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!)