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Myth & Sacrifice

The Great Grand Robin Jarvis (Re)Read

Thomas | Chapter 2

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘For failing me, you shall never find rest; always and forever will your mottled skin be in the service of another, and grant that he is less merciful than I’.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  There’s a lot to talk about here, and all of it is my absolute favourite thing – I even had a hard time choosing a quote for this post because there were so many legendary moments. As I mentioned in the Up Next Reminder for this book, I first heard it on tape, and in this instance I am very glad. I think that was in part what made it so memorable for me, and what made my eventual discovery of the physical book all the more special and enjoyable.

Let’s begin with Mulligan. He arrived in my ears bellowing about ‘scaly heathens’, and though I did not yet know to who or what he was referring, he certainly made an impression. To me at least, he is one of the most stand-out characters in the entirety of the Deptford Histories. He is certainly as strong a personality as Thomas later becomes, and from the moment we encounter him it’s clear that he has many intriguing adventures both behind and before.

Then (hoho, heehee) we have the introduction of our first villain, and of the bumbling rat lackeys. This is an almost nostalgic hark back to the bad ol’ days of The Dark Portal. Pigsniff, Clunker, Mouldtoes, Lice-magnet, and Mo- I mean, Spots, are at least as verminous and cruel as any trueborn Deptford rogues, and, hilariously, they are equally inept. The tussle on the harbour was as messy and as much fun on tape as it is in book form, the sudden appearance of Thomas just as thrilling, and Mulligan’s excuses about the severed tail just as questionable.

And finally, Morgan’s curse! Who else clutched their face and wheezed over how good a twist that is? It is. So good. It’s been any number of years and I’m still totally slain over that twist. Ever since I first heard it I have had the theory that when Morgan breathes his last in The Final Reckoning, the ‘he’ that he plans to ‘get one over on’ by his sudden death is not, in fact, Jupiter, but his first master; the cowled figure who condemned him to a lifetime of subservience on a misty quayside in Cornwall many, many years ago. Who’s with me?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Great theory, Aufwader! There is a word – and it completely escapes me as I write this – for what happens when a movie-maker or TV show-runner comes up with a new sequel or a new episode of a TV show that suddenly revises the mythology of the earlier films or episodes.

In some cases, this totally annoys fans who believe it’s just badly cobbled in afterwards. LOST was one such show where you could never tell whether they were just making stuff up or had really genius ideas planned all along.

And so there’s a bit of that with the Morgan back-story, isn’t there? Mr Jarvis may not have had the exact idea of a rather vicious creature with golden blades back when he wrote the original Trilogy. (But then he did have the idea of Woodget, so he may well have.) But regardless, it fits in seamlessly to the Mice mythology and enhances the original.

Also, another example of Robin’s chapter escalation – at the beginning, it’s all sort of slightly comical, with poor old Woodget being sold useless trinkets (and falling for all of it!) but by the end, it’s all rather bloodthirsty.

Finally, completely agree with Aufwader about the awesomeness of Mulligan and how he is the type of character that we know Thomas will become. (I’m quarter Irish as well, so I feel a slight extra connection to him as a character just because of his accent!)

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Thomas | Prologue & Chapter 1

thomas

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Woodget,’ he whispered softly, ‘forgive me.’ 

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  Before we begin I feel beholden to point out that this is the ninth book on the (Re)read, and though it is not yet September as I write, this post will be going live on the ninth month of the year. Here at Myth & Sacrifice I daresay omens and portents are the order of the day, and if the timing of this readthrough isn’t an example of a perfectly divine coincidence, then I honestly don’t know what is.

Anyway, let us slither into the prologue and join Gwen and Thomas for a mousey soap opera the like of which we haven’t seen since the original Deptford trilogy. How gleefully bitter this opening is! It really shows us what Robin means when he says he ‘doesn’t believe in happy endings’. The last time we saw these characters they were being joyfully wed in the Green’s own sunshine, but apparently that blessed light did not, in fact, ‘live in their hearts till the end of their days’, because things look rather stormy in the Triton-Brown household.

