and her friends which begins here is a perfect miniature Brenda and Effie mystery.
The question which lurks gleefully in both this chapter and in Never the Bride is this: just what do elderly ladies get up to together over tea and scones? In Never the Bride, the reveal is that Brenda and Effie are illicit detectives of the paranormal; blue rinsed saviours of the human race. In this chapter, the reality of the secret doings of Miss Boston and her friends is that they really are witches, but unlike in Never the Bride, this revelation is only superficially humorous.
In trying to tap into Ben’s gifts, Miss Boston has betrayed the children’s trust and destroyed the good rapport they were beginning to have with her completely. In this, Ben and Jennet’s new guardian is revealed to be not a perfect, saintly grandmother figure, but a flawed human being (albeit one with supernatural powers) who sometimes misjudges situations and makes poor decisions. The relationship between her and the children must now begin to grow again from a basis of total honesty, and we hope it will grow stronger as a result.
Matt’s Thoughts: Is it just me, or does everybody love old British ladies? (Maybe it’s because I’ve been recently watching The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Judi Dench and Maggie Smith are in my mind.) But here we have a cast of the best old ladies, almost snatched from the pages of an Agatha Christie novel. (At first glance. Mr Jarvis has a lot more depth of character than that!)
But I love how each of them has a quickly definable quirk that makes them instantly distinguishable. Mrs Joyer’s military bearing. Tilly Droon’s dithering. (Mrs Banbury-Scott’s eating!) There is an undeniably comic side to the idea of the Ladies Circle.
By the same token, however, it’s utterly creepy for Ben! Again, I’m reminded of Danny Torrance wandering around The Overlook Hotel, seeing horrific sights than nobody else can hear.
One thing I was curious about was the fact that some ghosts appear relatively complete while others are a sort of grey mist. This does make me wonder: why is that? Is it an age thing – older ghosts are fading away with time? Or is there some sort of technicality in this limbo land that determines what level of presence spirits still have on this earth?
Final thing to note is that I believe (Aufwader will be sure to correct me if I’m wrong!) this chapter is the first mention we have of serpents / dragons in a Jarvis book. Sinister Reptilian Things is a motif that crops up from time to time in a few Jarvis books, which I’m sure we’ll speak more of in due course if you stick around with us on this blog long enough …