Well it’s unlike me to be nominating goody-goody Green Mouser scenes, but there you are. I assure you all I will make up for this momentary lapse when we get to the last of the Deptford Histories in September. In the meantime, just look at this lovely piece of work! There’s so much depth there, and it shows off one of my favourite Robiny art motifs – symbolic blossom in the foreground.
If I’m recalling correctly, we also see these in Chapter 2 of The Dark Portal, and I have a vague idea that they show up at some point in The Crystal Prison, possibly when Oswald is ill? It seems that they are connected to the presence of the Green, and are a herald of miracles and visions. In the middle-ground, we have Ysabelle at her most 80s-fantasy-heroine-ish, framed by her fellow travellers, and in the background, a glorious echo of the Deptford Mice box-set cover with the eyes of the Green, himself. My favourite thing about this whole composition, however, is the dramatic stripes of light and shade slicing down to give the scene an almost livid glow. It doesn’t matter that it’s only black ink on white paper, I can still feel the shifting greens and golds of eternal summer.
The Ancient is one of the most fascinating figures in the Deptford universe as a whole. We know he has a part to play in the future of that world, and we know of his significance as a being of legend for the bats, but in many ways he is still mysterious. I chose this piece because, like Ysabelle’s confrontation with Hobb, it is a mirror of something in the original Deptford Mice Trilogy, in this case the Altar of Jupiter. Here we have a sacred parallel to the profane lair of the Lord of All, with flaring flames and a pair of shining eyes, but the gaze of the Ancient is as benevolent as that of the Green, and no artifice cloaks him from the faithful.
Which sort of leaves me loving all the blood and thunder illustrations towards the end of the book. I think I love this one because it’s a) set in a tunnel and b) has a number of nasty villains with fangs. In other words, it makes me nostalgic for all those chase scenes through the sewers of Deptford from The Dark Portal. In fact, looking at it, there’s a sense in which Ysabelle’s passing herself off as the High Priest (she being the right height to do so) is a foreshadowing (or vice versa) of Oswald passing himself off as a rat.
And this one just because this is a classic Jarvis ‘battle’ illustration (a little bit like the fight to the bitter end on the Cutty Sark in The Final Reckoning). It’s super-dense, so you can’t get a feeling for how big the battle is, but it’s hand-to-hand and it’s vicious. Also, there are just some things I don’t remember reading about, that look great in the illustration. (Like the rampant squirrel on the shield in the bottom right.)
THE STARWIFE (The Oaken Throne | Ch 1) The Handmaiden of Orion who ruled wisely over all Greenreach and the squirrel realms was cruelly put to death by her former handmaiden, Morwenna. Though the Starwife’s forces were slaughtered by the armies of Hrethel and the sacred hill taken, she succeeded in passing on her symbol of office before her demise. Orion shines for her.
THE UNNAMED PEREGRINE LORD (The Oaken Throne | Ch 1 – The Oaken Throne | Ch 2) This most courageous example of his kind gave his life in the service of the Starwife. It was he who bore the silver to the realm of Coll Regalis, and his valiant deed shall be remembered in the tapestry of history.
HEGYLR (The Oaken Throne | Ch 3) Knight of the Moon and warrior under Rohgar, Heglyr took his own life when he was captured by the forces of Coll Regalis. He chose to die rather than betray his brethren, and though his sacrifice was ultimately in vain, he will be missed by his kin.
THE LADY NINNIA [CALLED ‘THE WISE’] (The Oaken Throne | Ch 2 – The Oaken Throne| Ch 4) Queen of the Hazel Realm, Ninnia, mother of Ysabelle, gave her life to ensure that the future Starwife was able begin her journey to Greenreach in safety. Ninnia served her people with selfless grace for most of her life, and all the realms weep for her loss.
THE LORD CYLLINUS (The Oaken Throne | Ch 2 – The Oaken Throne | Ch 4) Consort of Ninnia and loving father of Ysabelle, Cyllinus sacrificed himself along with his wife so that their daughter might live. He was slain when the forces of Rohgar assailed Coll Regalis, and is remembered as a kind and noble soul.
