A Warlock in Whitby | Chapter 9

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

The mist behind him billowed and curled, forming a spectral tunnel of smoke, and framed at the far end of it, prowling slowly towards him, came Nathaniel.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  This chapter is absolutely sadistic, there’s no other word for it. I cringed inwardly to read that shockingly violent encounter between Ben and Jennet and the bullies. I admit I reacted rather like Miss Wethers (‘they did what?’) and was very pleased to see the dithery postmistress up in arms on the children’s behalf.

On reread I also appreciated the quietly ominous scene between the museum curator and Nathaniel. Honestly, that beardy creepster could make skipping through a meadow seem sinister, and here the deep dark of evening and the unassuming silence of the closed museum only add to the already chilling atmosphere Nathaniel brings with him into every scene.

Finally, a moment of silence for Mr Roper. The awful tortures he endures were absolutely seared into my memory as a child (to this day I have not forgotten the stinging ants! Thanks for the nightmares, Mr Jarvis!) but this time I also noticed the explicit foreshadowing of Mr Roper’s death in the opening of the scene.  Not only do we get, ‘The faint beat of the dance band was like the distant pulse of a dying man’, but also, ‘the sound of the falling ash was like an expiring sigh’. Honestly if Mr Roper’s demise were not so tragic and traumatic, these not-so-subtle indicators would almost be darkly funny.

(As a last note, did anyone else notice the word ‘skrike’, uttered by Danny as he torments Ben? Apparently it’s a regional term, the official definition being ‘to cry out, scream or yell’. I’ve never heard it spoken and would love to know if it’s a Yorkshire-only word? Can any knowledgeable Readers help me out there?)

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Things are starting to get brutal now on all fronts! We have one nasty encounter in the form of Danny and Co tormenting Ben and Jennet. 

Which seems bad enough until the encounter at the end of the chapter between Crozier and Mr Roper, which was even harder to read.

However, despite all the miserable goings-on in the chapter, there’s so much to enjoy. First of all, I learned a new word, when Miss Wethers decides to go round to the Turner house to complain. She makes a comment about how she doesn’t care if they pack him off to a ‘borstal’. I’m rather curious – I’ve since looked the word up online to find out what it means – but is this still in common use in the UK? (If the word was ever used in Australia, it was before my time and no one says it now.)

I also got a little thrill from Tarr showing up at Miss Boston’s house. There’s something enjoyable about the whole interplay of who can see him and who can’t and how that looks. It also goes to show how tough he is, that he would venture that far into town.

Finally, Mr Roper. Of course it makes perfect sense that your family would be the guardian of a sacred object. (But it’s also fascinating, though, because unlike Miss Boston, there’s nothing particularly magical about him, is there? He’s just a quiet old gentlemen, carrying on the family tradition.) It does make me wonder also, whether there was a deeper layer to his friendship with Ben.

Even if Nathaniel hadn’t showed up and tried to take the guardian, Mr Roper had no children (unless I missed something?) and so the guardian would have had to be entrusted to someone. Did he see in Ben the potential to be the new keeper of the guardian? We’ll never know but it’s a strong likelihood.

Still, watching him hold his own against Crozier’s magic was awe-inspiring and he is a worthy addition to the great list of Worthy People Taken From This World Too Soon By Robin Jarvis’ Imagination.

As a final musical tribute to him, here are the Sea Interludes from the opera Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten:

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Up Next Reminder | The Oaken Throne

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Readers of Myth & Sacrifice, welcome! Today we herald the unfurling of one of our most beloved legends, for next month, we will be reading The Oaken Throne.

In this, the second book of the Deptford Histories, we roll back the ages and witness the bat-squirrel wars at their grim and terrible height. Into this maelstrom arrive the forlorn Lady Ysabelle, a squirrel maiden with an awful fate clutched in her small paws, and Vespertilio, a batling squire eager for glory but too young to enter the fray.

Together, this unlikely pair will embark upon a bleak and desperate quest to the land of Greenreach, finding fair and foul along the way. Through gorse and bramble will they flee, unto the wild dark wood and into the red maw of ancient, blood-soaked nightmare.

