Aufwader’s Thoughts: For somebody who only gets her hair done once a year, I must say, Madame Akkikuyu isn’t looking too shabby in this month’s calendar illustration. I have to wonder whether this is a depiction of her in her travelling youth, perhaps mere weeks after she commandeered Simoon’s esoteric paraphernalia. She rather looks as if she’s practicing her act – and now, the Mystical, the Marvellous, Madame Akkikuyu!
This month’s points of interest include the rather trusting mouse custom of the Day of Keys on the 4th, and, on the 6th, Spittle’s first sighting of what we must assume is a portent of Jupiter’s – I mean, the Great Plague’s – arrival in old London town. We also have a piece on the rare Sign of Grace and Beauty, a somewhat maligned mousebrass that seems to be more of a curse than a blessing to those who receive it. (One wonders if mouse fables perhaps contain a moral tale of a fair maiden turned cruel and heartless by the fickle enchantment of that brass.)
There are other sorrows too; Lost Sweethearts Day on the 19th is a maudlin favourite of mine, and of course we have the tragic and untimely demise of Vespertilio on the 27th.
Lastly, and perhaps most ominously of all, is the small entry on the 29th, describing how Madame Akkikuyu first ventured into the Skirtings to tell the fortunes of the Deptford Mice. Imagine if she had taken the long way round!
Matt’s Thoughts: Highlights for me of this month were the diagrams of rat ears and the rather humorous tale of Freddy Beechnut and his Hopping the Hare. Still, however, the theme of Thomas Triton’s alcoholism remains, which is sad.
I do have to ask, did anyone ever make the Blind Brass Biscuits?
The deceased of Thorn Ogres of Hagwood are as follows:
THE NAMELESS VIXEN (Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Prologue) The first victim of the High Lady’s loathsome servants, the thorn ogres, this young mother was eviscerated in the dark of night. She left two cubs, one of whom later survived the lair of Frighty Aggie, and was adopted by Liffidia Nefyn.
MUFUS DOOLAN (Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Ch 1 – Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Ch 10) Twin to Bufus and beloved son to his parents, Mufus was cruelly murdered by the thorn ogres. His death was a ghastly shock to the werling community; most of all to his brother, who was first to come upon his mangled corpse, hung in the briar as dire warning from Rhiannon’s fiends. Mufus was laid to rest among his ancestors in the Silent Grove, and there he sleeps still.
NAGGATASH (Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Ch 12) Chieftain of the thorn ogres, Naggatash was felled by Gorfannon’s cunning and the swiftness of Thimbleglaive, his enchanted blade.
GOFANNON [THE WANDERING SMITH] (Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Ch 6 – Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Ch 12) The last surviving Pucca in the service of King Ragallach, Gofannon fled the Hollow Hill in secret at the ascension of Rhiannon, and so escaped a gruesome and unjust execution. Vanishing into the mists of obscurity, this most courageous of Ragallach’s smiths took with him nothing less than the key to Rhiannon’s undoing, and for many years he bore that glittering burden before the desire to avenge his fallen kin brought him back to Hagwood. Alas for Gofannon; the High Lady had grown mighty in the intervening years, and sent Her Provost to wrest from the Smith the whereabouts of the key. Finally, having defeated the Chieftain of the thorn ogres and brought much strife upon the High Lady’s servants, Gofannon took his own life rather than surrender his secret. In the werlings he placed his trust, and with it, the key. His memory is honoured with those of his kin; Angirrion, Gromer, Gwyddno, Diarmund, Cormac, Bodach, Hafgan, and Launfal.
SNAGGART (Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Ch 6 – Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Ch 16) The runt of the thorn ogres, Snaggart met his end in the terrible jaws of Agnilla Hellekin, when she came to Finnen’s aid at the Battle of the Trees. Though the least of Rhiannon’s vile servants, Snaggart was no less vicious, and was partly responsible for the death of Mufus Doolan.
THE DRITCH FAMILY (Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Ch 5 – Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Ch 16) Lower neighbours of the Tumpins, the unfortunate Dritch family were slain by Chokerstick the thorn ogre, during the Battle of the Trees. As there was not enough of them left to inter in the Silent Grove once the vile fiend had finished with them, their names were inscribed upon the Dritch beech in remembrance.