THE FOLK OF COLL REGALIS [INCLUDING: BERGIL MUIN, AND THE FAMILY OF WARDEN MUGWORT – PENDA, SORREL, AND BELLINIA, AS WELL AS MANY UNNAMED] (The Oaken Throne | Ch 4) Left defenceless in accordance with Ninnia’s dire but necessary decree, many folk of the Hazel Realm perished to the fire-eggs of the bats on the night of Ysabelle’s departure. They join the countless other innocents who lost their lives in the bat-squirrel wars, and may the peace of the Green be with them all.
ULRIC (The Oaken Throne | Ch 4) Brave sentry of the Hazel Realm, Ulric was one of the first to be slain on the night of the Hobber raid upon Ysabelle’s host.
ORNUS (The Oaken Throne | Ch 4) Another sentry who lost his life when the Children of the Raith Sidhe attacked, Ornus is remembered alongside Ulric following a lifetime of service to the Hazel Realm.
GWYDION (The Oaken Throne | Ch 5) The first of Ysabelle’s force to be sacrificed in the Ring of Banbha. Slain in the unholy name of Hobb, this unfortunate sentry’s fate is eternal suffering in the unlit regions of the Pit.
WARDEN FELAGO (The Oaken Throne | Ch 5) The second sentry to be sacrificed to Hobb on the terrible Night of Elderfire. In his blood was the silver acorn tempered, and though he died dedicating himself to the Hazel Realm, his fate was ultimately the same as Gwydion’s.
SAMUEL MUIN (The Oaken Throne | Ch 5) One of the most stalwart members of Ysabelle’s escort, this squirrel warrior fell defending his Queen and her adviser from the Children of the Raith Sidhe. Slain by the arrow, he has joined his family in the Green.
GODFREY GELENOS (The Oaken Throne | Ch 2 – The Oaken Throne Ch 5) Scholar and lore-master of Coll Regalis, adviser to the Lady Ninnia, Godfrey was Ysabelle’s tutor and later her royal councillor. He died undertaking what may have been the bravest act of his life – wresting the silver acorn from the claws of the High Priest of Hobb as the Ring of Banbha burned around him. Godfrey gave his life so that Ysabelle might flee with the symbol of the Starwifeship, bearing it to safety, and his sacrifice shall be forever honoured along with that of the Lady Ninnia and Lord Cyllinus. May the Green bless and keep him.
POUNTFREY AND MAHTILD (The Oaken Throne | Ch 8) This mouse couple lived near the holy Well of Ruis all their lives. Forswearing to join the armed resistance against the Children of the Raith Sidhe, their well-intentioned pursuit of peace was rewarded with a grisly execution at the claws of the cult.
TYSLE SYMKYN (The Oaken Throne | Ch 6 – The Oaken Throne Ch 12) Most doughty and stout-hearted of shrews, Tysle spent the latter part of his life on pilgrimage to the land of Greenreach with his master and companion, the mole Giraldus. Lamentably, Tysle never reached his destination – he was murdered by Wendel Maculatum for discovering the truth of that fiend’s identity as High Priest of Hobb. Tysle was mourned by all who knew and loved him, but most grievously by Giraldus. Today, the memory of this humble but valiant pilgrim is honoured by the shrews on Tysle Day, and Tysle himself is said among them to be the only creature ever to pass into the Green despite being slain in the name of Hobb.
GIRALDUS (The Oaken Throne | Ch 6 – The Oaken Throne | Ch 12) A devout disciple of the Green and one of the most revered and beloved pilgrims in history, Giraldus sought the land of Greenreach in the hope that entering its sacred environs might cure him of his leprosy. He never completed his quest, choosing instead to sacrifice his life to defeat the High Priest of Hobb. Among the moles, it is said that the spirit of his guide and companion, Tysle, appeared at the hour of Giraldus’ demise to guide him unto the Green hereafter. It is due to the legacy of Tysle and Giraldus that the shrews and moles have the accord that they do today.
