Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 9

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Mortal speck of bone and flesh!’ the Goddess roared. ‘You have earned my attention and you will suffer.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Oh boy oh boy, a nice big showy fight! Fire in the sky, Mabb screaming, voles getting possessed and mice getting hanged and everything going to pot! Horror, tragedy, doooooom! I feel like Scabmona at the Goregut festival. What a delight.

There were two details which caught my eye in between all the zap zap and floom floom, and they are these: Virianna describes herself as a ‘Daughter of Thamesis’, and makes mention of a prophecy wherein ‘the final end shall be shaped’ at Fennywolde. The powers of Light and Dark will apparently do battle, and ‘a God shall perish’ during this cataclysmic conflict.

The ‘Daughter of Thamesis’ thing is some solid in-universe lore – that would be the Thames Virianna is referring to, implying that it was once one of the Green’s sacred sites. This carries neatly into that scene at the start of The Crystal Prison where the river rejects Jupiter’s corpse, and brings with it the suggestion that, however polluted it will become by the time the Unbeest rears his ugly head in The Final Reckoning, a hint of the Green’s power might still remain there.

Virianna’s prophecy, however, is a giant great wodge of foreshadowing. She is clearly describing the finale of the unpublished fourth Deptford Mice book, and since we know that that would have involved the return of the Raith Sidhe in full force, it may well be Mabb who meets her end at Fennywolde.

For the time being, however, the powers of the Green are not enough to save poor old Fenny from the noose, and Young Whortle will never see his beloved home the same way again.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: We’re back in solid Jarvis territory with this chapter. It’s got everything – a spectacular reveal of the truth about Fenny, the grand tragedy of Virianna, the return of Mabb.

But the best thing about this chapter is how it makes the story even more complicated. Woppenfrake’s faltering step near the end of the chapter could take on a couple of meanings. On the one hand, it might mean that he is feeling sad, remembering what happened to his mother. On the other hand, it could mean that he is full of barely contained hatred for the mice and Whortle is in big trouble hanging around with him and his brothers.

Either way, we can never go back to the happy field.

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Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 8

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Lines of care crinkled the corners of her soft brown eyes but though they were gentle, they were not safe or tame. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: And we’re back to the life-threatening drama. I said there would be more for Whortle in the past than bloodless little war games, and this seems to be it – a confrontation with Mabb, and with Virianna; the water vole’s mother, who was, as it turns out, a goody-goody Greenie all along.

There’s a lot of time-travel-related plot puzzling to do in this chapter, but I had to laugh at Virianna mistaking Young Whortle for Bauchan. There’s definitely a hint of self-deprecating humour in that exchange where the vole witch tries to ‘cast him out’ in Genuine Original Oaken Throne Dialogue while Whortle just yells at her to get stuffed. Our young hero might’ve heard all the stories, but he could use a few lessons in how to comport himself with dignity and respect during his trips through the lands of legend.

As for Mabb, well, I think it’s fairly safe to say she would have been the arch villainess of the Mouselets. Considering that Bauchan gets all of The Final Reckoning and Hobb a large chunk of The Oaken Throne, it seems only fair that Mabb, Our Lady of Nightmare and if I may say so a highly underappreciated goddess, should have some page-time of her own.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’m curious on whether there is a time paradox here. When the voles send Whortle back in time, there seems to be a quirk whereby he can interact with the past. He’s not just there passively watching.

Particularly when it comes to that velvet bag. It’s clear that Virianna meant to do good all those years past and is not the dreaded ratwitch everyone thought. However, would she have been able to hold off Mabb much better if Whortle hadn’t chucked her velvet bag into the pond.

In other words, was Fenny undone by the rash actions of a mouse who’d zapped in from several hundred years in the future? Who was sent there to find out how Fenny had been killed? (Thus the paradox.)

