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Myth & Sacrifice

The Great Grand Robin Jarvis (Re)Read

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The Dark Portal | Chapter 14

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

All the rumours, all the legends, and all the horror stories were wrong.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: We have come this far. We have had fights with rats and flights with bats. We have hidden in peeled mouse-skins and witnessed the fruits of arcane, profane ritual. Now water deep, fire blazing, and the unknown path await. Now does Audrey face her first great trial.

I didn’t realise until I reread this chapter that it’s almost a direct mirror of Chapter 2. Audrey passes through a time of terror (the rapidly-heating, hell-like tunnels) and a time of hope (with Madame Akkikuyu and the brief possibility of escape) before coming into the presence of a mythic being of power. In this case, however, it’s the Dark Portal itself that she stands before, and it is Jupiter who is revealed to her despairing sight.

Since Matt has shared his musical ideas with regards to this chapter below, I thought I’d chip in with mine. The grand emergence of Jupiter, so brilliantly and frighteningly illustrated for those with physical copies of this book, immediately puts me in mind of the first thirty seconds or so of Liszt’s Totentanz. That menacing, discordant opening evokes both the harshness of industry and the approach of something cataclysmic and thoroughly malevolent, and as far as I’m concerned it fits the Lord of All perfectly.

What I love about our arch-villain’s reveal is that it should be something of a let-down, but it isn’t. Jupiter; the Mighty One, the Evil One, the Father of Murders, he who supposedly has two heads and commands powers dark and dangerous …is a cat. A ghastly, grotesque, abominable, unnaturally long-lived and fire-breathing cat. A cat on the level of Claudandus from Akif Pirinçci’s Felidae; a tyrannical, deathless monster in feline shape. He should be ridiculous, instead he inspires awe and terror in our heroes and in us readers.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: It’s such a big climax, that it’s easy to forget how poignant that opening interaction is between Audrey and Madame Akkikuyu. While there are many cut-and-dried villains in The Dark Portal, Akkikuyu is fascinating because we realise she is struggling with the regrets of the decisions she made. In some ways, she’s like the rat equivalent of Michael Corleone at the end of The Godfather: Part II. Haunted by the life she could have chosen, but feeling too far in to turn back.

Until a mouse-girl offers her grace and a second chance. It reminds me a little bit of another famous moment of literary grace – where Bilbo spares Gollum, even though Gollum hardly deserves it. At the time you read it, it just seems like a small moment illustrating Bilbo’s kindness. But that act of grace later has huge repercussions. That is somewhat similar to this moment here, but you’ll have to join us in Book 2 for more of that …

In the meantime, there’s only one word for this finale: cinematic. Mr Jarvis himself has said that he simply imagines his stories unfolding on a big screen in his head and writes them down, and you can see it in this chapter. It’s classic fantasy-film stuff: the monstrous villain, the heroes banding together to dish out his final desserts, flooding rooms, last-minute rescues.

I should also add another musical interlude in here – I always think of the opening of the fourth and final movement of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3 reading this. Again, it could just be me, but that moment where all the brass and heavy instruments drop out and it’s just the violins playing a repeating set of notes – an ostinato, if you want the nerd term for it – that always makes me think of bats in flight and this final showdown.

The only sad thing about this chapter is that I’ll never know what it was like to have that satisfying moment where Jupiter appears and you think to yourself, ‘I thought he was a cat!’ Unfortunately, the first Jarvis book I laid eyes on was The Final Reckoning, and I remember browsing through it and it had a little plot synopsis of the earlier two Deptford Mice books which sort of gave the game away on the identify of Jupiter.

But, by the same token, Audrey did get an anti-cat charm back in Chapter 2, so I’m sure that gave the game away to most people. And, of course, we now understand a bit more what the bats meant when they spoke of ‘water deep’ and ‘the spinning, shining circle’.

Though my favourite piece of foreshadowing in the whole trilogy is in Chapter 2, where the mouse band is playing at the Spring Festival and people are shouting song requests to Twit. Someone yells out ‘Old Mog’s Drowning’, which always now gives me a chuckle every time I read it.

And how amazing is that Stephen King-type scene (or James Herbert, if we want to be a bit more British) where the shades of all Jupiter’s victims reach out and drown him? Love it.