WENDEL MACULATUM [HIGH PRIEST OF HOBB] (The Oaken Throne | Ch 2 – The Oaken Throne | Ch 12) In the guise of a travelling jester, Wendel inveigled his way into the affections of the Lady Ysabelle and her party, and so attempted to lead them to their doom. His true goal was attainment of the silver acorn for the glory of his diabolic master, but after numerous acts of perfidy and deceit, he was slain by the mole Giraldus as vengeance for the death of Tysle. Born in the Sign of the Bloodybones, Wendel was ever meant for Hobb, and by that Lord’s decree was he raised high. In death he fulfilled the curse he had laid upon the Moonrider Vespertilio, and through grief for her beloved was the Lady Ysabelle bound to the Starwifeship once and for all. By the Children of the Raith Sidhe, Wendel is murmured of as the Ruis King; he who brings their damned souls before the Three Thrones for judgement. A dread figure of mystery and myth, his name is rarely invoked even by the current priesthood.
WARDEN MUGWORT (The Oaken Throne | Ch 14) Most renowned warrior of Coll Regalis, Warden Mugwort took the leadership of Ysabelle’s army upon himself following the loss of his sovereign to the wild wood. He was among the countless creatures who died in the final confrontation between the forces of the Lady and the Green against the Children of the Raith Sidhe. May peace find him, and all those who were slain on that hellish night.
THE LADY MORWENNA [HIGH PRIESTESS OF MABB](The Oaken Throne | Ch 1 – The Oaken Throne Ch 14) Arch-traitor to the Starwife and her realms, Morwenna’s name remains unspoken and accursed by the folk of Greenreach. By the power of the silver acorn did she seek to raise again the Three Thrones, and by that power was she thwarted. Though she was vanquished in the fires of Hobb’s arising, her’s is a place of honour under the Lady Mabb, and it is said that she, like Wendel, remains unfettered by the bonds of Death.
VESPERTILIO [KNIGHT OF THE MOON] (The Oaken Throne | Prologue – The Oaken Throne | Epilogue) Along with the Lady Ysabelle, Vespertilio, bravest of Moonriders, was immortalised in legend for uniting the forces of bat and squirrel against the unholy legions of the Raith Sidhe. The love of the young bat and the squirrel maiden brought an end to the terrible wars of their kin, but, in accordance with the curse laid upon him by the High Priest of Hobb, it was Vespertilio’s fate to perish while still in the summer of his youth. Denied a lifetime of happiness with her beloved, Ysabelle acceded the Oaken Throne and reigned as Starwife for many ages, and though she grew wise she was never again seen to smile.
From the steaming earth – to the terror of all – the god of the rats, the Lord of the Raith Sidhe, slowly emerged.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Well, he’s been very patient with us, and now it’s finally time for the Lord Hobb, Father of Wrath and Mightiest of the Raith Sidhe, to take centre stage. I can suggest no more apt soundtrack to accompany that cataclysmic event than Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain. To me, it is the definitive ‘Lord Hobb, Arise Now From The Pit’ piece, and I feel that the original, rather than Rimsky-Korsakov’s later version, captures the moment in all its true devilish glory.
I have to say that for all she doesn’t survive it, Morwenna really is on top form during this finale. Last chapter we had her own rather theatrical reveal as High Priestess of Mabb (is it just me or did anybody else laugh when she dramatically whipped off her tiara?) and right up until she is crisped to a cinder by Hobb’s fiery breath, she really villains her heart out. It’s incredibly fun to read, and a fitting final performance for a truly diabolical Handmaiden of Darkness.
Like with Morgawrus, I had actually forgotten that Hobb does a fair bit of talking, IN UPPERCASE, NO LESS, during his brief time on the surface. What I found very interesting about his exchange with Ysabelle is that it mirrors Audrey’s confrontation with Jupiter in The Final Reckoning.
Our heroine is tiny, our arch-villain is enormous, and yet her small voice, possibly combined with the glow of Starwifeship, intimidates him. Both baddies gloat, and both call their nemeses ‘witch’ before being vanquished in a storm of sparks. Neither the Unbeest nor the Lord of the Pit actually die, but in Jupiter’s case there was no question of his returning to the living plane, whereas Hobb can only be contained as long as his prison remains whole. As we will discover when we read The Deptford Mice Almanack next year, that detail, like the acorn itself, will turn out to be more than it seems.