UNGARTAKKA, CHOCKERSTICK, KRAKKWHIPP, AND SUNDRY UNNAMED THORN OGRES (Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Ch 14 – Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Ch 16) These bloodthirsty abominations were set alight by the werling folk during the Battle of the Trees. In riot and rout, and defying the Provost’s commands, the thorn ogres fled the werling realm, never to return. (It should also be noted that for discovering the ogres’ fiery weakness, and so turning the battle in favour of the werlings, Kernella Tumpin was awarded the role of Honorary Warden of the Realm by the werling elders; a post never before granted to one so young. Only partly in jest, her peers gave her the title ‘Kernella the Flame-handed’, which she bears proudly to this day.)
UNNAMED WERLINGS [SIXTY OR MORE] (Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Ch 16) Of the brave folk who fell during the last conflict with Rhiannon’s thorn ogres, the bodies of forty-nine were recovered and interred in the Silent Grove. The blessing of Dunwrach is upon all who gave their lives to protect their kin and community, and they are remembered every year upon the anniversary of that greatest of werling tragedies.
For there, lying upon Gamaliel Tumpin’s open palm, was a delicate and beautiful golden key.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: All right Robin, I forgive you for Kernella. Look at her go, blasting thorn ogres with flaming torches and lanterns. I’m so proud!
Aside from that fantastic moment, my favourite part of this finale is Frighty Aggie coming to Finnen’s rescue. It’s a profound character moment for Master Lufkin, as he sees in Agnilla what he could have become and realises the full measure of his folly. Here’s hoping he’ll go into the rest of this trilogy a reformed werling – and that he’ll live to see the end of it.
As for Gamaliel, I love that it was his name, rather than the ruined passwords, that changed him back from his ‘bit of everything’ shape. It shows that he’ll always retain his unique personality and do things in his own way, even if his methods are somewhat unconventional. (Sounds a bit like someone we all know here on the Reread…)
So the terrible thorn ogres are defeated, even down to poor Snaggart. We have a key, but no casket; a quest, but no map. May the memory of Gofannon watch over our small band of heroes on the winding path that coils before them, and may the eye of Rhiannon look elsewhere.
Matt’s Thoughts: A cracking final showdown. The thing I loved was that it doesn’t work out exactly the way you expect. Kernella, who we might have written off as an irritating side character till now, is actually the one who discovers how to defeat the thorn ogres. And then it’s a communal effort. I know I said this last post, but I think the last time we had a mass showdown of heroes like this was in the Deptford worlds – The Final Reckoning, the showdown at the end of The Oaken Throne and Thomas. The group becomes bigger than the individual and it’s glorious.
I came back to this series a little late, so the second book had been published and the third was on its way. One can only wonder how the original readers thought. They would all have been desperate to know how that golden key could be used but then there was no second book for, what, nearly 15 years?
But then, that’s the joy of being a Jarvis fan. You can think something is all done and dusted and then all of a sudden – the werlings arise again, we return to Whitby. Who knows what journeys Mr Jarvis might be taking us on in the future? (Which is my way of saying, I’m really starting to hang out for the fourth Witching Legacy book!)
“What’s happened?” Finnen asked. “You’re a bit of everything. It’s incredible! Nobody can do that!”
Aufwader’s Thoughts: I’m not sure if any of you can see this,butI labelled the scan of this book’s cover ‘Glamaliel’, just so I could get to this chapter and gleefully explain why. No, it’s not a typo, it’s a reference to the limited edition Thorn Ogres paperbacks which each had a lenticular panel of Gammy wergling into his mishmash shape.
The scan doesn’t show it, but if you turn the book to one side, the little portrait above the title wergles away quite charmingly. I’ve always rather enjoyed that piece of particularly 90s product design, and I sometimes wonder how many of these special copies are still in circulation. I’d like to know the story behind them, too, if Mr Jarvis would care to weigh in. Were the lenticular panel editions in commemoration of anything special? What was the cover design experience like with Puffin? Did you end up with the cover you wanted, or was Snaggart a compromise in place of some uglier beastie?
Matt’s Thoughts: Being, at the time, the shortest Jarvis book he’d ever written, the finale of this one comes pretty fast, but it’s great fun, with beat after beat that we expect from the master. The exiled Finnen is stuck up a tree, Gamaliel has wergled into some sort of mad concoction of creatures (a brilliant touch that I didn’t see coming the first time I read it!). And all the werlings are in danger. It reminds me very much of the siege of the mice by the rats in The Final Reckoning and it’s breathless stuff.
