Aufwader’s Thoughts: I’m going to nominate this as my second favourite almanack month painting after October (a heavy metal album cover) and December (a certain big-time Deptford villain looking sumptuously ugly in glorious technicolour). March is Raith Sidhe Month, with the moon smack dab in the House of Hobb as we enter the sign the Bloodybones, and what better compliment to that than the high priest of Hobb marauding across the page in his grisly disguise.
This month we see the return of Gervase from Holeborn, where he’d been visiting Arthur Brown, now Thane of the City, and his family. The 16th details the gruesome discovery he makes on his way back to Greenwich, and it’s all a bit hilariously Indiana Jones. Imagine, Gervase Brightkin: Archaeologist, exposing heinous rat cults and grappling with cackling high priests on precipitous cliff edges. (This needs to be a spin-off comic immediately.)
Just before, on the 15th, we have a brief record of the dark day that Morgan throttled Black Ratchet and clawed his way up to the lauded position of Jupiter’s right-hand henchrat. In less bloody history, the 25th details the legend of Wilfrid, the first mouse smith, to whom the Green taught the method of brass-making in the lost mists of the past. Wilfrid’s empty brass, also known as the Sign of the Maker, adorns the coat of arms I created for Robin a few years ago.
Matt’s Thoughts: A month which threw me mostly back to the world of Oaken Throne, reminding me that despite the thickness of that book, all the events in that story actually took place in a remarkably few short days. We’re also picking up on Gervase’s contempt for Thomas Triton, which is somewhat sad, given that the Almanack is (I believe) the tail end of the Deptford stories timeline. The idea that Thomas Triton, one of the great Jarvis heroes, disappears from the histories as an alcoholic is so tragic.
Highlight of this month for me, without a doubt, was the entry for the 30th, where we see an illustration of the famous Grill. This particularly sinister item of Victorian finery was mentioned many, many times in the original trilogy, but this is the first time I remember actually seeing it.
MISS VERONICA WEBSTER [VERDANDI OF THE ROYAL HOUSE OF ASKAR, THIRD OF THE NORNIR] (The Woven Path | Ch 2 – The Fatal Strand | Ch 3) Slain by the Spear of Longinus, Miss Veronica’s body was cruelly possessed by the arts of Woden as she lay in state in the Chamber of Nirinel, watched over by Edie and her sisters. After a desperate struggle, Woden’s control was finally broken by fire, and Veronica’s remains lost in the Well of the Nornir.
JOSIAH ROKEBY (The Fatal Strand | Ch 7 ) Stabbed by Mary-Anne Brindle, Mr Rokeby was a warder of the Wyrd Infirmary, and not a well-liked one. May the Lord have mercy upon his immortal soul.
MARY-ANNE BRINDLE (The Fatal Strand | Ch 7 – The Fatal Strand | Ch 13) Having become pregnant out of wedlock, Mary-Anne was incarcerated in the Wyrd Infirmary. The tortures that she suffered at the hands of Jack Timms and the other infirmary warders caused her suffer a breakdown, and her child to be stillborn. Mary-Anne languished in the infirmary for four years before stabbing Josiah Rokeby to death. She was subsequently given to the infirmary surgeons for medical experimentation, and died on the operating table. Her soul, like those other unquiet spirits who remained in the Wyrd Museum after death, was finally put to rest at the fall of Woden and the defeat of the Frost Giants. May she rest in peace.
THE BILLET FAMILY [INCLUDING: NED BILLET, his sisters MEGGIE and VIOLET, and his PARENTS] (The Fatal Strand | Ch 12) Fated to die in the Well Lane Workhouse, Ned and his mother encountered Edie Dorkins and Josh Chapman before they joined Ned’s father and sister Meggie in death. Young Ned bravely defended his ailing mother from the anger of the workhouse overseer, Obediah Hankinson, whom Jack Timms briefly possessed in order to attempt to murder Edie. Despite Ned and Edie’s courage and the aid of Durath, the Great Stag, the Billet family eventually all perished in the workhouse. May they rest in peace.