 

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 7

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Recovering from a stitch in his side, Young Whortle gazed at the raft and loved it deeply. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: A characteristic of the Mouselets is that there are chapters like these at regular intervals, so instead of getting full-throttle thrills and chills all the way through, we have time to breathe in between each major moment of life-threatening drama. There is still the lingering worry of the truth about Fenny at the back of Whortle’s mind, however, and it’s understandable that he just doesn’t have the full capacity at the moment for his training.

What I thought was really sweet was how his friends notice his moods and do all they can to encourage him, while also letting him have space if he needs it. None of them are really out for their own ends or harboring ill-feeling, as they might in a story for older readers. Instead, they all band together to help Whortle achieve his dream out of sheer kindness – not something often seen in Robin Jarvis canon.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Ah, vomit jokes …we haven’t had too much of that in the Jarvis canon, but two spews in one chapter is good fun.

But while the world of the Fennywolde Games is fun, the plot strand that is really intriguing is the water voles and the truth about their mother …

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 6

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘There ain’t not tales of Cap’n Fenny’s life here in Fennywolde,’ he began slowly. ‘Cos …he didn’t have one.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This is what I was saying about pastoral horrors masquerading as friendly mouse adventures and so forth. They might be cushioned by rat sitcoms and frolics in sunny fields, but the Mouselets are still Robin Jarvis canon, and they can never quite gloss over the grotesque melodrama of their roots.

I have to say, there is a definite smugness to the reveal in this chapter; almost, dare I say it, a whisper of proto-Dancing Jax bitterness. What happened to the beloved hero of Fennywolde after he came to rest in his fair field with his weary band? Did he live out the remainder of his days in peace and contentment? Nah, kid, he hanged himself from that tree yonder. 

Fenny’s demise is certainly as lonely, miserable and pathetic as every other Deptford revenge murder, from Vesper’s poisoning to Woodget’s drowning – perhaps more so, because Fenny was looked up to and adored by so many. It proves that there has always been a pall of horror over Fennywolde, that, far from being a tranquil idyll, it was cursed from the day it was named.

It also occurred to me on reread that the manner of Fenny’s death adds a truly horrible addendum to Whortle’s own demise in The Crystal Prison. How does he die? Throttled by the enchanted corn dolly, crying the alarm, which just happens to be the name of Fenny. You’re welcome.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Well, there we go. There was no way that much sunshine and goodness could last very long. So here we have the dreadful backstory of what happened to Captain Fenny.

How morbid is all this? The whole place is called Fennywolde after the great hero who amazingly survived through to the end of The Oaken Throne – which we agreed statistically last year was the most violent Jarvis book. And yet it now turns out that, in addition to the dreadful fate which befell poor Vesper, Captain Fenny got bumped off at almost exactly the same time! What is it with malicious revenge killings in Jarvis books after the main villain has been dispatched??

But the bigger question, of course, is exactly how sinister does this make our water vole friends?

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 5

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Call it the Silver Hare,’ he said softly. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The start of this chapter really just adds to what I was saying last time about the dream-like quality of Whortle’s moment in the past – not because he wakes up from it, but because he never actually reaches the Hobbers. 

I said previously that the journey to the past was all exactly what Whortle must’ve been wishing for, and that it was odd that he wasn’t more traumatised by the vicious battle taking place before his eyes. If Whortle’s trip into history was constructed as an exercise in wish-fulfilment for him by the water voles, it would make sense that he would never actually engage in any real fighting. He can go on all he likes about bashing evil meanie devils, but Whortle is still a very young mouse who has never seen real hardship, and the thought of having to actually slaughter other creatures in battle probably isn’t something he likes to dwell on.

Aside from all this rimpti-too theorising, we’ve got a very sweet chapter with some gentle humour and a dash of boat-building. I love the sneaky way in which the mice conceal the Silver Hare for the next day – there must be no end of rivals out to beat them to their prize, and I’m looking forward to meeting them.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I might have imagined this, but in this whole chapter – apart from some confusion on Whortle’s part when he woke up – almost nothing sinister happened at all.