With the agonized screams of Master Gibble ringing in their ears, Gamaliel and Finnen scurried down the trunk and ran for their lives.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: So it seems that Rhiannon, like Jupiter before her, maybe has a bit of difficulty keeping her unholy horde on the task in hand. ‘What for we doing this?’ the thorn ogres grumble, in echo of the Deptford rats before them. ‘Want bloodkill,’ they mutter, casting about for adorable forest animals – or indeed, small shapeshifters – to peel.
What manner of ‘reward’ does the High Lady have planned for her beloved twiggy pets, we ask ourselves. When she finds her heart, aided and abetted by the likes of puling cowards like Master Gibble, what darkness will fall over Hagwood?
Matt’s Thoughts: Well, we never liked Gibble much at the best of times, but there’s a sense in which he still had the natural gift of wergling. There’s no indication that his powers came from dodgy means like Finnen – but instead by hard work.
Thus it’s a great irony (perhaps even a great grand irony) that Finnen cheated to become good at werling, the art form designed to protect the werlings, but is still loyal to his kind. Whereas Gibble, custodian of the very secret that protects all of them, handed is own kind over to be slaughtered.
Out fell the chippings Finnen had taken from the Silent Grove, and uttering a dismal groan, the boy closed his eyes. His horrible secret was out.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Quite aside from the huge ugly plot points about the Hollow Hill and the Smith and Finnen being banished to what now seems like certain death beyond the werling realm, this is a very important chapter for Gamaliel. Evidently his adventures over the holly fence and his near-death experience at the stinger of Frighty Aggie have made a young man of him, and unlike his somewhat wobbly friends, he will no longer put up with being stepped upon by his elders at every turn. Good on you, Gammy. Glad to see someone has the right idea.
Matt’s Thoughts: Poor old Finnen. It’s tragic enough that you run into problems from evil creatures outside the realm, but to be turned on by your own is even worse. What’s also amazing is that just ten chapters ago, this was just a story about little creatures that could turn into cute fuzzy animals.
A welcoming laugh was on the Smith’s lips, and the enchanted knife dived swiftly into his breast.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: It occurred to me that ‘Thimbleglaive’ really just means ‘very small knife’, and yet you’d never know, would you? And now that we do know, it doesn’t actually matter that the Smith’s dagger doesn’t have a grand name like ‘Ogredeath’ or whatnot, because it’s really more in line with his character that his weapons should do marvellous things like leap of their own accord at the enemy, and yet have humble, unassuming names.
I like that the Smith, or, Gofannon, to give him is proper name posthumously, gets to defeat the chieftain of the thorn ogres before he finally cheats the High Lady’s Provost of the intelligence he so desperately desires. The ogres were set up as the Smith’s particular nemeses from the start, so that’s one in the eye to Rhiannon even before that noble, and let’s face it, rather smug demise. ‘Hard luck, Morthanna,’ the Smith seems to the thinking as he bleeds out heroically. ‘May rabid hedgehogs chew on your heart!’
Matt’s Thoughts: There have been some great Heroic Deaths in the Jarvis canon so far, arguably starting with Piccadilly’s mid-winter showdown with Jupiter and onwards. They’re so final, with no hope of return for the character. (Not like Gandalf, popping up half a book later!)
But this one just might be my favourite, because Gofannen goes out on his own terms, unafraid, while frustrating the plans of the bad guys. It’s tragic and outstanding all at once.
Only the memory of pain and loss compelled them to avoid that spot. The Silent Grove was where those they had loved were finally laid to rest and given back to the forest. This was the werling burial ground.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: The idea of the Silent Grove really affected me as a young’un. Like Matt I’d say that it’s one of my favourite settings in Jarvis canon – when Robin’s characters die it’s often so grisly that there isn’t a lot left to bury. In all the deaths we’ve read through so far, I don’t think we’ve had a full funeral until now, so it’s quite cathartic to see Mufus sent off properly.
For me reading this as a young child, the Silent Grove was my first exposure to a description of a burial ceremony that wasn’t the standard ‘coffin in a cemetery’ affair. I didn’t yet know that natural burial was a real thing, and it seemed to me that the werlings were quite wise in their approach to death and funerary rites. Not to be morbid, but if I were a werling, I wouldn’t mind the idea of eventually ending up in a tree with all my ancestors.
