The Crystal Prison | Chapter 4

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

He bowed his head and wept silently beneath the crescent summer moon.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  There’s quite a bit going on in the layer under this chapter’s main events. We’ve got Arthur and Gwen’s mutually healing relationship (I surmise that in the Brown family, Arthur is closer to his mother, while Audrey spent more time with Albert). Then there’s Piccadilly’s first uncomfortable stay in the Skirtings and his feelings of being unable to fit in no matter how friendly the Browns and Twit are. We’ve also got the beginnings of Gwen’s tempestuous duel-of-wits with Thomas, the bond of the Chitter family and insights into Oswald’s parents, Twit’s strained bravery in the face of his cousin’s decline, and finally, Audrey and Piccadilly and their …thing.

I admit I never really boarded the Audrey and Piccadilly Train when I was younger. Nowadays, I’m so on board that train I’ve got a seat in the front carriage, but while I love both these characters individually and agree that their relationship is a wonderfully-written drama, I’ve always sort of had the idea that they’re not really that compatible. Or at least, that they met at completely the wrong time and in the wrong circumstances.

Their trouble is that they both have really strong personalities – neither is willing to give any ground whatsoever to the other, so instead of communicating, they stew in silence, bottling up things which really need to be spoken aloud. There’s also Audrey’s unaddressed grief and Piccadilly’s deep-rooted existential angst to complicate matters. By the time this chapter draws to a close,  we share Audrey’s frustration and Piccadilly’s regret, and the joy of Oswald’s recovery is mingled with sorrow for a friendship that seems unsalvageable.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This chapter is a little bit of a mouse soap opera: someone is sick and gets miraculously better, a boy and girl have a fight instead of telling each other how they feel. Mr Jarvis actually packs in a whole bunch of moods and feelings in one chapter, which I’m in awe of. I’m still not entirely sure how he does it!

But we have the heartbreak of Oswald dying, the humorous aspects of the altercation between Master Oldnose and Thomas Triton, the joy when Oswald recovers and the inevitable moment where a budding romance runs into an obstacle – in this case, Audrey and Piccadilly being unable to say what they really feel.

The only possible problem that you might be having – if this is the first time that you’ve read the book – is that it’s not entirely clear who the antagonist is in this book, and what kind of peril our heroes might be in. So far, it just sounds like Audrey, Arthur and Twit (and not Piccadilly) are facing an unpleasantly long holiday in the countryside with a mad rat. But have no fear, readers – The Crystal Prison is going to ramp up quite nicely in the second half. So savour the sounds of the whisker fiddle and bark drum and enjoy your berrybrew – things are going to heat up.

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 3

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

From the depths of the dark glass he saw the night sky – only the stars shone a hundred times brighter.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Owing to the piecemeal stocking practices of my local library, The Crystal Prison was the first of Mr Jarvis’ books which I had the pleasure of reading in unabridged, fully illustrated (and slightly grubby) paperback form. I can remember being about nine, lying in a state of fuzzled poorliness on our old blue sofa one wet weekday, whizzing through chapter after chapter at a rate of noughts. I was amazed and startled by the illustrations, and by the idea that the world of the Deptford Mice was much deeper, grander, and more frightening than it had seemed in the abridged audiobook of The Dark Portal.

This chapter makes a great impression upon me now as then. First of all, my heart aches for poor beleaguered Madame Akkikuyu. The little aside that she often lies awake at night in tears as her memory continuously betrays her actually made me shed a tiny tear on rereading, and, as with Oswald’s illness, the portrayal of her traumatised state is distressingly realistic. Despite that she delivered Audrey to Jupiter rather than defying Morgan in The Dark Portal’s finale, we cannot help but sympathise with her dream of ‘sleeping in summer light’, and hope against hope that things work out well for her.

The final scene in the Starwife’s chamber is so amazingly cinematic I could almost see it play out before me shot-by-shot like a film. Something I love about it is that it echoes Twit’s journey through the stars in Chapter 7 of The Dark Portal, hinting again that he is in some way marked for a destiny taller and more dangerous than his mousebrass would suggest. Further more, we finally discover the depths of the Starwife’s manipulation, but, as with Madame Akkikuyu, she is not all she seems.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Totally enjoying reading this again after so long. There’s a richness to the little touches. First off, there’s an expansion on the idea from the final chapter of The Dark Portal, where Madame Akkikuyu wants to flee away and Audrey shows her compassion. And, interestingly enough, that comes back again in the person of the Starwife. Audrey is horrified at the idea of going away with Akkikuyu and says to the Starwife, why is she so important? She’s just a rat. ‘And does that make a difference child?’ the Starwife replies. The Starwife is harsh, but she has more compassion than some of the mice.

It’s this cruel but kind approach of the Starwife that really signals one of the interesting things about this second book: we move from simple black and white to shades of grey. After so many 100% evil villains in the first book, The Crystal Prison mixes things up: Akkikuyu, in her state of insanity, yearns for good. The Starwife seeks to do good but with a cold, cruel approach. And when the book shifts location (as a result of the brilliant plot device of Audrey’s bargain), we’ll be introduced to a whole crew of new characters, all with their own shades of morality as well.

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 2

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘You must think me a rude old battleaxe,’ she said calmly.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Now the Starwife gets her moment in the limelight. One of Mr Jarvis’ most iconic characters, this grizzled old beldam is another fantastically stop-motionish specimen. I love the description of her chamber in the Great Oak, with its hanging baubles and ancient tapestry, and of course, who could forget the Oaken Throne itself!