During the last chapters of The Final Reckoning I may have mentioned wailing and gnashing of teeth, but that was nothing, nothing, compared to the garment-rending, hair-tearing, chorus-of-professional-mourners-employing anguish which resulted from this epilogue. To this day, The Oaken Throne gets ‘I am still traumatised by Vesper’s death’ more than it gets any other response, and frankly I think we are all justified, for never was a story of more woe, than this of Ysabelle and her Vespertilio.
Matt’s Thoughts: I think Aufwader has said almost everything I could possibly say about this chapter. The only thing I would add is that the other Jupiter / Lord Hobb similarity is the little moment where Ysabelle calls Hobb the ‘father of lies’, which is another old King James Version description of Satan that Mr Jarvis cleverly throws in for those who are watching.
Also, I would add that I was one of those readers who got a little bit of satisfaction when I read about Fenny looking for a meadow and Griselda heading off for the Deep Ford and knowing where all that will lead.
And, of course, the Shakespearean tragedy of the epilogue is so true. It’s the fact that the Vesper’s death was unnecessary and avoidable that makes it all so bad. Like, couldn’t Ysabelle have thought about it a little faster, couldn’t Othello have had a chat with Desdemona, couldn’t the Montagues and Capulets have done some conflict resolution work a bit earlier in the piece? And the answer always, is a resounding and fatalistic NO. (In Hobb capitals.)
Anyway, there we have it: The Oaken Throne. I feel like using the word ‘pastiche’ about this one, because are so many nods to other familiar stories: WWII air raids, Tolkienesque quests, the Bard himself. But at the same time, it has all the unique darkness and drive of the other Jarvis novels as well.
And what’s especially amazing is that while all this medieval squirrel and bat action was taking place, there was another final Whitby book brewing as well, which we’ll jump into next month! See you then.
‘Wait!’ Vesper yelled until he was hoarse from shouting. ‘This is wrong – listen to me!’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: This is such a desperate chapter, and made all the worse by the fact that every well-intentioned effort our heroes make seems to have gone terribly wrong by the end of it. I suppose their first mistake was to separate, but I understand why Ysabelle chose to follow Morwenna.
Consider that Ysabelle is completely alone with her injured beloved in the perilous woodland – she has no way of contacting her army or anyone who could help, she is very young still and has endured great suffering already on her quest, and she is still being chased by the Hobbers. Plus, she has not laid eyes on one of her own kind since that grisly night at the Ring of Banbha. Of course Morwenna would seem a welcome sight. In Ysabelle’s defence, she is in a quandary about leaving Vesper to accompany this stranger into the heart of bat territory, but at this point, she has no choice.
While that unpleasantness unfolds, we also have Vesper’s botched attempt to persuade his kin that the Raith Sidhe are the true enemy. This part is quite painful to read; we know of the long and painful journey of internal growth which Vesper has undergone, but the Knights of the Moon do not. To them, he is nothing more than an irritating weaning, never mind the respect they have for his father.
The moment where the bat and squirrel forces collide for what appears to be their last and most dreadful confrontation is moving both in how grand and mythological it feels, and how completely despairing it truly is. There really is no hope left, the forces of bat and squirrel will slaughter each other in mindless bloodshed which our heroes are powerless to curtail, and all that’s left is for the Three Thrones to arise again.
Matt’s Thoughts: This chapter reminded me quite a bit of the finale of The Hobbit. We’ve got two armies about to start fighting with each, when really they should band together and take out the real bad guys.
However, I will confess that I always found the whole Battle of the Five Armies a bit tacked on in that other story. Once they kill the dragon, it’s all downhill from there for me. (Don’t get me started on the films, where they decided to take my least favourite part of the book and turn it into one stand-alone movie.)
Whereas, this finale feels like the logical outworking of where the story has been going. Right from the start, we’ve been rooting for Ysabelle and Vesper to be the ones to break down the barriers between squirrels and bats, and given that we know (which most of the soldiers in the two armies do not) that the real danger is all those dreadful worshippers of the Raith Sidhe, it’s got a real nail-biting edge to it when the battle starts. Vesper can’t stop them, Ysabelle is about to get killed by a giant toad, the acorn is gone.
