The Crystal Prison | Illustration Nominations

Aufwader’s Pick:

‘A Meeting At Midnight’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1989

Mr Kempe is one of my favourite side-characters in the Deptford Mice Trilogy. He’s jovial and irreverent and has probably seen some remarkable things in his time as a travelling trademouse. To me he seems not quite ‘Property of Robin Jarvis’, but more like the kind of archetypal character who could turn up in any talking-animal story. Who knows, perhaps Mr Kempe’s travels extend outside the realms of the Deptford Mice entirely. Maybe he passes by Toad Hall every summer. Maybe Mrs Frisby’s children pester him for new toys. Maybe the folk of Mossflower Wood know him by another name. No matter where he strays in his wanderings, however, his true home is in a cosy nook between the pages of The Crystal Prison.


‘Hunters in the Night’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1989

I had a hard time choosing another illustration from this book – they’re all so good, it was really difficult! This one won out over both the grizzled Starwife on her throne in Chapter 2, and the one of Twit in a similar life-threatening situation as shown here (which, by the way, beautifully echoes the cover). Congratulations, Jenkin! What I love about this piece is the sense of movement and urgency. It’s like a moment trapped in time; the young mouse dashing past; the murderer in pursuit; the golden field become a dark horror-film forest. There’s also something that you can find in almost all of Mr Jarvis’ illustrations, but put to especially good use here; the breaking of the frame. The corn dolly seems to leap out at us as if nothing, not even the sides of the page, can contain it.


Matt’s Pick: 

‘The Bargain’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1989

Look at the characterisations on this one. I know Robin describes his characters in the text, but the image of the Starwife visually reinforces her character. Her face is hard and set – is it the physical pain of old age? Is it meanness? It’s ambiguous as to what exactly drives her, but there is a hardness and weathering of her features that speaks to her age and mental toughness straight away. Contrast this with Twit – who, in my opinion, wins the award across the trilogy for Mouse of Great Character. He has a stance that says he’s not sure what is going on, but will trust the Starwife to do the best by his sick friend.

‘Fennywolde’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1989

And this one is just brilliant because of the sheer savagery of the whole thing. The owl with the mouse in its claws would be terrifying enough just on its own, but when you throw in the third element of Akkikuyu furiously ripping its feathers out, it just crackles. It also is an interesting different take of Akkikuyu. Normally, she is described as physically big and awkward – thumping along, not fitting in places. But going head-t0-head with Mahooot, she finds this hidden strength and agility (and violence!) that we don’t normally see in her. She must have grown tough in her younger years!



The Dark Portal | Illustration Nominations

Aufwader here! In these monthly posts, Matt and I will be choosing and discussing two of our favourite illustrations from each of Mr Jarvis’ books, starting today with The Dark Portal. Do describe your favourites in the comments too!

Aufwader’s Pick: 

‘Magic on the Heath’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1989

This was a toss-up between Morgan and the scene with Audrey and Madame Akkikuyu in Chapter 3, ‘The Fortune-Teller’. Morgan won in the end because he’s a perfect example of an early Robin Jarvis rat. If you look at the long, gnarled snout and and the sightly lumpy shape of him, he resembles Robin’s early sketchbook work much more closely than later specimens. Plus, the context of this scene! Jupiter calling up the unquiet spectres of the Black Death! The shadows in the background almost seem to writhe and move, and look at the reaching claws of that candle flame. It’s dramatic stuff!

‘The Dark Portal’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1989

The grand finale! How could I not mention this one. The perspective! Audrey teetering on the brink, her brass sliding under her paw! Oswald down there in the background! Jupiter’s shadow where it looks as if he has horns and shows him without revealing what he truly is! There’s such a sense of scale in only a few small lines! I’d love to see this one in colour honestly.


Matt’s Pick: I must say – I love all of these illustrations. I’m sure there are people who have successfully read the book without them, but they so bring the story to life, that to me, Deptford Mice without pictures would be like Narnia without the Baynes illustrations, Dahl without the Blakes, Milne without the Shephard. (You get the idea!) Oddly enough, Aufwader and I managed to pick two completely different sets of favourites, which is great. So here are mine:

‘Three in the Dark’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1989

Look at this – Skinner, the rat with a peeler for an arm, is about to take a vicious swipe at Twit. As soon as you see it, you get a number of bits of information straight away. Size differential: rats are much, much bigger than mice. Strength differential: despite having a missing hand, Skinner still looks muscly. By contrast, Twit looks practically fragile. This is not one of those fantasy fights where the good guys and bad guys are evenly matched – these are ordinary creatures up against something much bigger and nastier than themselves.

‘Hot Milk and Honey’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1989

And this one I like because it’s remarkably human. Arthur looks exactly like a teenager who has just woken up. And there is something remarkably kind in Twit’s eyes. (And we also realise that, even compared to the other mice, he’s a bit of a shorty!) We get a sense of the friendship that exists between the mice.


So which are your favourite illustrations?