All in all, it a satisfying ending to The Dark Portal. If Robin had stopped there, it would have been an entertaining and dark young people’s fantasy, with a satisfying ending and memorable characters. It was perhaps a bit darker than you would expect from books about small animals, but it was still awesome.

What we perhaps didn’t realise that first time round is that the first book of a Jarvis trilogy, no matter how full-on, is just the warm up. The real perils and heartache are yet to come … Or ‘Until the summer’, as the bats would say.

So we hope to see you all next month for The Crystal Prison!

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The Dark Portal | Chapter 13

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Jupiter had made the Plague a living thing with his black arts and the mist was writhing with evil life.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: ‘Dark Rewards,’ reads the chapter heading. ‘Oh no,’ says I.

Of all the horribleness in The Dark Portal, this chapter’s events were the ones that stuck with me as a child. The mouse-skins were pretty bad, and so was the shrine of the Unholy Triad, but it was this wretched mine and these wretched rats and wretched Finn and the wretched sentient Black Plague which haunted my young imagination. I hated it, but I could not stop listening.

Now, I still hate it, and I could not stop reading, and I’m very, very pleased about that because we’ve got one heck of a penultimate chapter here. First of all, the scenes with Oswald pretending to be a rat are like a bad dream; the descriptions of his calloused, dirt-encrusted paws are so visceral that it almost hurts to read about them, and we are made to feel his strain and fear of discovery as if it were our own.

I’ve written about the delightful Smiler on Silvering Sea, and Finn is one of the very few characters I’ve ever come across for whom the only suitable descriptor is ‘creeptastic’ , but for me, it is the setting of this chapter that makes it so terrifying. I am claustrophobic, and the mere idea of small, underground tunnels gives me the heebie-jeebies. Throw in the thin, dark opening which Oswald ends up in and the presence of the inescapable Black Death, and I’m left pretty sure that the only reason I managed to get through this chapter as a child was because the audiobook was abridged.

As much as this chapter scares me, I’ve always loved the moment where Jupiter turns up and starts bellowing to the rats that ‘HE IS THEIR LORD.’ Once again, favourable memories of Tom Baker’s narration surface in my mind, and I always grin at Morgan’s smug satisfaction when the minions are at last suitably cowed.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: It just struck me for the first time as I read it this time – was this chapter, with its mining strikes and merciless bosses, meant to have echoes of the 1984 Miner’s Strike? The Dark Portal, after all, was written in 1989, so the events of 1984 would have been fairly fresh in the minds of many adults, if not the children reading the book.
Whether there’s anything in that theory or not, this is probably one mine you would want to shut down as soon as possible, given what lay at the end of the dig! Such a creepy reveal – the Black Plague! Instantly British, instantly morbid – conjuring up images of death, disease and mass graves.

In fact, if you’ll allow me another musical interlude, I found that whenever I listened to Symphony No. 3 by William Alwyn (a spectacularly underrated English composer, who you should all have a listen to!), there was one particular moment that would conjure up a scene from a sadly non-existent Dark Portal movie in my head. Around the 7:30 mark in the first movement (here’s a link that starts at that point if you want to skip to it), a massive brass theme rings out, sounding ominous and devastating.

In my mind, I could see Oswald in the mines – the camera zooms into his eye, we hear Master Oldnose talking about Blackheath and the dead buried there – and then, as the music flares up, we see carts tipping bodies into a massive pit. The camera pulls up into the sky, looking down, and we’re horrified by how many people are buried there.

Yeah, now that I’ve written that down, that was never going to happen in any kids’ movie, was it?

Still, the imagery is potent and it’s a great threat, like the magical equivalent of a massive bomb that our heroes have to defuse or (if you have read Dan Brown’s Inferno or caught it in the cinemas recently) a deadly plague that will be unleashed on the world. Which mercifully gets dealt with at the last minute.

Leaving only Jupiter to be dealt with in the next chapter.

(And a few rat obituaries for us to write this week!)

 

The Dark Portal | Chapter 12

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Warning: Contains spoilers!

‘Dear lady, have you not thought that our two problems are linked? They have a common root, a dark, poisonous canker that must be cut out before it does any more harm.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: In this chapter, we spend some time at home with Gwen and Arthur, and observe through them the rather specific torture of those who are left behind while their loved ones embark on life-threatening adventures. In the opening scene you really feel Gwen’s restlessness and worry – she fumbles absently around the house, she tidies needlessly. Eventually, she runs out of distractions and sits, anxiously awake, waiting for news.

