The Deptford Mice Almanack | October

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Occasionally figures have been glimpsed – dim and indistinct, yet all locked in a fearful combat. Perhaps in the dawn of days when the Raith Sidhe ruled the land, a conflict took place that was so ghastly that its memory was imprinted upon the aether, doomed to be performed at this time throughout the ages. Maybe it is a warning of some kind, or a reminder of ancient horrors. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This is another one of my favourite calendar illustrations. The doughty squirrel warrior, sword gleaming; and the vile Hobber, eyes glinting just as brightly. Seeing it, one hears the echoes of war cries and pictures banners emblazoned with the silver crest of the Ancient, spattered with blood. Having been to Blackheath, I can well imagine such spectres flickering in and out of sight in the halflight of a red October sunset.

Of greatest note this month are the diaries of Gervase Brightkin, as he recounts his meetings with doddery informants, sightings of shady rats of Deptford past, and alarm at the wanton hedgehog murder happening right on his doorstep. What are these mysterious happenings leading to, we ask ourselves? Tune in for next month’s installment.

Matt’s Thoughts: Of course it was Halloween when Jupiter’s spirit returned. This was just one of a few grim things this month, including a football game with decapitated heads, a murdered hedgehog and the bats predicting that barely any squirrels will be left alive in a year.

But there is also so many strands that point tales we’ve never heard. The ghostly rat and squirrel warrior fighting in the colour illustration – who were they? Was this one of the many battles between squirrels and Hobbers? Or something else completely?

The more I read of the Almanack, the more I realise it was a small miracle for us Jarvis fans that a book with such lavish production values got to be in print.

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Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 19

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

A serenity she had never felt before flooded her mind. Whatever her enemies attempted, they could never overthrow her. Now her true reign could commence, and she threw back her head and laughed.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The most compelling part of this chapter for me is the glimpse we get of Rhiannon’s girlhood as Morthanna. ‘The enmity and lust for power was already within you,’ Black Howla says, but how much of that is really true? Was Rhiannon shobble and mootied even as her brother and sister, but in a far more insidious way? Did the troll witches twist her childish longing for attention and praise into something darker, just as the ratlings of Deptford are swayed by the bloodlust? Or was she, like Jupiter himself, simply born beneath an evil star?

Matt’s Thoughts: So, there is a power behind the power. Here we were, thinking that Rhiannon and her lackeys were as bad as it got, and now we discover the ghost of Black Howla and an army of boar-riding troll hags.

The beauty of this is that it both caught me by surprise the first time I read it and seemed blindingly obvious at the same time. The world is called Hagwood. The cliff is called Witches Leap. The waterfall is called Crones Maw. All through the tale, we have been set up for witches and now here they are …

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 9

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

The gray weathered stones towered above him. This was a silent, solemn place, built thousands of years ago by a half-forgotten people who understood the power of the earth and the magic locked within hills and stones, trees and rivers.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I find it so interesting how this series links itself to ancient English heritage and history without ever actually saying ‘this is ancient English heritage and history.’ (I mean, it could be Scottish, since we have a lot of ‘Dooit’ stones up here and the Caledonian Forest would be a pretty solid candidate for Hagwood, but I’m betting that Mr Jarvis was probably calling on his own experience, which as far as I’m aware is more of merrie olde Englande.) I love the mystery of the world beyond the werlings’ grasp; the idea that there’s a whole vast landscape out there, peoples and places beyond the forest of which we readers will never hear, but we know they’re there, and, just possibly, that they are connected to our own past.

As for Rhiannon’s little shobble and mooty, I have to say I’m quite taken. I’m not sure why, but she never made as much of an impression on me in Thorn Ogres as some of Robin’s other villains from that era. She has more than made up for that in this book, however, with her blindings and her murderings, her intrigue and her espionage. I love how she even thought to dress for her grand entrance in that sparkly black number – no tacky tweed or mouldy velvet for this Queen of Witches, she’ll crush all who oppose her in style.

Matt’s Thoughts: So Rhiannon reveals herself at last and the danger ramps up. The mention of the Dooit stones is really interesting because it does just reinforce the idea that this could be a remote corner of England somewhere. But in the current day? A long time ago?

