Warning: Contains Spoilers!
They looked as he imagined kings might in the old legends, and he realised that it was not his place to order the comings and goings of such lordly creatures. Whoever they were, they were far above the command or curiosity of a humble fieldmouse.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: I’m almost certainly reaching here, but I do believe I spy a subtle Wind in the Willows reference in this chapter. Conscious decision or not, here we have three water voles (or indeed, water rats), ancient, wise, and elf-like, able to commune with the in-dwelling spirit of the Still Pool. One of them carries the title ‘Willibald of the Gilded Dawn’, and indeed, Whortle’s eerie, ethereal encounter with this trio has a strong ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ atmosphere throughout. I’d like to think this is Robin giving a little friendly nod to Kenneth Grahame, who has no doubt influenced his career as every other author of talking animal fiction from the last century onwards.
All majestic and mystical mood aside, this chapter also features Mr Jarvis’ first go at a constructed language outside of the Hagwood books, and it’s one of my favourite things. I love the implications attached to the water vole’s word for mouse, ‘rimpi-too’. Evidently the word carries connotations of pluckiness, of small but tenacious creatures – bold, daring, but amusingly tiny. Of course Whortle would be a perfect example!
Lastly, continuing the slightly smug undertone of this book, is that hilariously inaccurate recounting of The Oaken Throne. It’s somewhat telling of the state of Fennywolde’s local history and culture that Ysabelle is relegated to the role of damsel in distress, while Fenny takes centre stage as the strapping hero of legend.
I mean it’s not like Ysabelle was important or anything. She was only the last remaining princess of the last remaining squirrel house, the one who brought about the cessation of the age-long bat-squirrel wars and imprisoned the Lord of the Raith Sidhe in the ancient Green-blessed talisman of the silver acorn, who turned her people against the Hobber hordes in the nick of time, and who sacrificed everything and everyone she had ever loved to become the Starwife. She barely lifted a finger. Who cares about her, eh? (Also, where is Vesper in all of this? He doesn’t even get his name in the credits!)
Matt’s Thoughts: Ah, here we go. Mysterious water voles, and a quick recap of The Oaken Throne finale, which helps set the scene.
I really like the idea that there are these mysterious characters living tucked away in the corner of the field. It’s a great Jarvis trick that he does on a regular basis – he takes a place and gradually reveals magical secrets buried beneath it. Whether it is Deptford, Whitby, Glastonbury or this field, there is always the idea that there is something mystical lurking below the surface.
That said, now that I’ve actually spent a couple of weeks in England, I do feel like the whole country is like that. There are just layers of history buried anywhere, and all of them getting more dreamy and mysterious, the further back you go.
But the bigger question for this chapter is: are these water voles on the level? My memory of the end of this book is somewhat foggy and I cannot really remember whether the voles are trustworthy or not… Which I’m somewhat glad about. As the Jarvis canon progresses, Mr Jarvis’ ‘grey’ characters are getting harder to read and predict, making the stories that much more gripping. So go ahead, Whortle – follow a bunch of total strangers into a cave where the door rolls shut behind you.