So we come back at last to the tale behind Thomas’s near-death ravings in The Final Reckoning, and discover the ill-fated drama which compelled him to leave the peaceful idyll of Betony Bank. For myself I have to wonder where he was coming from in the first place. Who were his parents? What manner of life did he live before he received the Sign of the Travelling Mouse and left home for good? Was Thomas ever really ‘from’ anywhere, or did he float between relatives and guardians without ever knowing his own roots? If nothing else, it’s an intriguing mystery.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: There’s a sense in which Jarvis fans would happily have parted with cash just for the prologue and Chapter 1, because they’re almost good enough to stand alone.

In the prologue, we almost feel like we’ve been given an extra epilogue for The Deptford Mice trilogy, with a tantalising look at what happened to all our friends (well, at least the surviving ones) in the years after those events of the original trilogy. For most book series, we have to sort of be content for the series to leave things where they end up, so to get a little bit extra is not something to complain about!

Then Chapter 1. I find this to be a little bit of a Jarvis mini-masterpiece. I almost don’t need the rest of the book. We’ve got two friends, one girl – we know straight away that this is another Piccadilly/Twit/Audrey love triangle waiting to happen. A bit of berrybrew, some ill-timed words, and what was a happy country dance evening turns into tragedy.

And not just the mild-mannered type of romantic mix-up which will be fixed in another 90 minutes. (My wife is a rom-com fan so I’ve sat through plenty of those!) No, this is that small turn of events which will trigger tragedy for everyone. We’re pretty sure from The Deptford Mice that it’s not going to end well for Woodget. We already know Thomas has become an alcoholic over this. (In fact, what a delightful sense of dread we get from those words, ‘I swear … as the Green is my witness.’ Never. A. Good. Thing. To. Say.)

Finally, everyone in Betony Bank is left feeling messed up as well: ‘In those after-times, the generosity of the Betony Bankers was diminished and they never again trusted outsiders nor welcomed them into their homes.’

You know, I’m not sure what the name was of the editor or publisher who first read Mr Jarvis’ manuscripts. But I imagine them flicking through things like this and saying, ‘Yep. Tragedy, bleakness, violence, and misery all round. Like Macbeth with mice. Exactly what the kids of the UK need to be reading.’ Whoever that person might be, my blue woolen hat is off to you.

Illustration Nominations | The Whitby Child

Aufwader’s Pick: 

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‘The Whitby Witches’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1994

I was momentarily peeved when someone mentioned the ‘bonus content’ in this image in Chapter 4, as I had planned to wait until this post to go ‘Look everybody! There’s copies of The Dark Portal and The Crystal Prison up on that shelf in the top right!’ and we would’ve been all excited about it and it would’ve been great. However, my vexation was soothed when I remembered that I’d already posted about it on Silvering Sea years ago, so I’ve had my fun. Anyway I love this piece, and I love the idea that Miriam Gower, owner of The Whitby Bookshop and werewitch on the weekends, is a secretly a huge Deptford Mice fan.

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‘The Horngarth’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1994

I really just enjoy this one for Tarr’s face. I mean my goodness, what a grizzled and care-worn rumple of a visage! It was only when I got to this image while reading that I realised that male aufwaders have such large ears, and I find it interesting that they do bear some resemblance to the ears of Robin’s rats. I also love Tarr’s makeshift throne – now that I look at it, it has an almost ‘clockpunk’ feel, a fun coincidence for those of you who’re reading the Witching Legacy at the moment.

Matt’s Pick: 

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‘The Fledgling’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1994

Again, here’s an illustration that shows a lighter side of Mr Jarvis’ illustration skills. Jennet and Pear are having fun, they’re laughing. There are no sinister things in sight. In short, it instantly makes our hearts break for the friendship they might have had. It’s the set-up for the tragedy.

