Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 15

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

However much he wrote or drew, there were always empty pages left, and although he kept the book his entire life and used it every day, he never filled it. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: At the start of this chapter we can see shades of the Isaac Nettle who will try to have Audrey burnt alive, lead a murderous mob, and push his own son to run away from home. Earlier in the book he was more of a figure of ridicule than real threat, and in some ways I’m pleased to see that that was only temporary. A character as grim and realistically Puritanical as Nettle doesn’t deserve so mild a punishment as to be brushed under the figurative rug as comic relief. The way he twists the will of the Green to suit his own ends is also a stark contrast to the truly sacred power of the Ancient, the water voles, and the Glinty Water.

On a lighter note, considering what Mr Jarvis said in the comments a few chapters ago, it’s kind of heartwarming that he let Todkin have his own book after all. As for Whortle’s gift, I think he does have one, but we’ll have to wait and see.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’d love to know where the Giving of Significant Gifts came from in fantasy literature. It’s a memorable feature of some of the classics of the genre – Father Christmas handing out the gifts in The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe; Galadriel bestowing useful items to the Fellowship of the Ring.

Does it have its origins in something deeper? Tales of the gods bestowing magical items upon men? I don’t know of anything quite like it in Christianity, though you do get the odd item that can temporarily channel the power of God, such as Moses’ staff.

I tried using Google but nothing came up from a quick search to indicate that this is a story theme. But if anyone else out there with more knowledge can enlighten me on this topic, I’d love to know more.

If nothing else, this scene adds to the tragedy of this book, because the gifts give the impression that these guys will go on to become heroes – not be slaughtered by a roving corn dolly a few months later.

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Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 14

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Faith is all we have now. Faith in the strength of the small, faith in the purity of their hearts. As it began with mice, so it shall end. That is the wisdom of the moon-sent angel. My blessing upon you, Young Whortle Nep, and remember my warning – beware the straw that walks.’ 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This is why I always say that Whortle’s Hope, though it might look fluffy, is actually weightier in terms of Deptford universe lore than Fleabee’s Fortune. There’s so much crammed into this one chapter about the fate of Fennywolde, of Whortle and the water voles, of Captain Fenny, and of the entire world that started with Albert Brown getting lost in the sewers.

Most intriguing to me is Fenny’s King Arthur-like sleep, and what will happen when his name is finally called by the chosen creature, whoever that may be. (It can’t be Whortle, since we know what’s in store for him.) I’m also very curious about what Woppenfrake says about Fenny having been ‘called back from the shadows’ by the spirit of the Glinty Water, following his murder.

This (kind of, sort of) ties into the theory I’ve been using in the Deptford obituaries, whereby those killed by Robin’s gods of evil are subjected to eternal torment rather than given the Green’s blessed peace, but it also raises questions about life after death the Deptford universe.

Who decides when a soul stays behind? Are there other spirits besides the Glinty Water who have the power to undo death itself? We know that Wendel, erstwhile high priest of Hobb, was able to walk the lands as a ghost, and that ‘Orace Baldmoney visited Fleabee from the beyond, but Woppenfrake implies that Fenny will come back physically. If that’s the case, will the illustrious Captain still be quite himself after centuries of slumber, or some kind of prophecy-fulfilling construct, like the vision of him Whortle saw when he first travelled into the past?

Lastly, there’s the revelation that the water voles know everything that will transpire in Fennywolde following the arrival of Audrey and Madame Akkikiyu. Suddenly, their indulgence of Whortle is made perfectly clear. Like the book itself, they’re letting a young mouse have some fun and fulfil a few dreams before he is horribly murdered before his time. (What a pleasant holiday read!)

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Ah, here’s another cameo I didn’t recognise at the time, because I left too much of a gap between reading The Oaken Throne and reading Whortle’s Hope. The Ancient – still around after all these years. And here he is, tragically warning Young Whortle to be aware of the straw that walks.

There’s a strange grimness to this book, that documents a lot of beauty and fun, and may well end on a happy note because we know that all of it will be swept away by Nicodemus. Or is this a metaphor for life? That we never know what heartache and misfortune might lurk around the corner?

It’s also not 100% clear to me exactly when the final cataclysmic event that will involve the return of Captain Fenny is going to occur. I have thoughts on this, but I’ll save them for the end of the book.