But my personal favourite thing about this chapter was watching Liffidia and Tollychook face down Rhiannon and tell her exactly what they thought of her.

Given that every other character that interacts with her in the Hollow Hill grovels and crawls and flatters, to hear Liffidia call her an ‘ugly, ugly, foul hag!’ is exhilarating. Whether it was the best move strategically remains to be seen!

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 4

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

With a final triumphant roar, the candle sprite claimed her and took the girl deep into the drowning dark.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: At last, a genuine threat. After the twin false alarms of Nana Zingara and Grimditch, it’s some real danger is almost welcome. It also gives Gamaliel, as the one left behind, a chance to show his mettle. I like that he doesn’t dither around or consider turning back – the events of Thorn Ogres really brought him out of his shell, and now he proves that that courage wasn’t just a one-time thing .

For me, the saddest part of this chapter was just how easily Kernella fell for the call of the candle sprite. She had loving parents and a good upbringing, but I get the feeling that she maybe didn’t have many friends. Maybe she idolises Finnen so much because she simply wants to feel that someone her own age understands her. That line about her being a ‘plain and clumsy werling child’ who has often been disappointed in her reflection is quite pitiful. If she hasn’t been chewed by the sprite, I hope Kernella learns that love and admiration should not be conditional to her appearance at some point in this trilogy.

Matt’s Thoughts: The candle sprite is sort of another spin on a siren, isn’t it? It calls via song but turns out to be much nastier. If you stop and think about it long enough, there’s something singularly unpleasant about the idea of a creature whose base motivation in life appears to be eating things, and yet knows how to sing in such a way as to bestow love and care upon the listener.

You would think, wouldn’t you, that if the candle sprite knew enough about the nature of creatures to be able to attract them, that it would be able to work out some some sort of cooperative arrangement with them. But isn’t that real life? That some of the most seductive people are the most dangerous.

The Deptford Mice Almanack | September

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The barren ploughed fields of the countryside are the haunt of many dangerous spirits throughout the cold months, but one of the most perilous is Nachteg. Also known as the Midnight Death Hag, she roams the empty fields in search of victims, from whom she sucks their blood. To prevent her crossing their thresholds this night, country mice strew rose stems before their doorways in the belief that she will prick her feet upon the thorns and be too preoccupied in drinking her own blood to bother anyone else. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I only really discovered the Almanack a few years ago, so having not grown up with it I was quite fuddled about a few of the colour illustrations. I thought that March’s high priest of Hobb was Wendel, forgot that Molly never actually holds Jupiter I in The Alchymist’s Cat, and I was sure, until I noticed her anti-fox charm, that the mouse above was Alison Sedge.

But who is this mysterious country maid? When have there ever been foxes in Fennywolde? Long ago, I surmise. Could this be Alison’s mother or grandmother in her youth? Another tit-bit of Almanack intrigue.

Notable dates this month include Leech’s, er, coronation of the 5th; the squirrel tradition of Wisdom Gathering on the 14th, and my favourite entry, the Night of Nachteg, quoted above, on the 16th. Part of me is sure that she was mentioned in Whortle’s Hope, but even if not, I like to imagine Whort and co. cowering in their den, shining Hodge’s lantern under their chins and telling grisly tales of this wight of the wolde.

Matt’s Thoughts: You know, it had never dawned on me before reading this month’s entry that Leech had drunk orange hair colour as well. That would explain a few things! That image of the crumbling chimney with him clinging to the roof was another unexpected gem in this book.

Also, because my birthday is 25 September – and it’s the big 4-0 this year – I was interested to read that I am apparently a Jammybeggar (unless that doesn’t apply in the Southern hemisphere!). And born two days after Thomas Triton. I do wonder what state he will be in by the end of this Almanack…

The Deptford Mice Almanack | August

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At last the two itinerant rats where discovered skulking in a deserted rabbit hole, and were brought before the Starwife. They were none other than Vinegar Pete and Leering Macky, who where believed to have perished with the rest of Jupiter’s followers more than ten years ago.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: My favourite entry this month is actually the 1st. I hadn’t really considered that the fieldmice and other small fuzzy creatures of the farming countryside would be under threat every summer from the harvest, but of course they would. I can imagine that, it being Robin Jarvis, the ghosts of those who had faced a quick but gory death with their temporary summer homes would probably return to walk the fields in the condition in which they had died. I bet the young mice of Fennywolde scare themselves silly with tales of bloody, manged ghouls roaming among the shorn wheat…