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‘A Bargain Sealed with Blood’ (c) Robin Jarvis, 1994

And this I love because it’s just awesome. Alice Boston’s determined face, the gypsy costume of the werewolf, claws poised to strike. I almost feel like Miss Boston is about to twist her walking stick and pull out a sword, but it’s possible that a conveniently located walking stick/sword would be too OTT even for Robin Jarvis. Still, of the whole trilogy, this right here is the scene I would love to see moving and alive on a screen, and this photo brings it to life.

Mr Jarvis’ Book of the Dead | The Whitby Child

Gravestones at Whitby abbey
In this post we record for posterity and remembrance all those who have fallen to the fatal stroke of Mr Jarvis’ pen. Hero, villain, or neither, we honour their sacrifice for the greater myth of the story.

The deceased of The Whitby Child are as follows: 

SUSANNAH O’DONNELL  (The Whitby Child | Ch 4) This ill-fated lady lost her happiness and family wealth to Nathaniel Crozier’s perfidy. After his death, however, she was strong enough to resist the chains of his memory, but was killed at the decree of her coven sisters for defecting during the attempted assassination of Ben. She was consumed by the fiend of the deep whom the Triad had raised high, and now sleeps in the void.

THE FISHMONKEY [SERVANT OF THE LORD OF THE FROZEN WASTES]   (The Whitby Child | Ch 4 – The Whitby Child | Ch 13) An unholy and misbegotten relic imbued with evil life, this vile creature was responsible for machinating all of the Coven of the Black Sceptre’s attempts to murder Ben. Misleading the witches, it was carrying out the will of its true master, the Lord of the Frozen Wastes. In his arrogance upon the night of his rebirth, Crozier dispatched the abomination to meet its Lord. May its like never regain physical form.

MIRIAM GOWER  (The Whitby Child | Ch 4 – The Whitby Child | Ch 7) Faithful member of the Coven of the Black Sceptre, Miriam was consumed by the waves in her attempt to lure Ben to his death. It is unknown whether she was liberated from Crozier’s stranglehold in the next life.

ELIZABETH [‘LIZ’]  (The Whitby Child | Ch 7 – The Whitby Child Ch 12) Originally a withdrawn and unremarkable member of Crozier’s coven, Liz proved her devotion to her master in her attack upon Miss Boston on the night of Crozier’s resurrection.  In that altercation she was unfortunately slain – a needless waste of life.

PEAR  [PERSEPHONE CROZIER]   (The Whitby Child | Ch 7 – The Whitby Child Ch 13) Lively and precocious, Pear defied her upbringing in her father’s vile coven to protect her first and only friend, Jennet. Tragically, Pear was accidentally killed in werehound form by her own mother. She is remembered by the Laurenson family and by Meta, whose guilt will never leave her despite her eventual liberation from Crozier’s thrall.

NATHANIEL CROZIER [HIGH PRIEST OF THE BLACK SCEPTRE, DEFIER OF THE TRIAD]   (The Whitby Child | Ch 14)  After his demise at the rising of Morgawrus, Crozier’s coven contrived to parlay with the Lord of the Frozen Wastes to have their master be returned to them on the living plane. The terms of this insidious bargain were that the coven dispose of Ben, and so of the threat he posed to the Triad. Believing this task achieved, the Lord of the Frozen Wastes consented to return Crozier to his brides, and so the warlock was briefly reborn. However, his former high priestess, Roslyn, was also granted time among the living, which she used to consume Crozier’s regenerate body, sealing their bond forever by devouring him – condemning them both to a tortured existence in Rowena’s new, Triad-given form.

THE LORD OF THE FROZEN WASTES   This tyrant of the oceans was revealed in His deceit and cast out by His brothers. A being of the primordial void, He cannot die, and is thus doomed to eternal torment in reward for His malice.