This perfectly sets up Thomas’s entrance. The midshipmouse’s no-nonsense attitude seems to bring out the best and bravest in everyone, and he swiftly galvanises  Audrey’s friends and family into action. That Thomas is still willing to take on Jupiter after having witnessed the ritual on Blackheath says much for his character; without Mr Jarvis ever spelling it out, we can infer Thomas’s courage, and Twit’s loyalty for staying at his side throughout.

For myself, I have two favourite things in this chapter. The first is the way Mr Jarvis waxes artistic in his descriptions of Thomas. With his white hair that ‘waves about like a frothy sea’ and his eyes that ‘twinkle beneath his frosty brow’, the midshipmouse is the sort of character that one feels the need to draw, or indeed, see brought to life in a stop-frame television series. Like Madame Akkikuyu, he seems born for the screen.

The other is Mrs Chitter. Set up as an interfering busybody in Chapter 2, this shrill little mousewife finally gets her moment in the limelight, and the scene where our heroes try to come up with some sort of workable plan while she wails in the background is fairly hilarious. Someone give the poor lady a strong cup of tea and a quiet sit-down!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: A simple chapter, but it provides a nice relief from all the darkness that has gone before it – and, better yet, it gives us a glimmer of hope. There’s something awesome about how Thomas Triton walks in, takes charge of the situation and everyone joins in.

However, it did cause me a couple of random chuckles:

First off, how many comments about poor old Arthur’s weight does he have to put up with? First time someone meets him, they have a go at his stomach! I didn’t notice this so much the first time around, but it happens a lot.

However, there’s something rather special about all of this. In the Hagwood books (which we’ll get to next year), there is a bio about Robin Jarvis up the back which contains this interesting little fact: ‘Robin usually includes one small, portly character in most of his books. This character is not the hero, but instead a friend or brother of the protagonist – someone a bit clumsy and a bit too fond of supper. The character is, in fact, Robin.’

So it would seem that Arthur is in fact Mr Jarvis himself enjoying a cameo. Very cool!

But the most cool fact of all, the one I hadn’t even notice, is that when Gwen Brown does her awesome re-entrance to announce that she’s coming along and no one’s stopping her – she has a rapier. A rapier? What are mice doing with rapiers? I know there have been some famous sword-fighting mice in history. (Reepicheep probably being the first.) But the idea that mice just have weapons stashed away in case of emergency is rather awesome.

Presumably it was Albert’s weapon. But how long had he had it? Was it a fairly heirloom? Was it given to him by his father when he got married? Or am I just assuming that it would pass down the male line? It is from Gwen’s side of the family? Or do all mice just go out and arm themselves? After all, the opening line of the book does say: ‘When a mouse is born he has to fight to survive.’

Over to you, readers: do you think mice with swords are a common thing?

Or does this come back up in another book and I’ve just forgotten? (In which case, don’t spoil it for me!)

The Dark Portal | Chapter 11

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Warning: Contains spoilers!

‘Old soldiers never die Jake, they simply fade away.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter shows us that what we thought we knew about Jupiter and his faithful followers is not actually the full story. So far, the fearsome Lord of All has been the worst thing that could happen to our heroes. Like Chapter 7, part of this chapter’s function is to expand the world of the Deptford Mice, but this time our eyes are opened in a different and more frightening direction. Like Audrey, we awake from the nightmare of Jupiter into a reality which is far worse – the hidden, blood-soaked shrine of the Mighty Three.

Now that the fearsome Raith Sidhe have been introduced, I feel I would be remiss not to mention one of the most unique and fascinating aspects of the Robin Jarvis readership. By now you will have gathered that belief plays a pivotal role in his work, and, as our new readers will discover, this is true not only for the Deptford Mice Trilogy, but for every series.

This has lead to a peculiar phenomenon that I’ve seen only in a very few other author’s readerships. It has no official name and has only been tangentially addressed by Mr Jarvis himself, but the fact remains that, regardless of their real-life beliefs, anyone who will admit to being a Robin Jarvis fan will also admit that they have a special fondness for one or other of his fictional deities.