DURATH [LORD OF THE FOREST, THE FATHER OF STAGS, GUARDIAN OF THE NORNIR] (The Fatal Strand | Ch 10 – The Fatal Strand | Ch 17) The ancient Lord of the Forest who first led the Daughters of Askar through the timeless forests, the spirit of Durath was summoned at the time of the Cessation to watch over Edie and the Nornir, defending them from Woden’s perfidy. Unhappily, the Gallows God triumphed in the end when, disguised as Austen Pickering, he removed the skull of Great Stag from the Wyrd Museum’s entrance, destroying the protective enchantments which had shielded the museum and brought Durath to life. In the time of the fall of Askar, Edie beheld the Stag’s demise, and ever after will she honour his memory as her trusted guardian, as the Nornir did.
MISS CELANDINE WEBSTER [SKULD OF THE ROYAL HOUSE OF ASKAR, THIRD OF THE NORNIR] (The Woven Path | Ch 2 – The Fatal Strand | Ch 21) Holder of the Spindle of Fate, Celandine met her death upon the operating table of the Wyrd Infirmary. Through the arts of Woden, she replaced Mary-Anne Brindle, and the Spear of Longinus brought her immortal life to an end. The Mother of the three Fates and the liveliest of the Webster sisters, it was Celandine who would have raised Edie, and who would, if the Doom wrought for her had not prevented it, have found peace in family life. She will be remembered fondly by Edie and the Chapman family, and has joined Verdandi in the Summer Lands.
QUOTH [FORMERLY: MEMORY] (The Raven’s Knot | Ch 13 – The Fatal Strand | Ch 21) This addled but courageous corvid did ever stand by his master, Squire Neil. Though the jargoozling shade of Woden did attempt to unearth the arrogance and perfidy of Memory from within this marlpot’s sorry head, never did Quoth yield, and unto the frightsome maw of Death was he borne before he would forsake his young master for the false conceits of the Gallows God. A happy fate was Quoth’s, however, for from the soggy depths of the Well of Nirinel was he raised, and by the felicitous powers of the Undine was he restored to life. Hurroosh for that!
MISS URSULA WEBSTER [URDR OF THE ROYAL HOUSE OF ASKAR, FIRST OF THE NORNIR] (The Woven Path | Ch 2 – The Fatal Strand | Ch 23) She who had sundered the threads of mortal lives since the dawn of the world was finally laid to rest beneath the ruins of Nirinel, along with Woden, her fated nemesis. Into the Cloth of Doom Ursula wove the destruction of her sisters and herself, bringing a final end to the conflict between the Nornir and the Gallows God, and allowing Edie Dorkins to take up her birthright as custodian of the Wyrd Museum. Of the Webster sisters, Ursula is remembered with the greatest reverence; by Edie and Neil as their wisest guardian, and by the descendants of Askar as mighty Urdr, great Lady of Destiny.
WODEN [CAPTAIN OF THE REALM OF ASKAR, LATER: THE GALLOWS GOD] (The Woven Path | Ch 3 – The Fatal Strand | Ch 23) Closest to the Daughters of Askar in ages past, Woden made the decision to sacrifice his mortality and attain Godhead, thereby sundering himself from the Spinners of the Wood. Determined to defy the rule of Fate, he returned to plague the sisters Webster in the modern world, causing the deaths of Verdandi and Skuld, before Urdr revealed that she had orchestrated even the Cessation, keeping triumph over the Nornir forever from Woden’s grasp. As ruined and decrepit as the sisters he so despised, the Gallows God eventually perished beneath the root of Nirinel, his enmity cast aside. He dwells with the Daughters of Askar in the Summer Lands, beloved of Urdr.
GALATEA [THE FIRST IMAGE FASHIONED BY PUMIYATHON, WHICH ASHTOROTH DID ENTER AND WHICH CAUSED MUCH TERROR TO THE PEOPLE OF PAPHOS] (The Woven Path | Ch 3 – The Fatal Strand | Ch 24) One of those most rare and frightful treasures housed in the Separate Collection of the Wyrd Museum, the statue of Pygmalion was brought to life by Miss Ursula in the final conflict against Woden. It was Galatea who lead the charge, and she also who protected Edie and Neil from the violence of Jack Timms after Woden’s demise. The statue was eventually smashed by Timms upon the steps leading down to the Chamber of Nirinel, no longer to strike terror into her enemies at the behest of any power.
