War in Hagwood | Chapter 8

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘The glorious Wyrm,’ he began, indicating the golden head on his left, ‘is called Myth. The other, unlovely Wyrm is named Sacrifice.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter was, for me, proof of that saying that different stories mean different things to different people. One person’s heart-wrenching drama is another’s sappy drivel; someone’s best childhood favourite is someone else’s worst childhood fear. To Matt, this chapter was probably fairly unremarkable, another well-written plot twist in a long line of well-written plots twists.

I, on the other hand, was deeply affected by it, and at the risk of sounding insufferably mawkish, almost felt as if it had in some way been written for me. It was like being given a glimmering, jewel-encrusted present. Having the werlings find an ancient serpent crafted all of precious metal would have been enough, but two? And the ghastly-looking one with the horns comes alive? And turns out to be, after all, benevolent? Be still my cold lizard heart, it was exactly what I’d always wanted. Here was the closure I had been waiting for ever since the idol of Sarpedon bashed his shiny brains to bits on a rock back in 1995, and if we got fascinating lore about the source of all magic in Hagwood along with it, all the better.

Scalian reunion tour aside, this chapter really holds the fundamental storytelling truths at the heart of Robin Jarvis canon: all’s unfair in love and war, heroism is about ordinary folks choosing to do right even in the face of opposition, and where there be myth, there will always be sacrifice. 

Matt’s Thoughts: And so here, nearly two years later, Aufwader and I have finally arrived at the chapter that we named the blog after! Perhaps it was a bit obscure naming it after this chapter rather than something from one of the more popular trilogies, but for us, it’s a quintessential Robin Jarvis chapter.

Two thoughts on reading it: first up, I would love to know when this was written in relation to The Raven’s Knot. That book also, you might remember, had a plot twist where the ground opened up, we all thought some characters were dead but instead they end up in some sort of underground grotto with a fantastic ancient creature.

The similarity of that plot twist to this makes me wonder whether Robin thought it was a good idea in the Hagwood book, wasn’t sure if it would be published anytime soon and thus decided to use the trick in his Wyrd Museum book. 

But more interesting than that is that you can begin to get a glimpse of a Robin Jarvis cosmology from this chapter – how his fictional universe all hangs together. Everything is hinted at, so any explanation readers come up with would be a theory at best, but I’ll have a crack.

If there was a Robin Jarvis Universe, I believe it started a long time ago with the First Mother story from the Witching Legacy series. To start with, there is this section from The Devil’s Paintbox where Cherry Cerise explains the origins of the world.

‘OK,’ she began. ‘Forget everything science or religion ever told you about how the universe was made. At the start, all there was was a never-ending emptiness – and the First Mother, who crawled in from outside.’

‘Outside?’ asked Verne.

‘You mean outside this dimension?’ said Lil.

‘Hun, I’m just repeating a way old tradition, and trying to keep it simple. Call it another dimension, reality, existence, beyond, whatever. Our clumsy words aren’t up to the job. Just imagine a creature, galaxies wide. She’s called the First Mother because She gave birth, but She impregnated herself, so go figure.’

‘Wait, the Lords of the Deep were Her children?’ asked Lil.

‘Yep, or three of ’em anyways; She kinda splurged out a whole mess of bambinos. That’s the cataclysmic event scientists call the Big Bang. The Big Push would be more accurate. Anyway, it killed Her and what theoffspring didn’t eat – yeah, gross – They formed the universe with.’

‘They made the earth?’ gasped Verne. ‘The solar system?’

‘Kick-started it, let it do its own thing, until it got interestin’. Then They moved in and ever since They’ve played around with it, like kids with plasticine. That’s what we’re up against: creatures so old, so powerful and terrible, we’d be out of our puny minds to even dream of getting mixed up with Them. We shouldn’t even know They exist.’

The Devil’s Paintbox, chapter 6

So my theory is that this universe of ancient creatures playing around ‘like kids with plasticine’ form the layers of ancient creatures that you encounter in many Jarvis books. The most ancient seem to be ancient keepers of fate. Characters that know everything going on in the world, even if they don’t get very involved – like Nest in this chapter or the card players in Mooncaster.

Then there are characters with godlike powers, like the Lords of the Dark and Deep and the Raith Sidhe. And because we knew from the example of the Green that these gods can take on different aspects depending on who it is they are communicating with, who’s to say that the Raith Sidhe aren’t worshipped as gods by humans in some ancient savage tribe but they also had a rat version of themselves as well. (If that makes sense?)

Then there is clearly a race of ancient serpents. We can see that in the Deptford and Whitby worlds. But I’m thinking, we could possibly expand it a bit as well. One of the most striking images from The Raven’s Knot was the appearance of an angel in the form of a massive dragon-like creature. We then have Lucifer (commonly known as a fallen angel, perhaps not so strictly from the Bible but certainly in popular Christian thinking over the centuries), even though not too much of his physical appearance is described in Fighting Pax. But he is popularly known as a serpent. Is it possible that angels and demons are all aspects of the serpentine class, meaning you could then throw the Whitby series and the Mooncaster books into the same Jarvis universe?

