Up Next | Dark Waters of Hagwood

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We have brief respite from the searing wit and cynicism of the Dancing Jax trilogy next month, as we return to the Hagwood books for what was, at the time of publication, something of a Robin Jarvis miracle.

Thorn Ogres of Hagwood came out in 1999. I first heard it on cassette about a year later, so I almost fit into the category of people who lived the first installment as it was coming out and then waited with baited breath for the sequel. For me, however, Thorn Ogres fell victim to a bit of bad timing in that I found it on cassette right before I found the Deptford Histories. Poor Gamaliel got a bit shunted to the side in favour of giant golden reptiles and fire-breathing cats thereafter, and I didn’t give thought to the promised second Hagwood book until over a decade later. By then, Mr Jarvis already had that reputation for dragging his mouse-skin boots over sequels, and so when Dark Waters of Hagwood finally showed its slimy face in 2013, it seemed to me to be perfectly timed.

In this longed-for and much awaited outing, we join Gamaliel and Finnen, Kernella and Tollychuke and Liffidia, on their quest for the accursed casket in which beats Rhiannon’s heart. To undo the evil the High Lady has wrought is their noble aim, but long and dark is their road, and many the perils which stand in their way. Aiding and abetting them are a cast of highly inventive and lovably revolting characters – lubbers and bogles and sluglungs and peg-toothed matriarchs down in the dripping dark. In old Dunwrach or under it, no heart is safe and no life is sacred, and war looms bloody on the horizon.

 

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Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Chapter 16 & Epilogue

glamalielWarning: Contains Spoilers!

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!)

See you soon for Deathscent!

Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Chapter 15

glamalielWarning: Contains Spoilers!

“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, but I 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.

Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Chapter 14

glamalielWarning: Contains Spoilers!

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.

Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Chapter 13

glamalielWarning: Contains Spoilers!

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.

How did we get to this level of anguish so fast?

Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Chapter 12

glamalielWarning: Contains Spoilers!

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.

Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Chapter 11

glamalielWarning: Contains Spoilers!

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.