JACK TIMMS [‘TICK-TOCK JACK’] (The Fatal Strand | Ch 9 – The Fatal Strand | Ch 24) The odious head warden of the Wyrd Infirmary, Jack Timms was the perpetrator of countless crimes against the infirmary patients before Woden lured him into his service. Sadistic and violent, Timms acted as a hired assassin for the Gallows God, seeking out Edie and the remaining Webster sisters with the intent to murder them. Timms was mortal, however, and like all mortals his doom was woven by Ursula, who decreed that he should meet his end upon the tracks of the London Tube, and there die a prolonged and agonising death in punishment for his evil.
THE FROST GIANTS (The Fatal Strand | Ch 26) Ancient foe of the peoples of Askar, these terrible demons of the rotting cold were vanquished by the Paedagogus, the Wyrd Museum’s guardian spirit, as he wielded the Eye of Balor. So was the Destiny of Gogus woven by Urdr, and in his fulfilling of it the world was delivered forever from the threat of the Jötnar.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: You know it’s a Robin Jarvis finale when the set is getting absolutely trashed. Whether it’s all of Whitby or one picturesque observatory dome, you can just about guarantee that the iconic settings of Mr Jarvis’ books are going to be in bits by the time the final, bittersweet ending rolls round. Of course, they never stay in bits for long, but it’s the fun of the fantastical destruction that’s the thing, isn’t it?
Speaking of domes, Robin has been heard to hint that the iconic gables and rooves of the Wyrd Museum were, in fact, inspired by a building at Greenwich. I may be going out on a slippery, ice-glazed limb here, but I’d hazard that the silhouette of the Greenwich Astronomy Centre can be glimpsed amid the points and weather vanes of this chapter’s illustration. (Boy does Robin love to wreck Greenwich, huh. Between this trilogy and the Deptford books, he’s laid waste to every building on the Hill. All we need is for the villain of his next series to come stomping through the Royal Naval College, and we’re all set.)
So, amidst the ruined Wyrd Museum, we have the Chapman family, Edie, Gogus and the Undine, and (zooks hurrah) Quoth. A peculiar family, but one irrevocably bound together by the threads of all that they have been through. Now here’s hoping the descendants of Askar will pitch in with the clearing up!
Matt’s Thoughts: Well, that was a finale of epic proportions! I mean, we always know we’re going to arrive at a big showdown at the end of Robin’s books (well, his books written thus far in our chronological read-through …) but it never ceases to amaze me that, no matter how big the finale in Book 1 and 2 of a trilogy, he’ll always create something even bigger for the ending of Book 3!
Everything foreshadowed comes together masterfully, Brian is saved (I was bit worried about how his character would end up!), Gogus saves the day.
And it gets even better in the Epilogue!
Though, as always, we depart a Jarvis world with questions. And I may have to admit perhaps this three books don’t connect up with the Deptford and Whitby worlds quite as neatly as I would like, despite my love of Jarvis Universe Theory.
Will Edie create another loom? Does this usher in a new era without the gods of the past, where we can all create our own destiny? I’m not sure.
What it does put me in mind of is years ago, I spent a lot of money going to see Wagner’s Ring Cycle. (I figured I’d never have time or money to see it for a long time afterwards once I had kids!) The last opera of the four in the Ring Cycle is the mighty Götterdämmerung or ‘Twilight of the Gods’.
In the final moments, a destruction of everything that we’ve lived through for the past 16 hours occurs. Siegfried, the hero is killed. Brünnhilde, Wotan’s daughter, rides a horse into his funeral pyre and also perishes. This then sets a signal to Wotan’s ravens to fly back to Valhalla, at which point Wotan pierces the breast of Loge the Fire God, which unleashes a fire which burns down all of Valhalla. As if that wasn’t quite apocalyptic enough, the Rhine River floods and drowns any remaining shifty human characters. In the end, the only ones left happy are the Rhine Maidens, who finally have their gold back in the form of the Ring.