It does give us a chance, however, to get a feel for all of Whortle’s friends in a way we never quite got with The Crystal Prison. Given that I fondly remember reading the original Deptford Mice to my siblings with all the voices, I did have a chuckle that Hodge – my namesake – is reigning Fennywolde King of Impressions.

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 4

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘From peril we have come and into worse danger we now charge. Some of us will not return but if your hearts are quailing, I say to you – ignore them, for what we do this night shall echo down the ages.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: For new readers, this is a lovely moment for Whortle as he is punted back in time to take up arms against real, genuine Hobbers and be twinkled at by Fenny. For us, however, the segment in which Whortle finds himself in the midst of the bat-squirrel wars is an intriguing conundrum.

I’d like to put forward a theory that only occurred to me on reread: that Whortle’s brief sojourn into the past really was a fantasy. Not a fantasy of our young hero’s imagination, but an amalgamation of real past events with those of legend, created for him by the water voles. It’s unclear at this point whether they have an ulterior motive for sending him back in time, but it’s evidently not for the purposes of putting him in immediate harm’s way, otherwise he would’ve been cut down by the forces of the Raith Sidhe before he’d so much as looked up from the horn.

This in mind, let’s consider that it was an indulgence on their part. They were so pleased to see a mouse who still upheld the name of Fenny and the history of the Wolde that they let Whortle have his moment of glory, so to speak. For the sake of this post, let’s say Whortle’s field trip to the past was a bit of fun. Now read it over, ye veterans of The Oaken Throne. Isn’t something slightly off about it all?

Whortle literally watches ‘blood rain from the sky’ and sees squirrels cleaved in two, yet these nightmares of war are strangely remote. When Vesper and Ysabelle saw the same carnage, they, roughly Whortle’s age, were stricken with horror. It was real to them, because Whortle’s world of distant legend was their daily reality. In a segment like this, we would expect that Whortle’s bubble of wonder would be burst by the dreadful truths of the violent, blood-soaked past, but apart from one small cinder and a few evil looks from the Hobbers, the devastation does not touch him. Even under the ‘minimal gore, all deaths off-page’ remit, that’s a very kind sort of battlefield.

Then look at Fenny. I don’t know about you, but it seems a bit woolly to me that he would immediately notice Whortle out of every barely-of-age mouse in his legion. The exchange between them is reasonable enough, but that Fenny should salute Whortle with his own sword seems just a little, well, wish-fulfilmenty. (And this is glorious Captain Fenlyn ‘the mouse, the legend’ Purfote we’re talking about. He does everything as if he knows it’s going to be recorded on a tapestry later.)

Far be it from me to say exactly what went on during the last stand at Greenreach, but please consider that everything about the time-travel segment is exactly what Whortle must’ve been longing for ever since he first heard Old Todmore recount it in inaccurate but fulsome detail. It’s all just a bit too polished, a bit too dream-like, and the fact that Whortle charges gamely into battle serves to emphasise the peculiar, theatrical element to it all.

Okay, so it’s great fun to read and in retrospect perfectly placed in the course of the book, but now that Whortle has had a taste of time-travel, there’s got to be more in store for him in the past than chats with his hero and waving spears at the baddies. Since this is the Mouselets and we already know the manner of Whortle’s death, I hesitate to make too many dire predictions, but I daresay things will get, at the very least, creative from here on out.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This book makes so much more sense if you read it in close proximity to The Oaken Throne! Reading it now, I see that the end of this chapter gives us a magic transportation from one Jarvis series into another, as we’re transported back to the ferocious climactic battle against the Hobbers. (Albeit from a different point of view.)

While I’m at it, I love the experimentation with the double-page spread illustration in this chapter. In fact, this series probably contains the only double-pagers in any of the Jarvis books, so they’re worth collecting just from that angle.

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.