Speaking of ancestors, we finally learn the secret of Finnen Lufkin: Graverobber. We all knew he had some dark, dank weight on his soul, but how many of us imagined that he was chewing corpse-bark to improve his gift?
Really, though, I think we can all sympathise with his paralysing terror of failure, especially in light of his illustrious family history. Orphaned and with the guilt of Mufus’ death to bear on top of his grisly secret, poor Finnen is looking more Piccadillyish by the second. With Master Gibble evidently about to proclaim his crime from the treetops, the ‘death or villainy’ fate I prophesied for him may be closer than we thought.
Matt’s Thoughts: This, for me, is the best chapter in the whole book. Mr Jarvis can sometimes take out characters at such a rapid pace that death becomes something we get accustomed to. But to pause and have an extended funeral sequence, where we really comprehend the full weight of grief that Mufus’ death has had on the werling community, is really striking.
Also, while I can’t explain why, I find the Silent Grove, with its beech tree graves, one of the most imaginative of all Jarvis locations. It’s a powerful concept.
Of course, as with all Jarvis setpieces, they are not just inserted for atmosphere. As the chapter draws to a close, we realise the significance of the Grove in both Finnen’s story – and the back story of Frighty Aggie.
Bufus Doolan choked back a cry. Above him, impaled upon the spiky twigs, hung Mufus’s lifeless body.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Well, we’re two thirds of the way in, so here come the deaths. Brace yourselves, it can only get worse from here.
I have to say I was sorely disappointed in Master Gibble during this chapter. There he went at the head of the search for Mufus, rallying the community around Yoori Mattock and himself, bravely leading the way. I was fooled, briefly, into thinking that deep down, he actually cared about his charges, and that there might be a shred of kindly paternal concern beneath that hard and knobbly exterior.
But no – he just had to tactlessly comment that Bufus’ distress might be mere playacting, and prove that he really is terse and gibbly right down to the bone. Shame on you, Gibble, you’re a disgrace to the memory of your ancestors!
Matt’s Thoughts: This chapter really got under my skin, perhaps because the tone of the book thus far doesn’t really prepare you for something as disturbing as this. Yes, Mufus and Bufus have been an annoying pair and teasing Gamaliel, but the fate of Mufus is horrendous.
This is one case where I feel like the new, darker, cover of the book is a more appropriate representation of the contents!
It’s also interesting because of the way this escalates things. In most of these stories (say, The Lord of the Rings, or closer to home, even the Deptford Mice), a few heroes from the sleepy community go somewhere else and get in trouble. But when Bufus runs into the village and screams out the rallying cry… well, now the whole community is instantly in danger.
But then, with all the talk of dead parents and grandparents – and the need for wergling in the first place – I’m actually reminded that the werling community is only a hair away from certain doom at the best of times. So in a way, they have been preparing for a calamity like this for centuries.
“Inside the box, pulsing and beating by loathsome craft – was Rhiannon’s very own heart.”
Aufwader’s Thoughts: It’s just occurred to me that the werlings might have another, unspoken power. What if, along with their shapeshifting gifts, they have the ability, like the little folk of old, to make mortal and immortal alike forget them, once they have passed by? If ever they possessed such a talent it must have waned over the ages, but it’s something to consider.
The Smith’s account of the terrors of the Hollow Hill definitely has its roots in traditional fairytales. As with the character of the Smith himself, here we see Mr Jarvis working with established motifs and themes in the story of vengeful Lady Morthanna and her unfortunate family. In this case, we have Snow White through the Robiny lens – Rhiannon, fairest and most jealous in the land, extracts her own heart in order to claim the throne. It’s all rather grim, if you ask me, and I don’t like the Smith’s chances if the Unseelie Court catch up with him.
Matt’s Thoughts: And so the back story is laid out. Dark secrets, siblings jostling for the throne and a (literally) heartless villainess. I’ve said before that the secret to Robin Jarvis books is that, instead of pitching strong, larger-than-life heroes against evil, it is small, fragile ordinary characters, like mice, children and werlings, who often do the great deeds.
It reminds us that any of us might be called upon – at very short notice – to have to show courage and tenacity. Whatever the consequences. And, speaking of consequences, we have a very Jarvis piece of foreshadowing in that last sentence: ‘Before morning, one of them would be slain.’