The Whitby Child | Chapter 14

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘OUT ON YE! OUT ON YE! OUT ON YE!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Well, how about that then. Thanks to a bunch of sticks, the Triad become the Dyad, Whitby is rolled right on back to normal, the aufwaders are saved from extinction, and our young heroes get to run into their parent’s arms.

Like all good Robiny endings, this one offers more questions than it answers. Was the Penny Hedge really imbued with divine power, or was it Ben’s gifts which activated it? If there was some form of God possessing Sister Frances, how long had that really been going on for, and what were the extent of that being’s powers in that form? If the Deep Ones cannot die, being unstoppable forces of nature, what happened to the Lord of the Frozen Wastes? And, most importantly, how are Ben and Jennet ever going to live happy and contented lives after everything they have witnessed?

I wish them well as much as the next reader, but Ben was almost gorily murdered on multiple occasions, and Jennet has been through enough trauma to last her a lifetime. Plus, it occurred to me that these children have only just learnt to process their grief over the death of their parents, only to have that selfsame beloved Mama and Papa appear again before their eyes. It’s miraculous and wonderful, yes, but don’t try to tell me that family doesn’t have a lot to work through.

I said last chapter that I’d save my final words about Nathaniel for this post, so here they are: Most. Satisfying. Villain death. Ever. That scraggly old slime found his natural habitat in Rowena’s innards! Good riddance to bad dress-sense!

On the other tentacle, my pangs of sorrow for Aunt Alice are soothed somewhat by the knowledge that this is not the last we shall see of her, nor of old Whitby Bay. Last year, Mr Jarvis decided to ‘go back’ with a certain luridly turquoise offering currently sitting on my shelf, next to its sickly yellow sibling and hot-off-the-press purple cousin. We’ll all be ‘going back’ too, in time.

Matt’s Thoughts: I could go out on a limb and be slightly controversial yet, but I almost feel like this is Mr Jarvis’ most poignant finale so far. I mean, we were all pretty gutted by Audrey and Piccadilly back in the day, but reading about Ben getting his eyes anointed by Nelda before losing his special sight … that was truly heartbreaking.

It’s taken me by surprise just how much I have enjoyed this trilogy this second time around. The characters, Robin’s obvious love for Whitby, the amazing  back mythology. It’s potent, potent stuff.

And finally, I can’t resist finishing with a song that’s a bit left-field but bear with me. Last year, I found myself listening to old songs by Harry Secombe (Welsh singer, one of the performers on The Goon Show and Mr Bumble in the movie Oliver!). I think I was just getting nostalgic for the type of music my mum used to listen to when I was three or four.

Anyway, I came across (i.e became obsessed with) this one particularly old-fashioned song called ‘The Lost Chord’. It was actually written by Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) and, believe it or not, was one of the most purchased songs in the 1880s and 1890s. (Of course, in those days, buying a song meant getting the sheet music and taking it home and having a bash yourself on your own piano.)

The song is rather quaint and Victorian and in it the narrator talks about a particular chord of music they accidentally played once on an organ and then couldn’t ever find again. And in the end, the singer hopes that ‘it may be that death’s bright angel shall speak in that chord again’.

This concept of ‘Death’s Bright Angel’ is a fascinating one, given the figure of the cherub that appears throughout this book, making things shine. I’m not saying the song was necessarily in Robin’s head when he wrote this character, but nonetheless I like the idea. Plus, given Miss Boston’s age, ‘The Lost Chord’ would well and truly have been a standard by the time she was a young girl. And I could certainly see many of the old ladies of Whitby owning Harry Secombe records back in the day. So is this an appearance of death that would have meant something to someone of her generation?

So in memory of Alice Boston, the aunt we all wish we had, here’s Harry Secombe singing ‘The Lost Chord’.

