Warning: Contains Spoilers!
But the last, Twit noted with horror, had one of his claws missing and in its place, bound tightly to the stump, was something that made the fieldmouse squeal like his cousin – a peeler.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Poor Arthur Brown never gets much of a look-in when people talk about the Deptford Mice, but as far as I’m concerned it’s his unremarkable nature that makes him so likeable. As our heroine’s jollier, sturdier brother, it’s his duty to bring a bit of common sense and stability to proceedings. In this chapter as during the mousebrass-giving, he does this with aplomb, comforting his mother and rallying his friends when it becomes clear that Audrey is well and truly missing.
Here we also get a clearer look at Twit and Oswald; two of my absolute favourite characters out of any of Robin’s books. Twit especially is cleverly unfolded as the series goes on as a rather complex character, but his sunny personality remains genuine, as we see when he discusses his countryside home. The put-upon Oswald; gawky, bescarfed, and jittering, is the sort of character with whom we can probably all identify to some extent, if only because most of us certainly know ‘an Oswald’ in our own lives.
Between them, Arthur, Twit, and Oswald make up Audrey’s rescue party, and it is through their frightened but courageous eyes that we come nose-to-snout with One-Eyed Jake and his cronies. One rung down from Morgan, this band of bloodstained scoundrels are delightfully, slaveringly wicked, and thus immensely fun to read. I can recall one reviewer of The Dark Portal from a few years ago commenting that even the lowliest of Mr Jarvis’ rats would make Cluny the Scourge, the infamous warlord of Brian Jacques’ Redwall, drop his whip-like tail and flee in terror. I have to admit I concur – Cluny is very sinister, but you can’t beat a snickering, leering gang of red-eyed murderers closing in on our helpless heroes, deliberating whom they are going to make a ‘raw head and bloody-bones’ of first!
Matt’s Thoughts: I’m a fan of horror films, so I love the way Robin has worked in the classic horror movie trope into a kids’ story: One person goes missing in some dark, forbidding place. Other friends say, ‘Let’s go find them!’ And then everyone ends up in trouble. (He does, however, avoid that other cliché of horror stories, where somebody suggests the never-sensible idea of splitting up.)
This is also an introduction to a bunch of classic Jarvis ‘nasties’: they’re the bad guys who work for the ultra-villain and they’re nearly always ugly, sadistic and violent. I’m sure this got many parents and teachers riled up back in the day (and apologies to any parents and teachers reading this who are riled up still) but this is actually what makes his books so intense: the villains are so, well, vile, compared with the innocence of the heroes, that it makes the story that much more compelling.
Nobody has any special combat skills to battle these kind of bad guys. It just comes down to courage and tenacity. Which will be sorely tested in the chapters to come …
Final Pedantic Note: Reading the Hodder silver-coloured edition, I noticed that the book alternated between spelling the old piece of metal in the cellar as ‘Grille’ and ‘Grill’, sometimes within paragraphs of each other. To sort this one out, I went to the source. It’s now officially ‘the Grill’.