Yet again, we’re at the end of Chapter 13 and we have no idea how this is all going to be tied up. I love a good Jarvis Chapter 13. (Only second to loving a good Jarvis Chapter 14.)
Which reminds me to ask: Mr Jarvis, if you’re reading this, was there anything particularly special about the number 14 back in the 80s and 90s?
The high priest tittered. ‘Well,’ he taunted, ‘the little runt always did want me to carve him.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I suspect that this was the chapter in which ol’ Wendy won a few hearts. I admit that even I had a hard time suppressing the gleeful cackles when I first heard that particular reveal on tape, and were I not already spoken for, perhaps the high priest of Hobb might’ve been a passable second choice. He’s certainly well-dressed, I suppose, and maybe one could learn to tolerate his sense of humour.
I am spoken for, however, in matters of both cult and heart, and so I’m pleased to be toasting the happiness of those of you for whom Wendel is top of the list. I am only sorry that you weren’t able to bask in the truth of his identity for more than a few pages. Believe me, I know how that feels, and in the same breath as I offer my congratulations, I must also offer my condolences. Good night, thou wiggly noodle of perfidy and deceit. May flights of demons sing thee to the Pit.
For our less bloodthirsty readers, this chapter has a lot in the way of heartache going on with the loss of Tysle, and Giraldus’ bitter display of woe. In the Deptford Mice Trilogy, both Matt and I commented on how the reactions of the mice to grief and trauma resonated as very human, and the same can be said of Giraldus’ anger and sorrow here.
Ever since we met them in Chapter 6, the leprous mole and his tiny shrew guide were a constant, so much a duo that they were more or less considered a single unit. What I found particularly sad was how Giraldus was moved to reject his faith in the Green, and even to destroy the relics which he had collected on pilgrimage. At least in the end he goes out with his faith renewed, and we can only hope that he found the healing he was searching for in the Green hereafter.
Matt’s Thoughts: Maybe it just caught me on a particularly good train ride home, but I feel like this is possibly one of the strongest chapters Mr Jarvis has written so far. It packed an emotional punch I simply didn’t see coming.
The rage and grief of Giraldus is simply jaw-dropping in its intensity, whether it comes out of a place of gratitude for the role the shrew played in his life – or perhaps something closer again? Whatever the subtext, my heart broke reading it. I can’t believe I forgot this chapter! I know Robin has said on his website that these were the characters that he loved most of all, and I can believe it.
They are a perfect representation of his imperfect heroes – they don’t fit the mold of characters we’d expect to see much heroic stuff from – and yet is there anything more heroic than Giraldus burrowing through a wall, despite the agony of his leprous claws being ripped away?
There’s also just a sharp spike in the violence of the chapter, which I find quite effective. We have to very quickly hate Wendel and the sheer viciousness of his actions in this chapter certainly did it for me.
Anyway, enough writing – there are carrion birds and Hobbers attacking and Lord Hobb himself digging up from the Underworld! On to the next chapter!
‘Verily ‘tis I; the purblind one, the dew-hopper, the furze cat, the stag of the stubble, he with the leathery horns, the legs of the four winds – the moon-sent angel.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: There’s a lot to absorb in this chapter, but I think many of us might’ve remembered the last page or so better than the rest of it. Come on, admit it, we all sighed a soppy sigh when Ysabelle and Vesper finally smooched. They’ve had such development and growth – both as individuals and together – over the course of the story, that by the time they decide they’re in star-crossed, house-plagued love with each other it seems like the most natural of progressions. (‘At long last!’ exclaims every reader ever.)
With that out of the way, we can wind back a little and consider the Ancient. If the chapters leading up to the meeting with him were a riff on the most over-used motifs of talking animal fantasy, the scene with the moon-sent angel is a deeply elegant and quite moving Robin Jarvis original. It has basis in myth, and most certainly involves sacrifice on the part of all those who are brought in audience. We also get swathes of Deptford universe lore, and more is brought to light regarding the bats and their beliefs. The illustration for this chapter is also very striking; something about the great hare’s staring, silver eyes draws and holds the attention until we, too, feel like puny creatures brought be.