 

The Whitby Child | Chapter 13

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Nathaniel Crozier, warlock, High Priest of the Black Sceptre and destroyer of vulnerable souls, appeared exactly the same as when Jennet had last seen him.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: At the beginning of this reread, Matt mentioned that the idea of an undead Nathaniel was making him nervous. Since he had trouble remembering the ending of this book, I daresay this chapter was none too welcome.

I’ve talked about Nathaniel ‘still badly-dressed even in death’ Crozier enough during this trilogy, so I’ll save my final comments about him for the next chapter.

For now, let’s have a look at Jennet and excuse me Robin but how dare you kill Pear off? How dare you not even give her a chance to turn her life around? It was obvious that Jennet was the first inkling of happiness she’d ever known! How dare you have Meta’s overwhelming devotion to Nathaniel and blindness to all else be the thing which eventually caused her to kill her own daughter, beautifully and poignantly illustrating the very personal damage that is caused by cult-like indoctrination and neglect?! How dare you have Jennet lose her only friend?! May your gansey unravel, Sir! You’ll be hearing from my team of many-eyed, tentacled lawyers!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: How great is this finale? It’s really almost like Chapters 12 through 14 are one big race to the end, with barely any breathing points in between. It’s just home run after home run.

Nathaniel coming back from the dead? Brilliant.

Fishmonkey copping his just deserts? YES.

Rowena as well? Added bonus I completely forgot was in there. (Though how I could forget the details on a finale as well-orchestrated as this is beyond me. Apologies Mr Jarvis! I will try to only read these when I can give them my full attention from now on!)

And the NOOOOOOOO!!! moment as the Pear/Jennet subplot comes to its inevitable conclusion.

Maybe it’s because compared with the stand-alone nature of the Histories, the Whitby mythology has had three books to develop, but this whole conclusion feels huge, and almost like it is tying together strands from all of the books together. (There’s something grandly symphonic about the whole thing. I’m just not sure what symphony.)

The Whitby Child | Chapter 12

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Nice doggy want some exercise?’

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  Oh lordy, this chapter is so much. We’ve got Jennet’s panic when it occurs to her that her brother might be being murdered that very moment; followed by Aunt Alice finally being filled in on everything; followed by the ‘infernal parody of Christmas with demonic carol singers’ (nice one, Miss B); followed by Jennet being horrifically possessed; followed by Aunt Alice performing what can only be described as an exorcism to no avail; followed by Ben’s supposed bloody death and Miss Boston facing off a rabid werewitch in her own home, and, finally (take a second to catch your breath, everybody) the reveal that Ben is not actually dead but was concealed by Irl’s charm! My goodness!

Clearly, we’ve now moved into classic Robin Jarvis finale territory – the stakes are higher than Meta’s opinion of herself, and despite that only a three-legged cat has died so far, things are looking just a teeny bit desperate for our heroes. What terrors await them as the Coven of the Black Sceptre crow their triumph? Come, Readers – to the abbey!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Best. Chapter. Ever. While there were many people that complained about the Star Wars prequels, surely one of the good things to come out of the films – even for the nit-pickers – was the moment at the end of Attack of the Clones where we see something totally unexpected: Yoda in full flight, taking on Christopher Lee. 

I couldn’t help but draw the same comparison with the too-awesome-for-words scene with Miss Boston fighting off a vicious werbride in her home. It’s a great comic action scene in what is otherwise a pretty scary chapter.

But poor Eurydice …

The Whitby Child | Chapter 11

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Your old life is over – you belong to him now.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter’s title is almost as good as ‘Cream Cakes and Death’ in The Whitby Witches – with Mr Jarvis, you know that delectable sweets and grisly horror always go hand in hand.

There’s some great characterisation here, with Miss Boston attempting to clumsily rectify things with Jennet and misinterpreting her moods with pitiful inaccuracy. The part where she surmises that Jennet has fallen out with her friends is especially wince-making, given what has already happened, and what is yet to come in this chapter’s second half.

