Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 3

Scan_20180702Warning: 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.

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 2

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Down on the ground, Todkin and Samuel stared up admiringly. Breathless with anticipation, they watched their friends tear up the oak’s mighty trunk until the leaves hid them from view. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: There’s definitely a slightly smug undercurrent to this book. I’m sure I read somewhere that Robin always hated the sickly escapades of Enid Blyton, and I can well believe that. From the goofy sporting hijinks to Whortle’s gang with their passwords and dens, it all honestly feels like a giant send-up of The Famous Five, and I’m rather enjoying it.

Since we’re all fully aware that both Whortle and Hodge are for the chop, and that Alison Sedge will end up a raving vagrant after almost becoming a sacrificial victim in a deadly fire ritual meant to restore Jupiter, Lord of All, to life, it is very, very hard to take the happy little capers of the young mice seriously. We can’t help but shake our heads at their antics, tut loudly, and mutter about how it’s all downhill from here.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: It’s been so long since The Crystal Prison (over a year, rereaders!) that I’d forgotten the sheer joy of the location. Unlike Deptford, which is always sinister and Whitby, which is atmospheric and a bit creepy, Fennywolde is all sunshine, light and potential for happiness.

Throw in some skylarking, a vomit gag, the sultry Alison Sedge, and we’d almost think it was going to be a coming-of-age story about a bunch of teenage mice…

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 1

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

For one small fieldmouse the best week of his life was about to commence – one charged with magic, adventure, and difficult choices. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Thanks to Matt’s schedule, it has turned out that I’m blogging through this book in high summer – and in a heatwave. I can’t help but feel like a little Fennywolde mouse as I write this, lying in the grass with the coos of wood pigeons and the distant baah-ing of sheep as a soundtrack. It’s on a cloudless, scorching day like this that I imagine Young Whortle dashing over the stones of the ditch, late to hear about the Fennywolde Games, with no idea of the horrors that await him.

Whortle’s Hope is tonally really peculiar. On one hand, it’s a sunny romp through golden wheatfields with mild threats and mild thrills; a perfect holiday read for ages seven and up. On the other, it’s very solidly a prequel, with a tertiary character from the original Deptford Mice Trilogy as the hero and all major conflicts arising from already-established Deptford world villains.

There’s a strong melancholic, nostalgic element to it – both for Deptford adventures gone and past, and for the halcyon days of childhood in the sun. For Whortle, this will, tragically, indeed be ‘the best week of his life’. As I said with Fleabee, don’t be fooled by the cutesy cover and twee premise. No matter how pretty the setting, we’re still in Deptford, with all the danger and doom that implies.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Whortle’s Hope is unique in my own Robin Jarvis collection in that I never managed to get a brand new version of this in bookshops. Clearly, I was at the height of not having time to read Robin Jarvis books and I also was under the (mistaken) assumption that if you don’t feel like buying a book today, you can always go and buy it another day.

I now know some books go out of print!

Anyway, thankfully, the internet is helpful for this, so the copy I own is an ex-library version from the Worcestershire County Council library system. It’s great, it still has the old school date stamp card on the inside cover – you know, the one where the librarian used to stamp the dates with a rubber stamp? So it look like it was borrowed quite heavily between 2008 and 2011 and then obviously they put it up on the second-hand market. For some reason, for this Aussie, having a book marked as being ex-Worcestershire County Council just adds to the Englishness of the whole thing.

But on to the book itself! There’s a strangeness about this opening – if you had read no other Jarvis books, and just picked this book up and read the back cover, you would think it’s a somewhat light-hearted tale about a mouse who wants to win his local sports contest. And apart from the mention of Fenlyn Purfote in the opening couple of pages, there is nothing to disabuse the reader of this notion.

But we know that the war that Fenlyn was involved in was the savage battle with the Hobbers. We know that Twit is going to play a large and momentous part in the takedown of Jupiter. And we know that Young Whortle is going to be dead by the end of summer.

There’s something spectacularly morbid about the whole thing.