His meeting with the Ancient could almost be pinpointed as Vesper’s coming-of-age moment. Ysabelle does not have such cause to be spiritually moved as the Ancient is not sacred to her people, and Fenny has a different and less immediate destiny. For Vesper, however, meeting the Ancient is his version of Ysabelle’s heart-to-heart with the Green in Chapter 7, and he is quite within his rights to be weeping into his wings. We do not yet know how he will go about his alarmingly grand task of uniting the forces of the Lady and the Green, but we only have a few chapters left, and we’re all along for the ride.
Matt’s Thoughts: Ah, that theme I was talking about in the last chapter is developed even more as the Ancient sees that Vesper has truly learned to see past lies. ‘Both sides canst thou see and the truth is but a glimmer away.’ Such a magnificent chapter, because it shows Vesper and Ysabelle as now being equally brave and ready to do great things.
Which does, of course, means that they’re perfect for each other, right? But no scene of romance is going to last too long in a Jarvis book before being interrupted by something not quite right. In this case, an increasingly sinister guy with puppets. Really, aside from Geppetto, would you trust a puppeteer? Eurgh … (And not the end of creepy puppets in the Jarvis world, but we’ll get to that in due time.)
‘Captain!’. the hedgehog declared. ‘See what trespassers we have captured!’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Ah, Fenny! I daresay there may have been a bit of applause and maybe a few groans of trepidation from our long-time readers when that mousey captain came on the scene. There he is, folks, the one and only.
With Fenny’s introduction, we have another juxtaposition between the legends of the Mice trilogy, and the salt-and-porridge medieval reality. The Fennywolders of The Crystal Prison would have us believe that Fenlyn Purfote was a saintly, peace-loving figure, and despite the proof in that book that he did eventually hang up his sword, one gets the impression that the tales and songs have perhaps done their work rather too well over the years.
Regardless, he certainly cuts a dashing, and, dare I say, familiar figure for those of you who know your talking animal fantasy. Captain Fenny is Martin the Warrior with a little of the gold leaf flaking off, but I probably speak for a few of us when I say that Fenny seems a gratifyingly solid character next to the ephemeral guardian of Redwall Abbey. For myself, I’m obliged to detest the cultist-butchering captain on principle, but I find that I just can’t. Despite the bad first impression of this chapter, he has the glory of ages shining out of his ears, and I can understand how woodlanders of all kinds might rally to the sound of his name.
Matt’s Thoughts: FENNY! I had forgotten that the Fennywolde namesake makes an appearance in this book, which just makes the story even more awesome. (And I’m also keen to get back to the Deptford Mouselets now.) I love the idea of a bunch of brave but diminutive anti-Hobbers, determined to make a desperate stand against the forces of evil.
But the bit that I found most impressive in this chapter, especially reading it now in my late 30s, is the bat conversation that Vesper overhears.
It reminded me of a movie and book that I loved as a teenager. The movie was Gettysburg, and it was based on a novel from the 70s called The Killer Angelsby Michael Shaara. The book was a work of historical fiction that described the Battle of Gettysburg (the major battle in the American Civil War that took place in the 1860s). I didn’t know a lot about the Civil War at the time, and it’s obviously still a hugely contentious issue in America, but Shaara took a different approach than many other authors.
Rather than dig too deeply into the cause, he simply but effectively portrayed the different commanders, with scenes on both sides of the conflict, so that by the end of the book, you understood the characters and the dreadful toll that so much bloodshed was taking on them. While it could be argued that Shaara could have been more particular about the causes of the war, I found it opened my eyes to a fact about life: there aren’t always simple black and white causes when it comes to war. And for the rest of my life, it has been important to me to avoid quick narratives of right and wrong, and actually try to understand other people – particularly in conflicts.
So this scene with Vesper in the tree is a really important lesson, not just for Vesper, but for all of us. As he hears the bats sharing the same old narrative about ‘evil squirrels’ that he has grown up with – that he himself believed until recently – he realises that this simplistic version of events is driving dreadful bloodshed and evil. In understanding that the truth is more complex than he knew, it draws him away from violence. It’s another subtle strand to the story that I’m appreciating more this time around.