Take up your silver acorns and light your Hobb lanterns, and avail yourselves of the above first edition copy, or any of the following:

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The 2002 Hodder Silver (full original illustrations)
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The 2005 US edition by Chronicle Books with cover by Leonid Gore (without illustrations)
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The 2007 Hodder reprint (sadly also without illustrations, but perhaps the easiest to come by as it may still be available new in some bookshops)

A Warlock in Whitby | Chapter 8

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

But perhaps it was more than that, for not once did the thought of forgiveness enter anyone’s mind – the destruction of the third guardian had already wrought an unpleasant change in the townsfolk.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  Poor Ben! I suppose he was never going to get away with his plan to reveal Nathaniel to the world, but it’s just galling to watch him ruin things completely by accident. It’s also such a fright for us as readers to have Nathaniel be right there in the kitchen, slurping his coffee as if he wasn’t plotting in deeply melodramatic fashion to unleash an unfathomable evil from its age-old fetters only hours ago. After last chapter’s otherworldly scene, his oily nonchalance comes across as even more sinister. We suspected there was something nasty about this guy, but now we know the truth.

The reason that this is my third Chapter of Nameless Dread is mainly due to the dredger scene at the end, but on reread I really appreciated how skilfully written Ben’s encounter with Mr Roper is. In a few paragraphs we can infer that not only does he know and understand what Ben is talking about, but that he is in some way directly involved, and that he is trying to shield Ben from the danger that he now finds himself in, however vain an effort that may be. I suspected in Chapter 5 that Mr Roper might be a bit too nice for a Robin Jarvis book, and now we can only hope that he doesn’t meet a similar fate to the Gobtrots in The Alchymist’s Cat!

It doesn’t matter if you’ve read it before a million times, the scene where the men dredge up that giant scale is still wonderfully spine-tingling. My favourite part has to be at the very end, where they all agree that they did not just see that and quietly go home to think about what they definitely did not just see. This time around I noticed that one of the men was named Peter Knowles – I have to wonder if that might be a reference to Lucy Boston’s son Peter, who illustrated the Green Knowe books?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: SO MUCH TO LIKE in this chapter. First up, a bit of sly Jarvis humour with the cranky Vicar scene. But just as quickly, the smiles fade when we have the horrendous scene with Crozier in Miss Boston’s kitchen. (And speaking of Miss Boston – what’s happening to her? I’m still in suspense about what’s going on with her London subplot.)

While there have been occasions when Jennet hasn’t always believed Ben straight away, the idea that she is enthralled (still mega-creepy, BTW!) by Crozier is really nail-biting. It essentially means that bit by bit, Ben has been isolated away from everyone that could help him. (Which, of course, is all due to the diabolical plotting of Mr Jarvis.)

My son just turned eight a few days ago – trust me, eight years old is not very old. So my heart goes out to Ben having to wander around bearing the weight of a) an ancient curse that he didn’t lift, b) being the only one aware of a warlock being in town plus c) still able to see ghosts everywhere (even though that doesn’t feature much in this story so far). It’s not great.

Which is what makes it so sad when Mr Roper seems to dismiss Ben’s concerns. But then we realise, in the moving finale to that scene, where he says what looks very much like a final goodbye, that maybe there is more going on than we realise.

And then, finally, the bit with the dredger which is a nice bit of foreshadowing that just makes the whole thing even more exciting. Isn’t this book just a cracking read?

And my Mr Roper sea-music dedication today is by a famous German composer, who nonetheless visited Britain several times. On one of those occasions, he went up to tehHebrides and was gob-smacked by the awesome sight of Fingal’s Cave. He then had to write an overture about it, because it was so good. The composer was, of course, Felix Mendelssohn and the piece was the Hebrides (or Fingal’s Cave) Overture.

Hope you like it:

A Warlock in Whitby | Chapter 7

 

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Here in Whitebi the dark one had indeed made its home.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: On to our next Chapter Of Nameless Dread, and my goodness, what a set-piece. I recalled this one very vividly from the cassette tape of this book (read by Dame Siân Phillips) and it exceeded expectations on reread. Being more aware of the contrivances of film and television now than I was as a young reader, I found myself imagining the terrible scenes with Ben and Nathaniel through a grainy 1980s lens, and the notion of this book as a cult film or TV series from that era really came alive for me. I could practically hear the whining synth score and see the flaring light effects, and if that talking head was not written with animatronics in mind I’ll eat my Whitby Witches box-set.

Here we also see Nathaniel showing his true colours for the first time. Thus far he has been rather intimidating and rather skeevy, but now we glimpse his intent and begin to understand what motivated him to come to Whitby in the first place.

Reading the scene in the crypt again, I was pleased to discover that there was more to the stone head’s exposition than I recalled from the audiobook, and I may have cheered a little bit when I read of the aufwaders going to war. (Going to war! With the Lords of the Deep and Dark! Would you credit it!) For me the whole thing had echoes of Tolkien’s Silmarillion, especially the mention of the unnamed evil being cast down in chains.