However, despite this mass destruction, the music is epic, majestic and beautiful as it ushers in a new world. In the version I saw on stage, to highligh the optimism of the ending, the final scene was of Erda the Earth Goddess, tending to a new version of the World Ash Tree.
So I feel that sense of optimism here in this ending, almost as if, traumatic as it’s all been, all of this was necessary to clear the decks for a new world.
A world that just happens to have its central-most-important location in, of all places, Bethnal Green.
It was then that he discovered he had no more tears to cry.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: If any of you have been wondering why I was suddenly adding messages from the beyond to the ends of the obituary posts for these books, now you know.
Neil’s meeting with Jean, so many years on, is one of the most moving moments in this trilogy, and I wanted to do homage to the encouragement he receives, not only from her, but also from Ted and Miss Celandine.
They might both have passed on, but in this world where time bends and warps according to the will of Fate, that doesn’t mean that they cannot be there for Neil and Edie when our young heroes most need it. As the trilogy finale nears its conclusion, it seems fitting to me that the words of those who are no longer living should give Neil the strength to fight for his own life, and the memories of those who once stood at his side.
Matt’s Thoughts: Like a great piece of music that knows where to slip in a nice alternating theme to break up the momentum, so is this scene that plays out on the Bethnal Green subway station. I know I’d been lamenting the coldness of all the pivotal characters in the last chapter – and maybe Mr Jarvis had been feeling it as well when he was writing it – but this little interlude is the exact antidote to that.
In that moment, where we hearken back to memories of Book 1, of Jean and Ted, we are reminded that love and kindness exists. No matter what else might be happening, if the world is falling apart, we can still inspire each other not to give up, but to band together and do the best we can.
And that’s all it takes. When Neil and Edie go back to the museum, we’re cheering them all the way and we’re confident that this will be the last battle.
I’d be curious also as to whether this is a deliberate nod to The Shining by Robin as well. In the finale of that story, a young boy also had to face down his father, a character who was a loser at the best of times and now – under the influence of a great evil – made even worse. I chose for the quote for this chapter that line where Neil discovers he had no more tears to cry, because it’s the moment where he really comes of age. He hits that point, which many of us do, where we realise that we are going to have to stand on our own two feet in life, independent of our parents. And maybe we even need to go against them. It’s just played out here on a cosmic scale.
So was the horrendous Destiny that Miss Ursula Webster had woven for him fulfilled …
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Spittle being dragged into literal hell was very satisfying. So was Nathaniel Crozier being dissolved by his ex, and Mister Dark being mulched by the tentacles of fiends from the deep. But the gleeful sadism of those fates is nothing, nothing, compared to Jack Timms’s well deserved, not-before-time demise beneath the rails of the London tube.
Good grief, Mr Jarvis, what a death! How Urdr must have giggled when she wove that into the great tapestry. It says much for Neil that he feels the pangs of pity even now, but I’m with Edie on this one – good riddance to Tick-Tock and his wretched tormentor. May even the rats disdain his bones!
Matt’s Thoughts: Final show-down with Tick-Tock, as expected. Still, the brutality of his final dispatching caught me off-guard. How did Mr Jarvis get all this stuff past the editors? I can understand Neil’s sense of pity at the end. Grim stuff indeed.
However, it also takes us into uncharted territory with the novel. We’ve got a few chapters left and Woden, Websters and Jack are all gone from the story. So it’s down to the kids and the Frost Giant now. How will this work out? And where does this leave the future of the world?
‘If the Cessation was to come, then it would be of my contrivance, not yours.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: We can, to some extent, view Nirinel as a visual metaphor for the ultimate and overriding theme of this trilogy; that of the juxtaposition of a glorious past with the mouldering decay of the present.
We see this in Ursula’s descent into senility and in Woden’s bright memories of a world he forsook, but also in larger terms – the Will of the Nornir and the godhood of Woden have been decreasing in power with every passing age, and both parties have shambled into modernity dusty and obsolete, so obsessed with destroying one another that they have become blind to the true threat; the Frost Giants.