I have more to say on this topic, but I’ll save it for when we’re further into the (Re)Read. For now, let’s focus on The Dark Portal, and open things up to the floor. Dear Readers, are you noble Green Mousers, wondering what your brass would be, awed by the Spirit of Spring? Are you captivated by the fiery gaze of Jupiter, Prince of Nightmare? Or do older, darker powers whisper your name from the depths? (As a quick aside, if you align with a Robiny cult or mythology which has not yet been introduced, please feel free to drop hints, but refrain from mentioning them or their deeds explicitly).

 

Matt’s Thoughts: What could have been just a chapter of more rat unpleasantness turns fascinating with the introduction of the three rat gods: Bauchan, Mabb and Lord Hobb. I’d love to know what Jarvis’ inspirations were for this, but it does make the rats more similar to ancient Vikings or other characters known for paganism, bloodshed and human sacrifice.

For those who are reading through it for the first time, it might just read like one more unpleasant moment in arguably the most violent chapter in the whole book. (To this day, I still remember the scene where Fletch gets his head snapped off … it was such a visceral thing. I don’t think I’d read something that graphic in a book for younger readers since the time I read King Solomon’s Mines, which also featured a somewhat gruesome decapitation of the main villain.)

But what fans of the series really love is that Jarvis has here set up some amazing mythology, with plenty of fascinating questions: Are the three gods real beings like Jupiter, that might turn up some time? If Jupiter wasn’t always god of the rats, where did he come from and how did he take over? All of which we shall leave concealed behind the veil of the no spoilers policy, but it’s a great set-up.

Finally, I love the way Audrey – despite all the evil she has seen – still has some sympathy for Jake in the end. It adds to the impact of his demise but also serves to delineate the fundamentally kind hearts of the mice vs. the self-interest of the rats.

The Dark Portal | Chapter 10

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Without any further ado they opened their dark mouths and with a shock Morgan realised that he could see straight through them – they were ghostly, ephemeral things.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This is one of my favourite chapters in The Dark Portal. It’s got everything; an atmosphere of creeping dread; the bleak, swishing set of Blackheath, eerie even in daylight hours; and, ah yes, an arcane ritual to summon unclean wraiths from the trackless void! Honestly, what’s not to like?

I’ve spoken about Twit at length, and Thomas and the Starwife will get their moments in the limelight soon enough, so let’s talk about Morgan. Oft-overlooked in the annals of Mr Jarvis’ great and bad, that spotted slime-ball is nevertheless the first villain to meet our heroes on their level, so to speak, and he deserves a look-in for that alone.

As an introduction to the kind of vile secondary baddies Robin does so well, Morgan gets top marks. In Chapter 1 he’s responsible for the capture of Albert, so we despise him already, and his appearances in both the previous chapter and this one thoroughly cement our loathing. Here, we get a look into his slinking, beleaguered existence, and begin to see that his cringing fear of Jupiter is completely warranted. At this point, he has been serving the Lord of All for years, and is bound to his malevolent master’s will come plague, fire, and doom.

The Blackheath ceremony is another one of those scenes that is etched into my memory from the audiobook. It helped that Tom Baker’s rendition of Jupiter’s ‘soothing and repellent’ voice was blood-freezingly terrifying from start to finish. To this day, I could probably recite the words of that evil incantation verbatim, just because this chapter made such an impression upon me when I first heard it. I have yet to come across a more gracefully executed yet deeply disquieting scene involving occultism, even in the work of classic cosmic horror and weird fiction writers.

I’d love to hear you opinions on this scene, Readers all. Did you wonder queasily what was in Morgan’s paper parcel? Did you turn the book face-down after reading so you wouldn’t have to see Jupiter’s blazing eyes?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This chapter is more or less burned in my brain. It’s perhaps a throwback to my childhood in the 80s, where in some Christian circles, any tales of magic were immediately branded as ‘occult’ and considered dangerous. (Smurfs was on the dangerous list for some people. And you certainly couldn’t speak about Dungeons & Dragons.)

And so here we come across Mr Jarvis – in the middle of a kids’ book – describing an arcane ritual in enough detail to be highly disturbing but (perhaps) not enough detail to get himself in trouble with publishers.