As a final note, I think Ben is great in this chapter. This is the first time in a while where he has proactively made a decision to embroil himself in a Whitby mystery, and it shows how much he has grown since arriving there only a few short months ago. I really like that little detail of him going out into the deep dark of night in his pyjamas with a coat on top; he may not know it, but he’s treading in the slippered footsteps of every young hero of classic children’s fantasy, and he ought be be proud of what he achieves by eavesdropping on our villain’s nefarious plans.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Who else is rubbing their hands together gleefully at this brilliant mythological chapter? It has all the elements that fantasy fans love. We’ve got some sinister Evil Thing that could be unleashed, held in place only by the mysterious guardians of Whitby. And Nathaniel Crozier, determined to destroy the guardians and unleash whatever it is upon the world.

The talking stone head reminded me a little of the opening magical sequence in the church in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. (Has anyone else on here read that? It’s a little erratic in storytelling impetus, but it has some fantastic British mythological ideas.) I’m also still loving that I can’t remember many details of this book at all, so how this is all going to be resolved, I have no idea.

Finally, as I threatened to do – a Mr Roper special – some classical sea music (either by a British composer or inspired by Britain). This piece is a little obscure, but no less awesome and, yes, it’s inspired by Cornwall, which is not at all near Whitby. But it’s coastal and it’s awesome. It’s Tintagel by Arnold Bax.

A Warlock in Whitby | Chapter 6

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Oh, forgive me, Alice, say you forgive me – please!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  This chapter and the following two are some of the most striking in the whole trilogy. (Please do add your comments in this, dear Readers, as I’d love to know if this section had as much of an impact on you as it did on me.)

Finally, we catch up with Miss Boston in London, and of course, there are devilish doings afoot. Like Ben and Jennet, Aunt Alice cannot seem to go anywhere without the supernatural growling at her heels and making a nuisance of itself, and in this chapter we find that she can’t even visit an old friend for a few days without all manner of hocus-pocus ensuing.

What stands out to me about this chapter and the next two is the atmosphere of absolute dark dread. The ominous emptiness of the grand house, the icy demeanour of Judith Deacon, and the chilling scene where Mrs Gunning tries to warn Miss Boston of ‘great evil’ all contribute to make things suddenly profoundly ominous in a way that is far more pronounced than in The Whitby Witches. In that book, there was always a sense that our heroes could band together to save the day, or at the very least, make a noble sacrifice in the attempt. Here, the children are isolated from the one guardian who might be able to help them, and that guardian in turn has come into a situation in which she is, for the moment, powerless.

This whole chapter is very affecting, but on reread I was struck by the almost poetic imagery of Mrs Gunning on her deathbed, looking ‘more gossamer-like than the curtains’ and perfectly echoing the chapter title. At the close of this chapter, we must ask ourselves: if Mrs Gunning is about to pass through the veil, what might have already passed the other way and entered the realm of the living?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’m having such fun with this one. Whitby has become so much like a character in the story that it is immediately alienating to be thrown into London. Even more so, when you throw in all the goings-on at Mrs Gunnings’ house.

I always hate how Agatha Christie comparisons are the first to pop into my head with this stuff. (I blame that partworks series that came out at the newsagents a few years ago that I was collecting – drip-feeding Christie novels at the rate of one a fortnight for several years has blurred them all together in my brain.) But even if it’s not Christie, it’s Great British Novelistic Tropes thrown together. There’s the Woman in the Sickbed. There’s the Snotty Butler.

And, of course, greatest of all – the Terrifying Nurse. What is it about Terrifying Nurses? How many Christie novels feature somebody who looks particularly like they are slowly poisoning someone else? Or Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Or perhaps Nurse Noakes – if there are any fans of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (or the movie of the same name) in here?

Either way, what is going on here? What is this devious stuff – that feels like a trap – that Miss Boston has wandered into? I don’t know about you, but I’m going to keep reading!

A Warlock in Whitby | Chapter 5

 

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

On the ground, just next to where he had been crouching, were the gutted remains of a cat.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Having spent Chapter 3 with Nelda and last chapter with Miss Wethers and Jennet, we now take a peep into how things are for Ben.

On reread I’ve been noticing the structure of this novel a lot more, and I like how each of our main characters is established as having their own small ‘world’ within the overarching story. Nelda has her internal struggles and the woes of her tribe. Jennet has the difficulties of being an orphan on the cusp of her teenage years, expected to both care for others and submit to cosseting by her guardians. Miss Boston has some mysterious business in London that we will get around to in due course, and Ben has the worry of school bullies and the reassuring presence of Mr Roper.