At this point I feel nothing but sympathy for Pear. The life she describes, being brought up in the coven, has clearly been one long and painful ordeal for her. To elaborate on what I said in Chapter 9, the werewitches are disturbingly close to a real life cult; Pear mentions being forbidden to consort with other children growing up, being punished for imagined transgressions by the group, and feeling that she couldn’t survive outside the coven.

The fact that she still does as Meta has ordered her is disappointing, but understandable. Pear has had sixteen years of Nathaniel-centric brainwashing, even aside from him being her father. I do still hold out hope that the power of friendship will win through, but alas, it may be too late.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Ah, now the back story falls in place. Well, maybe, it’s true – you should just stick to one monarch at a time. Now that we know what the Lord of the Frozen Wastes is up to, the whole thing becomes even more creepy, as we just feel the vastness of the danger that surrounds our small innocent heroes.

And the classic moment of betrayal – Jennet and Pear just seem to be drawing close together again, but it’s actually a cover for drink-spiking. Such a complex mess and sets us up for the home stretch of this book and trilogy.

The Whitby Child | Chapter 10

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

[S]eated upon … the majestic thrones were the shadowy, writhing figures of the Lords of the Deep and Dark.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This is my favourite chapter in this book and probably one of my favourite approaches to ‘mortals meet their gods’ in a fantasy setting that I’ve ever come across. We all love Tarr and Miss Boston and we all agree that despite their faults they can both carry through when it’s called for, so it seems quite fitting that they should be the ones to take the Lords of the Deep and Dark to task.

Tarr and Miss Boston’s journey down to the depths is marvellously cinematic, with the swirling waves and undersea wonders, and I love how everything almost reads with a greenish, ocean-turquoise tint once their heads dip beneath the surface. The cathedral-like cavern of the Triad is also a glorious feast for the imagination, though it seems a shame to me that such beauty should be wasted on such a trio of salty, belligerent curmudgeons as the Deep Ones are.

Speaking of, I just love that moment where Miss Boston lays down the law at them as if they were three misbehaving pupils in her class. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that Miss Boston really says a lot that needed to be said there, and despite that the Deep Ones take as good as they get, the sound telling-off they receive is ‘good enough for them’, as Aunt Alice might say.

When I first listened to this story I had not yet been exposed to the idea of cosmic horror, or indeed that ‘tentacled abomination’ business that so many creators in that vein now go in for. To me, the reveal of Irl was almost a completely new thing, and was uniquely horrifying. It still makes my skin crawl a bit to read about his many eyes, though my heart bleeds for the countless ages of suffering that most worthy of aufwaders has been forced to endure.

This is a chapter full of well-orchestrated ups and downs, for the sad part is that Tarr and Miss Boston’s deep-sea tour fails in its mission. Ben might have the amulet of Irl, but Nelda and her unborn child are now even more doomed than before. Deeps bless them, indeed! Not likely.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Well, there goes the budget for a TV series, as Mr Jarvis takes us all epic and IMAX down to the throne room of the Lords of the Deep and Dark. There’s something awe-inspiring about the whole thing, especially since they have been such shadowy figures. (I mean, if they’d never made an appearance, that wouldn’t have surprised me – they are, after all, such shadowy figures lurking in the background quietly pulling strings that affect everyone.)

It’s also just great, because we have two such elderly characters (Miss Boston and Tarr) showing there is nothing aged or feeble about their courage … I also find it interesting that there are three rulers of the Deep and Dark. I have often thought that maybe we’d have a lot less in-fighting and politics if we got a representative from two of the major parties to run the country (we have two major parties in Australia plus a bunch of smaller ones) so they could spend more time governing and less time trying to harangue the opposition.

But then again, the last historical time I heard about two rulers was Julius Caesar and Pompey, and look how that turned out …

I would love to know more of the story of Irl as well but again, like much of this story, there’s so much mythology being made in the present day, there’s no time left to dive into the mythology of the past!

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