Now that I’m older, I realise that in many ways Robin was drawing on centuries of legends and traditions about witchcraft and sorcery and the evil things that exist out there if you tap into them. This was the stuff that terrified grown-ups in the classic wave of occult 70s horror cinema, such as The Exorcist, The Omen and – a true British classic – The Wicker Man. But I don’t think anyone back then had thought about putting it in a book for young readers quite like this.

I don’t know – maybe people don’t read this with the same chill that I do. After having so many Paranormal Activity and Conjuring films, is the world of the occult something that is more laughable and familiar now? I’m not sure. But either way, for me, this pushed the book into a new level of darkness. Even Voldemort at the height of his mischief never felt as hideous as Jupiter summoning up dark spirits on Blackheath.

This, of course, became a mainstay of Robin’s books. There is always a moment (perhaps several) where his villains really ramp things up by tapping into dark forces. It usually marks a turning point where things go from being dangerous for our main characters to flat out cataclysmic.

But what about you, dear readers? Do Jarvis’ descriptions of dark forces give you that rising sense of dread as well?

The Dark Portal | Chapter 9

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

It was a chilling, gruesome thing; the pawless arms dangled around and touched him so softly that it was like being tickled by the dead and caressed by ghosts.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Now this is one that many of us remember, and if you’re reading for the first time, chances are you’ll recall it just as vividly in future. The next three chapters are what I’m right now naming the ‘Robin Jarvis litmus test’ – in short, if you can get through these and continue reading, congratulations, you can get through just about anything Mr Jarvis will throw at us in this trilogy, and so help you, you’re here till the bitter end!

The build-up to this chapter’s horrendous set-piece is brilliantly handled. First we’ve got Part II of ‘Oswald and Piccadilly in: A Brush with Protracted and Grisly Death’ as they finally escape the marauding rats. It’s thrilling, as our heroes zoom away on their makeshift raft. It’s chilling, as they are almost gnawed and almost drowned. It’s even funny, with Oswald’s phonetically-spelled lines being the most accurate written portrayal of someone with an injured nose ib eber come acwoss.

Then, they arrive, unknowingly, in Morgan’s lair. There’s a prickling, ominous atmosphere to the scene without anything explicitly horrible happening, lulling us into a false sense of security even as the shivers crawl up our spines. It is a rat’s lair, that much is clear. Piccadilly sneaks in. Oswald remains outside to ‘keep watch’ and, predictably, follows Piccadilly after a few moments of dithering. Piccadilly senses an odd, salty aroma and comments on it. Oswald steps in something disgusting. So far, so banal.

When the peeled mouse-skins are revealed, it’s like the first paragraph of the prologue magnified tenfold. We have come to know and love the Deptford Mice. We have cheered for them, we have cried with them, and now we feel Piccadilly’s dull horror as he explains about Bib. Once again, the evil of our villains is brought home and made personal, but in this case it is Morgan who takes the ghoulish spotlight, and the true menace of Jupiter’s faithful is brought out into the open.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: You know, it’s only when I slow down and write about one chapter at a time like this that I realise what a constant stream of macabre ideas that Jarvis throws in to his books. Morgan’s stockpile of flayed skins – if this wasn’t a story about mice – would place this well into the realm of adult writers like Stephen King, James Herbert and Thomas Harris.

It’s chilling stuff, but it yet again ratchets up the stakes against our heroes.

Which then makes it even worse, when they stumble into a lair of sleeping rats … But this is also great from a storytelling perspective, because Oswald’s tall rat-like look, far from just being an interesting physical description, now becomes a major plot point. Jarvis genius!

 

The Dark Portal | Chapter 8

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Their red eyes sparkled in the firelight and shone with the hunger and hatred that drove them.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Now we return to Oswald and Piccadilly on their hunt for Audrey’s mousebrass, and we begin to understand why Oswald is so hapless and down-trodden. Like with Twit and the story of his parents, I shed a tiny tear when I think of the hurt and feelings of rejection which Oswald has endured for the whole of his life. Combined with Piccadilly’s achingly brave shouldering of his own orphan status, it’s no wonder that this pair are at the top of many a reader’s Characters Who Most Need A Hug list.