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 13

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Dimsel opened her mouth to yell, but a cold eave of fear paralysed her and for vital moments, she was rooted to the spot. The great beast stalked ever nearer. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I like how the ‘wolf’ is built up as a source of genuine risk for the mice in this chapter. For quite a while it really does seem as if Dimsel will get chewed! The water voles did their job almost too well, making the monster both realistically bloodthirsty, and just a bit uncanny, since it’s modeled on Figgy’s drawing rather than a genuine animal. Honestly I think the idea of a wolf as imagined by someone who has never seen one is actually scarier than if a real wolf had arrived in Fennywolde – like when you have a nightmare and some ordinary animal or object is inexplicably terrifying because it just doesn’t look quite like the real thing.

When the faux-wolf turns out at the end to be no danger at all, it reveals what the water voles were actually going for. As well as providing a bit of adventure for Whortle and friends, I get the feeling that the whole thing was intended as training of a different kind, a test of the young mice’s mettle. Maybe Woppenfrake, Firgild and Willibald wanted to see whether the courage of Fenny’s original woodland band still lived, so many years on? The ancient weapons they supplied would suggest it.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This was rather awesome (and rare in the Jarvis canon) – a low-risk fight scene. Normally, when our little heroes come up against something nasty with fangs, the stakes are really high and we never know who’s going to make it out alive.

But this showdown with an exaggerated wolf is all action, stunts and humour – the kind of sequence that you find in blockbuster fantasy epics. But it does beg the question: are the water voles setting our five friends up for something?

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 12

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Remember always,’ the water vole said as he replaced the brass around the fieldmouse’s neck. ‘Travel your own best way, in all things, Master Nep.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter almost feels as if we’re back in Hagwood, with the shapechanging and the mastering of new skills in tune with nature. It makes me wonder whether whatever power dwells within the werlings might have some relation to the power of the Green, or vice versa. Who’s to say what manner of creatures Virianna might have met in her long life, after all…

Matt’s Thoughts: It’s almost like a small interlude, this chapter, as we experience the joy of Whortle’s swimming lesson. I have been wondering about the spirit of the Glinty Water. Not remembering how this book plays out, I’m wondering whether it’s something along the lines of the Undine that we encountered in The Wyrd Museum series?

Whatever it is, it’s a reminder that whatever mysterious and magical creatures you find yourself encountering in a Jarvis book, there are always older and more mysterious creatures that have been around for centuries longer again. All just biding their time.

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 11

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Alison wanted to say that she would go with him, but she held back. The moment passed and she was to regret it for the rest of her life. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: What really caught me at the start of this chapter was Whortle joyfully playing in the mist. It’s a small moment, but one laced with sombre foreshadowing – none of the Fennywolders, least of all our young hero, have the slightest inkling of the terrors that mist will hold for them but a few short months later.

We see this grim foreshadowing again when Figgy tells Jenkin that ‘his head could fall off and we wouldn’t care’. It’s really quite grisly considering the manner of Jenkin’s death (and that too will come all too soon). It’s also pretty painful to see Jenkin become so angry over Hodge mocking Isaac Nettle – we know the Nettles will never have a chance for reconciliation and that Mr Nettle will end up a shell of his former self, having lost his son before time without ever really being a proper father to him. Then there’s the business with Alison, which really speaks for itself. Mousey soap opera at its finest and most miserable!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Somewhere, amidst all the frivolity of two groups fighting over a raft, a great pall of tragedy lurks. It starts with Whortle and Co being somewhat oblivious to the source of Jenkin’s pain. (Granted, it’s not helped by his own sense of self-blame as well. The moment where he describes his father as ‘better than the lot of you put together’ is heart-rending.)

But the grand irony is that Alison, despite all the damage she will do, actually does understand what’s going on for Jenkin and has a perception that others do not. Good qualities are not doled out equally in the Jarvis universe, with good and bad qualities existing side-by-side in many of his characters. (Except for Twit, who – whatever you may query about his intelligence – is pure sunshine.)

And then, finally, the oath. We’re not saying that this oath necessarily caused the problems of The Crystal Prison – we know too well the source of the issues there – but there’s yet another dose of grim irony that they unwittingly swear a doom upon themselves that actually does transpire in just a few months.

Up Next | Dancing Jax

 

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Hi all, Matt here. It’s with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I announce that we have finally arrived at the beginning of the astonishing Dancing Jax trilogy. Excitement, because I believe that this trilogy – and particularly the second book – is the greatest piece of writing of Mr Jarvis’ career. Trepidation, because I find this trilogy to also be one of the most bleak, traumatic and troubling things that he has ever written. Those two things might sound like a contradiction, but you will understand what I mean as you read.