All of these creatures – many of whom now lie dormant – have left various bits of power scattered around. So that’s why there are characters like Rhiannon and Jupiter – that tap into ancient magical power but are a relatively new blip on the horizon.

The only book that seems to operate outside of ancient magical forces on earth is Deathscent but then we never had enough books to explain the back story on the ‘special ambassadors’. They could well have been tapping into some sort of ancient power as well but it looked more like sci-fi technology rather than magic.

But what do you think?

War in Hagwood | Chapter 7

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘How come something so small could be so important?’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter surprised me the first time around, and it surprised me again on reread. Of all the conspirators against Rhiannon, I had imagined that it was Lord Fanderyn himself who might turn out to be on the side of the High Lady. After all, he’d been doing all right for himself under her reign, hadn’t he? Sure, he could have been slaughtered at any moment like the rest of her subjects, but in the meantime, it wasn’t as if he’d been stripped of his lordly status or suffered any great bereavement under Rhiannon’s rule. I fully expected he and Gabbity the nursemaid to bring down a legion of fairy guards upon the other dissenting nobles while the Provost looked on in approval, but then, that twisting of expectations is what makes this book work so well as a finale. 

Matt’s Thoughts: Now, I feel like there is almost a nod to classic mafia films in the cloak and dagger meeting that Lord Fanderyn calls. You get the feeling that everybody in the meeting is shifty in their own way, but that Rhiannon is enough of a common enemy for them all to band together.

Until the final page when we see Waggarinzil’s true character. I think what makes this so particularly brutal is that it almost negates the previous seven or eight pages’ worth of exposition we just had to read. We felt it was all getting somewhere and then BAM! (A very mafiaesque assassination, too, that one.) Robin is not letting this story end that simply!

War in Hagwood | Chapter 6

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

“Fight well, my love in the sky,” Meg said softly.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: As peculiar in Jarvis canon as this book is, there are also quite a few moments and motifs that typify Robin’s work as a whole. Case in point, this chapter’s fantastic illustration of the gentle, quavery Tower Lubber brandishing a full-on axe and an honest-to-goodness sword, ready to smite a few foes or so perish in the attempt. Throughout this project, we have seen frail, unassuming, or otherwise unprepossessing characters take up arms – be they literal or metaphoric – in defense of all they hold dear. It’s quite heartening, in a way, to know that even in this era of Dancing Jax, old-fashioned sentiments like nobility and honour are still in evidence in the worlds of Robin Jarvis.

Sadly, said sentiments are also rather likely to get one killed, and the Tower Lubber’s death, too, is classic Robiny drama. Of course he was going to die tragicaly on the battlefield. After all, what would the myth of Clarisant and Tammedor be without the prince’s final, heroic, sacrifice? 

Matt’s Thoughts: The Jarvis approach to violence was thrown into relief in this chapter because I read it just after re-watching The Return of the King with my oldest two kids. It struck me that the story, despite being long and having a lot of bone-crunching violence – pretty much all of it bloodless – is relatively kind to its main characters. I realised that only one main hero character with a name was dead by the end of the whole film. (That’s Theoden. I don’t really count Denethor as much of a hero, even if he wasn’t on the side of evil.)

Meanwhile, here we are, chapter 6 in a book with 19 chapters, and the Tower Lubber has been brutally slain plus a whole bunch of (relatively) innocent bogles. I feel that this book simply has a level of sadism in it that almost eclipses anything else in the Jarvis canon except for the fact that Mr Jarvis seems to be having a bit of fun with it.

After all, the scene where Dedwinter tells Rhiannon that he can’t think of anything that would make the Redcaps come down and then she kills him – that’s sort of funny in a black way, isn’t it? Would Martin McDonagh write like this if he decided to make a kids book?

War in Hagwood | Chapter 5

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Fifty-eight new feathery creatures were blinking and looking about them with sharp, jerky movements. When they tried to speak, only a dry croaking came from their now-rigid lips and they scurried around the encircling crowd, bewildered.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This is by far the most surreal ‘battle’ scene in Jarvis canon so far. It’s not really even a battle so much as each side reacting to the other amid an atmosphere of general chaos. One has to wonder what the Men who once guarded the tower would make of Redcaps who can chew through doors, hideous transformations into avian monstrosities, or creatures made entirely of slime who expel apples and pears down upon their enemies. The Tower Lubber said last chapter that no Man can dwell nigh Hagwood long without going mad, and to be honest it’s easy to see why! 

Matt’s Thoughts: See, this chapter right here is what makes this story so unusual. We’ve got dead birds being devoured, a gory end to a bunch of Redcaps, friends missing (presumed dead) down a hole but it ends with a set piece of a bunch of slime monsters belching at their enemies.

I love it. There just weren’t many books like this when I was a kid, but Robin recognised that it was fun to have a bit of gore and some bodily function humour at the same time.

War in Hagwood | Chapter 4

wih
Warning: Contains Spoilers!