Of greatest note in terms of plot this month is the return of (gasp) Vinegar Pete and Leering Macky. Like everyone else, I had thought them either plagued to death in The Dark Portal, or ice wraithed in The Final Reckoning. It appears however that they are both born under the Wheel of Fortune in the Rat Zodiac, because they seem to have actually lived through the entire Deptford Mice trilogy. What a feat!

Matt’s Thoughts: The world of the Deptford Mice Almanack is a sort of twilight world of remembrance and haunted psyches. The more I read it, I realise that it is somewhat unique in what it achieves: it tells us about aftermath and pain.

Most of Mr Jarvis’ books have tragedy built into them – especially the third book of most of the trilogies, with lots of beloved characters meeting horrible ends. And we assume, of course, that this would continue to be a source of sadness for those who remain as time goes on, but the books often end with just a brief epilogue, so we don’t have to live through the pain too much.

Whereas, month by month, the Almanack chronicles trauma. Thomas still drinking, the shrews remembering Tysle day, William Scuttle looking at a picture of the Starwife and perhaps most vividly of all – Alison Sedge, looking positively ratlike indeed.

The other thing is that I’m starting to connect the dots of Alison’s dire warning and the appearance of Vinegar Pete and Leering Macky. You get the feeling that there was one almighty final showdown going to happen with the original cast of the Mice.

I’m not sure what kind of epic adventure the fourth Deptford Mice book would’ve been, and we’ll possibly never know, but it’s tantalising!

The Deptford Mice Almanack | July

 

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Waldo and Dilly-O are fine fellows, if a trifle boisterous. Named after Arthur’s two late friends, Oswald and Piccadilly, they seem to be to be quite a pawful, but my attention was taken by Waldo, who is quite artistic. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This month starts off in bad, bad form, with the very first date being the fall of Sarpedon at the Black Temple. This is only somewhat made up for by the inclusion of the ‘Nine Bright Stars’ poem, and the only drawing of the Dark Despoiler we’re ever likely to get – Gervase’s small doodle on the 28th, scrawled over by Pirkin Gim-Gim (the absolute heathen). I’ve moaned and groaned about the Scale being short-changed in the Almanack before, but this month really shows how little the folk of Greenwich seem to know about the Serpent’s brood. Quite a dangerous ignorance, if you assssk me.

Lizard business aside, I’d forgotten that Morgan was actually born in the House of Mabb, ‘a loner who shifts his allegiance to whomever is in power’. I find this a trifle harsh in description of Morgan specifically, since he never actually chose to be Jupiter’s henchrat for most of his life. Considering that his one goal was independence, it’s rather grimly ironic that he was literally born to be a lackey, if a respected one.

There are a couple of mysterious dates this month – Baffles Day on the 14th, upon which Audrey lost one of her tail bells (who found it? we must ask ourselves), and the mention of the Holly Princes of the old squirrel realms. Once more, we catch glimpses of tunnels branching off to either side, leading away into darkness.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: A few little poignant gems in here – Madame Akkikuyu’s final resting place, Arthur and Audrey leaving Fennywolde. Also, some lovely stuff like Arthur naming his kids Oswald and Piccadilly – nice to know those two lived on in some form!

I know that the humorous entries were meant to be the ones such as the 7th and 29th, but I must admit, I got my biggest chuckle from the 30th, where we see a toothy maw waiting for a frightened mouse to run into its hole from a thunderstorm. I feel this is the sort of scenario that is told to frighten young fieldmice into obedience – a little bit like the mouse equivalent of Stranger Danger.

Finally, it seemed very fitting – in the month where we have just finished Whortle’s Hope – to read these words ‘I … was met with great friendliness by Master William Scuttle, the present King of the Field … [i]t was wonderful to note the great respect which the others have for him.’ What a great character he was.