By way of background, the last thing Robin had written previous to Dancing Jax were the two Deptford Mouselets books, and nothing in those books – or really, anything in the Jarvis canon up till then – prepared his readers for the tonal leap that he took with the Jax series. Writing now for an older teen audience rather than his normal 8-12 age group allowed Robin a freedom to experiment with edgy and potentially controversial material in ways that wouldn’t have been possible in his earlier books.

In the course of a gripping and darkly magical tale, which moves along with the trademark pace, characterisation, and rising intensity we’ve come to expect from a Jarvis novel, the Dancing Jax trilogy also touches on a whole range of topics that are very relevant to the modern world. Belief, morality, religion, control, family, race – it’s all up for discussion in this series.

Dancing Jax is also not just relevant to the modern world, it’s set in the modern world. Prior to the introduction of mobile phones in the Witching Legacy series, or the particular historical setting of some of his stories, it was difficult to work out when Jarvis books were set. They were so much in a realm of magic and mystery that the real world seemed sometimes to disappear. But pop culture references abound in the Dancing Jax series. TV, movies, music, the state of world politics in 2010 when the first book was written, not to mention a broader diversity in the background and sexual orientation of his characters – all of these are drawn upon in this tale of a sinister children’s book, found in the basement of a creepy house, that starts to extend its influence in an ever-broadening reach.

I don’t want to spoil the plot if you’ve never read them – I envy anybody coming to it for the first time – but I do need to warn you that if you’re under the age of 15, particularly sensitive, or deeply religious, you may find this series confronting.

With regards to editions of Dancing Jax, you can buy it brand new in paperback, or on ebook. There was also a limited hardback version, which is still available on the secondhand market. However, the caveat with the hardback is that sadly, the publishers put out books 1 and 2 of this trilogy in hardback, and then only brought out book 3 in paperback, thus ensuring that the more perfectionist Jarvis fans would forever-after feel exasperated looking at their incomplete collections…

So, yes, it’s going to be a grueling test for us bloggers, trying to write through every chapter of the Jax books (they are also a deal longer than regular Jarvis offerings!) but I can’t wait to tackle it.

Blessed be!

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 10

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘I don’t want to see your face ever again – I’m sick of the sight of you! I hate you! I wish you’d never been born!’ 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I mentioned before that it was good to see Whortle’s friends rallying around him, but it’s even better to know that one among them actually believes his stories about the water voles and journeying into the past.

In the original trilogy, we never really had this problem because the supernatural threat was right there from the very beginning – it’s not a question of believing in Jupiter when his henchrats are trying to peel your face off! This book, however, has that classic theme of Young Protagonist Tries And Fails To Convince Everyone Else That The Magic Is Real And Dangerous, Guys. So, in the spirit of that, I did breathe a sigh of relief when Sammy seemed to take Whortle seriously.

On a less pleasant note, there’s that scene with Jenkin. This would be very mysterious to a new reader, but we know his grief is Isaac Nettle’s doing. Even in a series for younger readers, Robin has brought a deal of humanity to his mice, and this also extends to having Jenkin parrot what he has evidently heard fairly often from his father. It’s quite painful to read, and therefore highly effective – moment of adult tragedy that cannot be solved or made better with magic.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: A subtle but effective chapter here. First, there’s the cameo from Twit, getting just a passing mention from the perspective of our ‘main’ characters, but a reminder to all of us that he will do far more brave and heroic things than anyone could imagine.

It does make you wonder, who do we barely notice that would turn out to be great value in tough circumstances? Are we overlooking the everyday heroes amongst us?

But easily the most heartbreaking moment is the encounter with Jenkin. This is a very understated but strong way to introduce young readers to the idea of abuse and its consequences. (And this idea is carried even further in the next chapter.) Suffering at the hands of his father, Jenkin doesn’t act in an immediately likable way – he instead becomes more spiky, increasing his isolation from those who might be able to help him.

We knew from The Crystal Prison what Isaac Nettle was like, but this chapter gives us a view of that relationship and its impact on Jenkin that amplifies this even more. On the whole, I’m fascinated by how this book increases the overall character world of Fennywolde, even while being at heart a story about a kid trying to win an athletics competition by day and having strange encounters at night.