The shield tilted and tipped. Clinging on for their very lives, the werlings went shooting down into the vast, gaping pit.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Once again we’re reminded that the werlings are quite young still, with Tollychook being perhaps the most naive. Considering the trouble he gets everyone into in this chapter, it’d be easy to treat him merely as an annoyance, and in a television series or film I daresay he might be reduced to the role of comedic sidekick.

But it’s not actually his fault that the sluglungs clear the Tower Lubber’s larder – it wasn’t he who suggested it, and despite his own rumbling belly he actually tries to stop the crazed feasting, knowing what the consequences will be. Similarly, he couldn’t have helped knocking over the weapons, the poor kid was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m still holding out hope that he’ll turn out to be a Twit, with a secret brave and resourceful streak just waiting for the right moment to show itself. Come on Tolly, I believe in you!

Matt’s Thoughts: I had forgotten how much early Jarvis was a nod to animated films and TV. The rather thundering sequence with our small characters dodging falling weapons or even the sluglungs pigging out on the Lubber’s food – all of this was the kind of sequence that we would expect from a good animated film in the 80s.

Having said that, I’m pretty sure the idea of dousing a whole bunch of dead birds in transformative juice so they could be devoured by carnivorous baddies was not a staple of 80s animation, so there are limits to how far I can push the connection!

War in Hagwood | Chapter 3

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

The immortal splendor of the Tyrant of the Hollow Hill, wrapped in the nourishing flame of human innocence, was an injury to the eyes and made her feel faint. Never had the world seen anything so monumentally worshipful yet so wincingly cruel and repellent.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The scene with the High Lady and the human child brings us neatly round, right back to Chapter 5 of Thorn Ogres, in which Gamiliel and his friends witness the Trooping Ride and see Rhiannon for the first time, the doomed infant in her arms. There’s myths a-plenty about babies being snatched by the fair folk, but most of them, as far as I’m aware, focus more on the human families now left with a fairy in the cradle, and don’t really tell us much about what becomes of the stolen, mortal children.

That Rhiannon should have been slowly leeching the life force from the child of Moonfire Farm is an interesting explanation, and if you really think about it, no less dire than the infant having been cooked and eaten by imps, or given to the Devil, or any number of other terrible fates recorded in Celtic folklore. After all, what ghastly death would befall the baby if he were ever to leave the Hill?

Matt’s Thoughts: I must say that the owl makes me curious. This sentence is fascinating: ‘Like everybody else in her realm, it feared her, yet that fear was matched in equal measure by love and adoration.’

First thing that’s interesting is simply that the owl is seemingly one of the most clever characters in the whole of the Hollow Hill. Certainly smart enough to know how all the politics of the place works and how easily it is to get killed. And yet, despite mounting evidence that Rhiannon completely operates in her own self-interest – and is freaking dangerous – the owl loves and adores her anyway.

Is there some sort of metaphor in here about people who enable toxic personalities?

Second interesting thing, especially because didn’t notice it until this chapter, is that the owl is genderless. For some reason, I had just assumed that it was a he-owl but scouring through this book I have only found it referred to as ‘the owl’ or ‘it’. Robin’s not one to use his words casually so I would be fascinated what his thinking was behind this decision.

Finally, I’m sure I wasn’t meant to make this mental connection at all, but Rhiannon’s cry of ‘No milk today’ immediately put me in mind of Herman’s Hermits

War in Hagwood | Chapter 2

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘In my old kingdom, there were few knights as stout of heart as you small folk!’ he exclaimed. ‘Great courage blazes in the littlest breast. We shall make one last stand against Rhiannon Rigantona and Her bloodthirsty horde. One final battle before the eternal dark takes us.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: It’s quite easy to forget that all the events since the routing of the thorn ogres from the werling’s homes have really only taken place over a span of about a week or so. In epic fantasy, we the readers don’t tend to stop and wonder when our heroes last ate, or slept in proper beds, or missed their families back home, unless the text draws our attention to these things, and sometimes there can be a sort of disconnection between the vast and gruelling nature of the quest and the heroes’ needs as individuals.

In this case though, we are reminded that everything has been happening very, very fast for the werlings, who are really only young people still. Imagine if you, as a young tween, were suddenly uprooted from your home where you’d lived all your days and forced to embark upon life-threatening adventures that will most likely end in the gory demise of yourself and everyone you love? It’s a wonder they’re all still standing, let alone having the the courage to challenge the High Lady’s rule one final time. But werlingkind are stout of heart, and it’s this tenacity that means, despite everything, that they stand a fighting chance.

Matt’s Thoughts: I don’t remember many of the details of this book (apart from the decapitated horse!), even though I didn’t read it all that long ago, so this may be a bit of a journey for me!

All the werlings are coming back to me, and again I appreciate that Robin’s characters are so sharply delineated that you only have to read a couple of pages and they all stand out. I do feel rather sorry for Gamaliel, but I’m sure he’ll be able to redeem himself by the end of the story.

At the same time, I also feel as if I’ve just been dropped in the story. The second book ended with an almighty battle and now we suddenly have another one about to start two chapters in to the third book? Relentless! It gives me a feeling of stress before I’ve even had a chance to settle back into the book. (Well, it is called War in Hagwood, right?)