At the end of it, perhaps even such great beings as Urdur and the Gallows God are really just museum exhibits, preserved relics forever trapped in stasis, shabby shades of their former magnificence who must eventually succumb to the downfall laid out for them. At the last, only Edie and Neil, our original heroes, remain to save the world from rotting coldly into oblivion. Now we will see what mettle is in them.
Matt’s Thoughts: In the last half of the 90s, as I was finishing high school and beginning university, I fell in love with the cinema. Once I had enough money to fund my celluloid addiction, I estimate that I was watching a movie at least every week and a half. So while I find it difficult to keep up with all the latest movies nowadays, I do have fond memories of many iconic (and also many now obscure) films of the 90s that unfolded on a big screen in front of me.
One of the things that struck me about movies back then was an overall bleak outlook on humanity and life that pervaded many of their stories. Once you got past the feel-good popcorn movie made to churn a buck, many movies that were getting critical acclaim back then featured a rather dim view of humanity and life in general. I’ve lost track of how many times I exited the cinemas with my head spinning from some spectacularly unhappy ending.
I had forgotten what all that was like until reading this chapter. Here, as we see the penultimate moment before the finale, all the motivations are revealed. Pickering was Woden, using Tick-Tock Jack as his lackey. But – surprise! – all of this was known by Ursula/Urdr, who let all this happen so that the the Cessation of the Fates could be decided on her own terms, not someone else’s. And then – surprise again! – they were both screwed because the Frost Giants had been laying plans of their own.
And so Neil, Josh and Edie – and now Brian – find that they were all pawns in a long game engineered by beings who are so removed from humanity, they simply do not care who or what gets caught in the cross-hairs of their plans. Their focus is the power to control and who ultimately has the most of it.
Young readers might miss this, because the race-against-time plot doesn’t really give you a chance to pause and philosophise. (Unless you happen to be blogging through each chapter!) But how grim is this? There’s no Ultimate Good here, no Green Mouse, not even an angelic spirit like Tommy. In a way, we are transported back to a situation that you often see in many ancient mythologies and pagan beliefs – a situation where humans are but pawns, doing their best to survive in a world controlled by deities with their own agendas.
Anyway, enough of that – we better find that Loom!
Aufwader’s Thoughts: It really is unnerving to see Ursula go the way of her sisters, if only momentarily. In this finale she has been a kind of last bastion of leadership and guidance – frankly, if even Ursula is going doolally, what hope do any of our heroes have?
Worse, the truth comes out about her relationship with Woden, revealing that not only did she imprison her sisters and force them to spend an eternity yoked to the Loom, she also sought to spoil the happiness of Verdandi and her Captain. Or is there more to this little Askarian love triangle than The Raven’s Knot and Ursula’s ramblings would have us believe?
Matt’s Thoughts: Such a fascinating visual concept, which I can clearly picture in my head. They’re essentially walking through a forest, but with elements of the Wyrd Museum around them to give them (and us) our frame of reference.
But raises questions as well – how long before Pickering reveals himself? What is he waiting for?
And I know that our heroes are a cut above the bad guys and don’t go mercilessly slaughtering people if they can help it, but I do feel that incapacitating Jacks Timms just a little bit more might not have been a bad thing.
But then again, Woden made the same mistake and left him there as well, so if it turns out that Tick-Tock takes out the Gallows God, then really the Allfather only has himself to blame on this particular occasion!
Finally, I was tormented by Quoth’s body being paraded around like that, how is poor old Neil coping with this? I feel like this is going to need a long epilogue where everyone left standing is in counselling.
Miss Celandine Webster, she who as Skuld had woven the tapestry of so many destinies, was dead.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter is just distressing. From Celandine being bundled off to a gory demise, to Quoth’s discovery about Austen Pickering and subsequent murder at the hands of same, it seems to go on and on, with no respite in the cruelty and destruction.
Quoth’s sudden death really brought home how close he and Neil had become, and how their relationship was different to that of Neil and Ted in The Woven Path.