In their small, sad conversation, Oswald and Piccadilly bring to light perhaps one of the most important themes in all of Mr Jarvis’ work: the necessity of true and loyal friendship. Oswald may have an appalling time of it in the Skirtings community, and Piccadilly may have no family, but, as they begin to realise in this chapter, they have each other – along with Arthur and Twit and (hopefully) Audrey.

Following this adorably awkward scene, we move right into ‘Oswald and Piccadilly in: A Brush with Protracted and Grisly Death’ as One-Eyed Jake and his band slink by on their way to the Skirtings. Courageously, the mice contrive to distract the rats and so spare the lives of their loved ones, but not before they get a lovely catalogue of the many and varied ways in which Jake and his cronies deal with their victims. All are quite ghastly, and cover everything from a traditional live peeling to my favourite, the good old crispy mouse-ear. Which of the rats’ murderous methods do you like best, O Ravening Readers?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I love the halfway points in Jarvis novels. The action has heated up, and all the gas burners are turned on. This is a fairly straightforward chapter, but we do start to see Oswald become more brave – plus we also find a little bit about the awkwardness and insecurity that he’s lived with most of his life.

Then we have the rats! One-Eyed Jake, Fletch, etc. I always loved his rat villains, especially because of the illustration in this chapter. Their evil faces and long, tall forms, compared with the short innocent mice make such a contrast. I realised what I didn’t quite express in an earlier post about his villains is that they were unusual for their time, because a lot of villains in kids’ stories were more cartoonish back in those days. (At least in the books I read!) Less than intelligent, easily fooled, comic characters.

Whereas there is almost nothing comic about Jarvis’ rats. (Though possibly you could make an exception for the number of creative verbal riffs they have on all things to do with snot, slime and poxes … a clever way of making them coarse without anything that would count as coarse language.)

Anyway, we’re in the middle of a water chase … on to the next chapter!

The Dark Portal | Chapter 7

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Sometimes in the dead of night I catch her out. Maybe it’s just the timbers shrinking after a warm day, but there are occasions when I fancy I hear the old girl sighing and sobbing for what was.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter kind of crept up on me. I was busy being all excited about Twit’s history and the bat’s prophecy, and suddenly, oh look who’s next! Thomas Triton, midshipmouse; retired, and sometimes pickled! At the opening of this chapter, however, we have yet to arrive with Twit in the rigging of the Cutty Sark. First, there’s an aerial tour of London to be had, and what a tour it is.

Twit’s flight over the city in the claws of Orfeo and Eldritch perfectly echoes the tale of Twit’s parents which we were privy to last chapter (especially when the bats almost deposit him in the icy, fast-flowing Thames!) but its main purpose is to reveal to us the world beyond the small, mousey confines of the Skirtings. Through Twit’s startled little eyes, the Deptford of the 1980s rolls out like a vaguely shabby carpet, revealing its Frankenstein’s monsters and its dark Satanic Mills, presenting a shadowy, dream-like stage-set for the action of the trilogy.

When eventually Twit does arrive on the Cutty Sark, it is as if to another world entirely. Having never seen a ship in his life, he has no frame of reference except the high corn-stalks of his field, and I’ve always loved the way he squares his tiny shoulders and just copes, despite that the bats have recently subjected him to more alarming experiences in quick succession than he’s probably ever had in all his born days.

Then there’s Thomas; the first whisper we get that the world is greater still than the London of the Deptford Mice Trilogy, and that it is indeed tall and dangerous. What secrets gleam in the blade of the midshipmouse’s sword, now hung on the wall like a trophy of nameless battles past but terrible? What sorrow lies at the bottom of the bowl of rum he gives to Twit? What wondrous places do his old and faded maps depict, and what has he seen that he has no fear of Jupiter, Lord of All?  Dear Readers, that’s another story.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I got the chance last year to visit London for the first time ever. I set aside a day – primarily because of this trilogy – to go and visit Deptford and Greenwich. (And drag my kids along.) I’m assuming Londoners have a much more immediate idea of what the place is like, but as an Australian, having only these books to go by, I was less sure what to expect.

Here’s a photo of the Deptford Markets from when I went through:

deptford

The first thing that struck me was that it was similar in many respects to some of the inner-city suburbs of my city, Sydney, that used to be a bit rough in the past but are now becoming quite trendy. (So you now have the strange combination of the young and trendy living side-by-side with the less-well-off.)