I absolutely love Mr Roper. He’s another fantastic Robin Jarvis tertiary character; the little details about his cosy, old-fashioned house, lost wife, and passion for collecting sketch him out as a whole person in a few short pages. It kind of warms my heart a bit to see that Ben has a grandfatherly figure in his life to balance out all the strife he has already been though since arriving in Whitby.

A segue involving the deeply unpleasant but also slightly cartoonish school bully, and then we’re straight into some visceral gore with that poor mauled cat. Honestly at the close of this chapter I find myself wishing right along with Ben that Miss Boston were there to sort things out. She may not be absolutely exemplary at all times, but she’d be more use than Miss Wethers, who just isn’t equipped to deal with the string of peculiar happenings that Ben and Jennet call their daily existence. Come back, Aunt Alice, all is forgiven!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This is a very short chapter, and plotwise, mainly advances ‘The Mystery of the Missing Cats’, so I don’t have a lot to say on that front. (Though possibly because I’m not a cat person, I’m being too callous about how horrific this chapter is?)

However, I did love it for the character of Mr Roper. (Another one in possession of an old Bakelite radio, eh, Aufwader?)

And that sort of inspired me to start sharing ‘sea-themed’ English classical music. (The sort that I like to think of Mr Roper listening to on a foggy evening on the radio.) However, given that he went to sleep tonight dreaming of big bands and dancing with his wife, I will just have to share this one for today:

A Warlock in Whitby | Chapter 4

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘And that’s why she always used to warn me about charming gentlemen – because the Devil himself is a charming man.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  Here we have another chapter that’s rather uncomfortable to read, with Nathaniel using his dodgy warlock powers on our Jennet. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I want to be like a big sister to her here. I want to tell her to stay with her book and her chocolate digestives and don’t even get up, and for the love of all that’s holy do not answer the door. But of course, we all have to read powerlessly as Nathaniel slimes into Miss Boston’s house and into the mind of her young ward.

As with the previous chapter, there’s just enough ‘removal’ here to make this scene digestible for young readers – Nathaniel uses magic rather than more overt means to extract the information he needs from Jennet, but he is still coercing her and taking advantage of her susceptibility to his artificial charm. What I think is really good about the way Mr Jarvis deals with this is that Jennet is never blamed for her infatuation at any point. It’s very clear that Nathaniel is a vile, abusive character with no redeeming features, and that he sees those weaker than himself as pawns to be used (see also the scene with the Gregsons in Chapter 1). I’ll go into more detail on this when we get to The Whitby Child, but for now I’ll say that I think this is an excellent introduction to one of the most infamous and loaded aspects of this trilogy.

The story of the ‘charming man’ has stuck with me right from when I first read this book (though I admit that instead of having a cautionary effect,  it came across to me as a somewhat amusing metaphor for my involuntary propensity toward falling for fictional villains). Anyway, I was, and continue to be, of the opinion that the ‘charming man’ Miss Wether’s mother met is in fact a character from Robin Jarvis canon masquerading in a different guise. At the moment I have two suspects for the role of suave cufflinked Devil, but I can’t name any names. Suffice to say that we’ve a long, long way to go on the project before we meet either of them.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This chapter is darkly brilliant. Getting back to our human characters, I love the humour of the scene between Miss Wethers and Miss Boston, with their fussing and directness respectively. It’s a nice throwback to the original book and also a reminder, that of the original Whitby Witches, these are the only two left, which is somewhat sad.

Then the scene with Crozier at the Banbury-Scott house which nicely expands the mythology from the first book (no mean feat, given how apocalyptic that book felt in its finale) and gives it new directions.

But the bit that surely gives everyone the heeby-jeebies (do people still say that or am I showing my age?) is the Crozier/Jennet interaction. I won’t dwell on it too long, but it becomes more sinister the older I get. And also, Jennet, being the tough character that she is, you know she’d never do anything to endanger Aunt Alice and Ben unless she was totally being coerced by an evil power.

Finally, we have the fantastic story told by Miss Wethers, which struck me as having an air of poignancy. In many sense, it’s like a Jarvis nod to old horror stories of the early 20th century (it reminds me of my grandfather’s book of True Irish Ghost Stories which freaked me out no end when I peeked into it at age 12). But you also wonder whether there was something deeper underneath. Did Miss Wethers’ mother make the story up to scare her daughter away from men? It’s already hinted that Miss Wethers might not have ended up a spinster if it wasn’t for that story sitting in the back of her mind. Who knows?

Either way, it very economically sketches the tragedy of Miss Wethers’ life – just another dash of great characterisation in the Jarvis universe.