I’m going to nerd in a different direction here and suggest this track by Howard Shore for the scenes with the Starwife in this chapter and the next. Meant for Tolkien’s woodland elves, it evokes both the cunning and strength of the primordial forest, and something that is also a little cold and otherworldly.

The Starwife; ancient, all-seeing, with one eye fixed upon the heavens and one paw rooted to the earth, rather suits the comparison. Mr Jarvis has admitted to a fondness for Tolkien’s legendarium in the past (to the point that he once made models of the characters!) and if any of you are also Tolkien fans, you’ll enjoy spotting the influence of that esteemed master of high fantasy in Robin’s work  as this project progresses.

In this chapter we also get to see Audrey display some of her signature fire. I love her clash of wills with the Starwife, and I commend our heroine for standing up for herself even in the midst of her grief over Oswald.

While rereading, it also occurred to me that there is perhaps a little bit of class commentary going on in this chapter and Chapter 3, especially with regards to the way the Greenwich Park squirrels treat the mice and the way the Starwife behaves toward Thomas and Twit. Mr Jarvis himself lived in Deptford for some time before moving to Greenwich, so he is perfectly placed to offer insights of that kind. This is yet another example of how his work is so firmly rooted in place; this may be a fantasy about mice, but it is imbued with so strong and specific a culture that it simply would not be the same were it set anywhere else.

 

 

Matt’s Thoughts: The Starwife! This is the kind of character that you see being voiced by Maggie Smith or Judi Dench. Acid-tongued, arthritic, with little patience for cowardly squirrels or being contradicted. (I’m not sure why, but I also find it hilariously funny having a squirrel called Piers.)

This might also be a good time for another one of my photos from the Greenwich trip last year. Sadly, it looks like I didn’t take a photo of the Observatory itself, but you can check out their website if you’ve never seen it. But this is my photo taken from the Observatory looking down, so as I was reading this chapter, I was realising that it must be a massive hill when you’re only a mouse! It’s steep enough climbing it as a human!

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There are a whole bunch of interesting things foreshadowed in this chapter: the darkness with twinkling lights behind the Starwife’s throne, the throne itself, Thomas Triton’s past, his attachment to Twit, all of which are elaborated on further, either in this trilogy or in the Deptford Histories. But, of course, this is all by the by – the most important thing is that Madame Akkikuyu is back on the scene … On to chapter 3!

The Crystal Prison | Prologue & Chapter 1

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Illness has a smell all of its own and it is unmistakable. Sweet and cloying, it lingers in a sickroom, waiting for the patient to recover or fail.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Of the three wonderful prologues in this trilogy, I think this is my favourite. One of Mr Jarvis’ signature narrative motifs is the idea of monumental struggles with the forces of evil happening alongside the everyday doings of ordinary people; out of sight and out of mind, but affecting us all.

In the dismal scene on the bank of the Thames, we see this in action. The terror of Jupiter, even of his corpse, means nothing to the anonymous builder who finds him. In death, the fearsome Lord of All is rendered powerless – revolting, perhaps, but awe-inspiring no longer. Just how narrowly the world escaped his evil is spelled out to us in no uncertain terms.

It’s incredibly atmospheric for such a short scene. The vistas of Deptford Mr Jarvis paints for us seem grim and drab even on a sunny summer morning, and I love the little aside that ‘nature took a hand’ in ejecting Jupiter’s body from the river. It’s never stated, but I like to infer that that was the work of the Green.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I haven’t read The Crystal Prison for quite a few years – possibly not since I was a teenager – and so I didn’t remember quite how poignant this chapter was. It’s also a lot more personally resonant to me now.

There were a lot of people lamenting at the end of last year that so many celebrities passed away in 2016. But there were other people that never made it out of 2016 either – one of them was my father. We first learned of the heart condition that was to eventually kill him back in 2014, when he had several heart attacks over a period of about a month. The second lot of these put him in intensive care, with a less than 10% chance of survival.

While he miraculously survived and lived for another two years, I’ll never forget the experience of him being in hospital that time. The dreadful waiting by his bedside, wondering whether the particular breath he was taking – exaggerated by the sound of the life support machine – was going to be the last one. Sleeping on chairs in the emergency waiting room in case he took a turn for the worse in the middle of the night. It was a draining week.

Reading this chapter, so much of that is brought to the surface. The quietness of everyone, just waiting around for the inevitable. The lack of sleep, the haggard lines under eyes. It was all there and it felt painful to me. Which makes me wonder, is this just a resonance to me and my experience? Or was it also a resonance for Mr Jarvis when he wrote it? If you look at The Dark Portal, you’ll see that the book is dedicated ‘For my parents’. But in the beginning of The Crystal Prison, it says: ‘For the rest of my family, who now live without the light of my father’. I wouldn’t know for sure, but perhaps this chapter was personal for Robin as well.

Either way, it sets up a tremendous tragic backdrop for the mysterious meeting with the Starwife which is about to take place.

Oh yeah, and in the midst of all that, in a few skillful paragraphs, Jarvis sets up a believable romance between Audrey and Piccadilly as well. The man doesn’t waste words!

Up Next Reminder | The Crystal Prison

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The classic original cover of The Crystal Prison.

Now that we’re midway through The Dark Portal, this is just a reminder that if you’re thoroughly enjoying this – and we hope that you are! – that you might want to track down a copy of the second book in the trilogy, The Crystal Prison, before we start up in February.

With regards to editions, this is much the same as was the case with The Dark Portal. Ideally, you will want to see the illustrations, so we recommend:

The original edition (as shown above).

The silver edition with the dripping writing:

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The American edition:

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And because it’s the only in-print version still on sale, and because we like to support Mr Jarvis, where we can, we’d suggest buying the Kindle version as well.