Far from being a loyal sidekick, Ted was out for his own ends, and could be downright nasty to Neil when pushed. He might’ve been a talking toy, but he was no true companion to our young hero. Contrast this with Quoth – ugly and decrepit with a past as Woden’s right-hand corvid, but a more faithful and affectionate friend Neil could not ask for. I definitely care about Quoth far more than I did about Ted
Matt’s Thoughts: Jarvis, mate, what the?? Quoth AND Miss Celandine? This chapter blindsided me a bit. First of all, Pickering being Woden was well hidden. Pickering is enigmatic, but also, even when nobody else is in the room, he still talks to himself as Pickering, so there was no sign of him having a hidden identity throughout the book.
But Quoth? QUOTH! I was hoping he’d make it to the end of the book.
And the clumsy surgeon?
This whole chapter surely has to go down as one of the most deeply traumatic in the whole Jarvis canon.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: I’ve muttered about ominous chapter titles before on here, but this one really, genuinely takes the jam and pancakes for this trilogy. You can ‘Crimson Weft’ all you want, but there’s something about the combination of last chapter’s cliffhanger, that ghastly illustration of skull-headed Galatea, and the fact that there’s only ‘this much left to go’ that puts ‘The First Wave’ at the top of the list.
In The Woven Path we all guessed that the Separate Collection and its inhabitants might return in the trilogy finale, and here we finally get to see that happen, in as grand and theatrical a manner as could be hoped. Best moment for me has got to be Galatea stepping into the light as Ursula charges her to lead the defence against Woden. Really, could the Nornir have a better general than the beautiful, hollow-eyed scourge of Paphos? I have to side with Edie this time – I’d run up to the statue too!
Matt’s Thoughts: This finale is reminding me more and more of the end of Fighting Pax, in that the last third of the book is really just one unrelenting sweep of action, without pause for breath, without letup of the tension.
Also, another whole sweep of old mythology is thrown in here. I do wish I had learned more of these ancient myths and legends when I was younger so they would come more readily to mind. (Alas, my somewhat conservative Christian curriculum as a youngster tended to de-emphasise the great myths for fear of us all becoming Satanists or something like that.) But, I managed to work out that the skull-topped beauty of a statue is a reference to the famous story of Pygmalion (or Pumiyathon, which is how he is referred to here) who fell in love with a statue that he had created.
The twist here, of course, is that in the same way that the Valkyries in the previous book are monstrous versions of their mythological counterparts, so here the statue – instead of being classically beautiful – is rather terrifying and warlike. It’s never stated explicitly in this series, but there’s an undercurrent here that all legends are based on some sort of truth, but that over time, storytellers have taken the edges off the stories to make them more palatable.
Having just watched Darkest Hour, in which the story of Churchill in WWII is portrayed in the most perfectly-lit, perfectly-costumed, beautifully-shot visual version of events, there is a definitely a truth to the idea of us liking to smooth out the past into a more palatable re-telling.
And as for that last set-piece where Ursula has to choose between a roomful of school children getting killed and defeating Jack Timms … yikes!
From some remote region, deep within the museum, there came the distant sound of a rhythmic knocking.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: I definitely get shades of The Final Reckoning from this chapter.
Onceagain, our heroes are forced together by an unnatural cold and crouch, breath bated, around their meagre fire as the forces of darkness assail them from all sides. Once again, they summon the powers which safeguarded them in ages past, while their ancient matriarch, grim and grieving, despairs beneath the weight of her years.
We’re really at the finale now. Will the Nornir triumph, or will all who huddle around that fire be ‘besieged by death’?
Matt’s Thoughts: All I’ll say on this chapter, which nicely ramps things up, is that there is definitely a profound creepiness to the old song ‘Who Killed Cock Robin?’ Such a nice extra touch having the lyrics of that song being sung by the kids as Tick-Tock makes his way through the Museum.
Which is actually the second time in a month that I’ve encountered this particular little ditty being used to create a sinister atmosphere. Down here in Australia, we have two films and now two seasons of a TV show called Wolf Creek (definitely not suitable for children!) which I think exists solely to scare Australians from ever leaving the cities and visiting remote outback areas of Australia and to scare anyone from overseas to even contemplate visiting Australia full stop.
It’s probably the closest thing we’ve got to those horror stories that make you terrified of visiting old moors.
But, interestingly enough, for the title sequence of the TV series, they used the Cock Robin song quite effectively. What can I say? It’s just a creepy song.