I would probably need a Londoner to help me out on this one, but the feeling I got from Deptford was that this was a suburb on the up now but that perhaps was less popular back in the day.

All of which leads me to one of the most interesting things about Robin’s books: they are all very particular about place. While he has created some completely fictional settings for some of his books (e.g. Hagwood), there are also a good number of places like Deptford, Greenwich and Whitby, that are real, living locations.

Which makes me wonder – what did people think, back in the late 80s, of a book being set in Deptford? Did it carry some sort of social weight that we wouldn’t be able to appreciate overseas? What does it say about his heroes that they live in a place like Deptford?

I’d love to hear from any of our British readers in the comments on this topic.

And here’s my photo of the Cutty Sark!

cutty-sark

It’s been damaged by fire (and repaired) a few times over the last couple of decades. And it now sits on a sort of glass platform rather than being in a concrete trough like the book. But still, it’s there and larger than life and a total must-see for those doing the Deptford Mice walking tour in London! (As is the Greenwich Observatory, but I’ll save photos of that for Book 2.)

Back to the chapter, I also love the little moment flying over London with the feral creatures and the song of the night which Twit and the bats can hear. It’s just one of those scenes you read and never quite forget.

And speaking of unforgettable, Thomas Triton! Aufwader has said pretty much everything I w0uld want to say about him. But I would like to know – what sort of accent does Thomas have? Any help from our readers on that point?

The Dark Portal | Chapter 6

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Threefold the life threats. How shall he be vanquished? By water deep, fire blazing and the unknown path.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I didn’t remember the very start of this chapter, and when I read it over it gave me the chills. Here we’ve got Arthur Brown of whom I spoke so well in my thoughts on Chapter 4; kindly, well-meaning, sensible Arthur Brown, imagining the worst of Audrey and turning his back on her when she most needs him. Of course, it’s Jupiter’s power that is corrupting Arthur’s gentle nature, and I think it is the fact that Arthur specifically is so affected by the evil enchantments of the Grill that really makes the threat of Jupiter seem personal.

In this chapter we also get our first hints that there is more to Twit than was initially shown. For instance, there is something a bit woolly about the explanation for his immunity to the Grill’s influence. Apparently, he is simply too good-natured for the magic to get its claws into him. If, however, the same Arthur who recently comforted his grieving mother and raced into Jupiter’s lair at risk to his own life to rescue his sister can suddenly be sneering like a rat and saying Audrey can rot in the sewers, Twit must be positively saintly.

Then there’s the business with his parents – town mouse and country mouse, so to speak, meaning that Twit slots neatly into both the society of his fieldmouse home and the Skirtings community, even if he prefers the former. (Does anyone else find it heart-breaking that the story Twit treasures about his parent’s meeting is meant as a cautionary tale to discourage city and country mice from pursuing romance with each other? I certainly do!) Evidently, there is a degree of sorrow in Twit’s life if not in Twit himself, and a degree of duality and mystery. Keep hold of these clues, we’ll need them much, much later.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’m guessing that if there is any particular section in long-term Jarvis fans’ copies of The Dark Portal that is the most thumb-stained, it is this chapter. The bats, (with the marvelous names of Orfeo and Eldritch), are the deliverers of a bunch of cryptic riddles that foreshadow the entire trilogy all the way through to the last page of Book 3.

Thus the thumb-stains! Throughout the trilogy, all of a sudden you’ll remember something that the bats said way back in Chapter 6 of The Dark Portal, you flick back and then marvel at how Jarvis has plotted the whole thing carefully from beginning to end. Despite which, you can never quite work out how it’s all going to end.

Unless …

[Small Aside For My Confession of Youthful Transgressions]

… unless you’re like me and you used to peek up the end of books to see how they finished up. I was notorious for doing this up until the age of – well, really up until I read The Dark Portal. By peeking at the end of Portal, I so spoiled the ending for myself, that I decided from then on I’d sit back and let books unfold as the author set them out. Since then, I’ve found books and movies to be a lot more enjoyable when you don’t know how they’re going to end. It does mean, though, that I won’t join in any conversations about any TV show I haven’t seen yet Because I Might Watch It One Day.

[End of Aside]

Anyway, final question for the readers: if there was ever a T-shirt going around with the logo:

‘By water deep, fire blazing and the unknown path’

Who here would buy it?

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