‘Fare you well, Master Pipple,’ Simoon breathed in a soft, sorrowful whisper. ‘Many are the ordeals that yet await you. May such blessings as are in my power to grant go with you. But I dread that against the trials to come, their humble strength will fail. I pray that you do not.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: The scene where Simoon spies on the ship of the Scale at the start of this chapter is hands down my favourite scene in the Deptford Histories. Yes, over all the other stuff that’s soon to happen in this book. Yes, over Hobb arising from the Pit in The Oaken Throne or Jupiter’s battle of sorcery with Doctor Spittle in The Alchymist’s Cat. It’s just. It’s glorious. I cannot stress enough how much I love that scene.
The way it begins, with Simoon being the only creature left awake on board the Calliope, cloaked in moons and stars in the deadly dark of night. The way the slightly archaic turns of phrase (‘a tranquil, moonlit country rising gracefully from the shimmering sea’) carry the reader along like breaking waves. The blending of the mundanity of the present with the darkly gilded past of which Simoon spoke to Thomas and Woodget, and the sudden revelation that every word of that ‘rattling yarn’ is completely true. Give me this book as a lovingly-rendered old stop-motion, and give me this scene and nothing but this scene for a trailer.
Then comes Thomas’s first storm on board ship, and his first meeting with the pitiless wine-dark sea. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr Jarvis had gone so far as to research real shipwrecks for this chapter, because the nightmare moments in the hold of the Calliope are startlingly realistic, and at times quite queasy-making. The illustration that goes with them also haunts my dreams a bit, and when our heroes finally go down to the deeps, you find yourself fearing for them even though you can plainly see that there’s more than half a book still to go.
Matt’s Thoughts: You know, there was a time when all great old-fashioned classic books seemed to contain a shipwreck: Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson and – let’s face it – what would The Famous Five do in their holidays if there weren’t old shipwrecks to check out?
But I’m not sure that we do nautical tales like that quite so much for kids any more, so this chapter felt somewhat nostalgic but also quite sinister with the arrival of The Threat. It’s one thing to have a mysterious assassin with gold claws. But creatures that can control the weather? Another thing altogether.
Also, where are the humans in this section? It’s unspoken, but the ship being torn apart by an unholy storm really means that the entire ship got shipwrecked (perhaps with no human survivors) because some vicious followers of an ancient serpent decided to go after a few rodents hiding in the hold. Like, if you think about it too much, it sounds crazy. Like the world being torn apart by the ghost of a giant cat.
But the charm of Mr Jarvis is that his ideas always work. Of course the followers of the Scale are trying to sink the boat and rip the whole thing apart. It’s the ramp-up of the tension.
P.S. Sorry, Aufwader, I imagined the whole Simoon vision as a spectacularly engineered computer-generated 3D effect. But given the age of the book, your stop-motion wins, so I’ll give you this one.