Aufwader’s Thoughts: Plenty of grand events going on this month, among them Audrey’s marriage to Twit beneath the hanging tree, the siege of Hara, and a multitude of deaths, including Imelza, Jenkin and Young Whortle. Oswald is also commemorated on the 11th, his birthday – it is both heartwarming and heartrending to hear that that mild, timid young mouse was awarded the Sign of Bravery and Courage after his death.
Most ominous to me is the very last entry for this month – Thomas and Woodget arrive at the Lotus Parlour, and are apprehended by the Scale. We all know where that led, and in true Robin Jarvis fashion, the knowledge makes us both dread and anticipate turning the page.
Matt’s Thoughts: Well, that was a momentous month – all the events of The Crystal Prison, plus all the gruesome battles from Thomas, all in the one section! The continued joy of this book is the extra illustrations of scenes that we know well but have never seen – the unhinged Madame Akkikuyu wandering through Greenwich Park, Piccadilly with his sad farewell note, Twit standing up to the mob and offering to marry Audrey.
I couldn’t help but check my own hand out to see how I fit on the rat zodiac – a good dose of courage and a sizeable amount of cunning as well …hmm.
Finally, this was the month that Young Whortle was murdered by the corn dolly – which is rather grim, considering that next month’s book is the tale of that young mouse.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: My favourite entries this month are of course all the little sideways references to the events of Thomas, but something I’d forgotten, and which I found very intriguing, was the Feast of Osfrid the Mouse Martyr on the 17th. If I recall correctly, there is also a sort of mousey ‘saint’ mentioned elsewhere in the Almanack – the patron of eyesight, to whom Oswald often prayed.
This makes me wonder about all the other mouse saints and martyrs who must surely exist. There are Greenie pilgrims and holy crusaders, so why should there not be other, more regional, holy figures too? I wonder what horrible deaths they faced in days of long ago, or how they came to be ‘canonised’ in the name of the Green. What a fascinating blend of different belief systems!
Matt’s Thoughts: What an eventful month! I was thrilled to see so many of the key events of The Dark Portal and the early part of The Crystal Prison playing out. The illustrations of Jupiter drowning, or his spirit rising from the burning rubbish heap, were just thrilling to see. I’ve got to say this Almanack is almost like being allowed to see all the spare doodles and archived illustrations that we like to think lurk all around Robin’s house.
But laid out like this, we also realise May was the trigger for the unhappy adventures of Thomas and Woodget (great creepy illustration of Dimlon!), making me wonder – what headspace was Thomas Triton really in when Twit first arrived at the Cutty Sark? Was he in the midst of brooding for his old friend?
Aufwader’s Thoughts: For somebody who only gets her hair done once a year, I must say, Madame Akkikuyu isn’t looking too shabby in this month’s calendar illustration. I have to wonder whether this is a depiction of her in her travelling youth, perhaps mere weeks after she commandeered Simoon’s esoteric paraphernalia. She rather looks as if she’s practicing her act – and now, the Mystical, the Marvellous, Madame Akkikuyu!
This month’s points of interest include the rather trusting mouse custom of the Day of Keys on the 4th, and, on the 6th, Spittle’s first sighting of what we must assume is a portent of Jupiter’s – I mean, the Great Plague’s – arrival in old London town. We also have a piece on the rare Sign of Grace and Beauty, a somewhat maligned mousebrass that seems to be more of a curse than a blessing to those who receive it. (One wonders if mouse fables perhaps contain a moral tale of a fair maiden turned cruel and heartless by the fickle enchantment of that brass.)
There are other sorrows too; Lost Sweethearts Day on the 19th is a maudlin favourite of mine, and of course we have the tragic and untimely demise of Vespertilio on the 27th.
Lastly, and perhaps most ominously of all, is the small entry on the 29th, describing how Madame Akkikuyu first ventured into the Skirtings to tell the fortunes of the Deptford Mice. Imagine if she had taken the long way round!
Matt’s Thoughts: Highlights for me of this month were the diagrams of rat ears and the rather humorous tale of Freddy Beechnut and his Hopping the Hare. Still, however, the theme of Thomas Triton’s alcoholism remains, which is sad.
I do have to ask, did anyone ever make the Blind Brass Biscuits?
Aufwader’s Thoughts: I’m going to nominate this as my second favourite almanack month painting after October (a heavy metal album cover) and December (a certain big-time Deptford villain looking sumptuously ugly in glorious technicolour). March is Raith Sidhe Month, with the moon smack dab in the House of Hobb as we enter the sign the Bloodybones, and what better compliment to that than the high priest of Hobb marauding across the page in his grisly disguise.
This month we see the return of Gervase from Holeborn, where he’d been visiting Arthur Brown, now Thane of the City, and his family. The 16th details the gruesome discovery he makes on his way back to Greenwich, and it’s all a bit hilariously Indiana Jones. Imagine, Gervase Brightkin: Archaeologist, exposing heinous rat cults and grappling with cackling high priests on precipitous cliff edges. (This needs to be a spin-off comic immediately.)
Just before, on the 15th, we have a brief record of the dark day that Morgan throttled Black Ratchet and clawed his way up to the lauded position of Jupiter’s right-hand henchrat. In less bloody history, the 25th details the legend of Wilfrid, the first mouse smith, to whom the Green taught the method of brass-making in the lost mists of the past. Wilfrid’s empty brass, also known as the Sign of the Maker, adorns the coat of arms I created for Robin a few years ago.
Matt’s Thoughts: A month which threw me mostly back to the world of Oaken Throne, reminding me that despite the thickness of that book, all the events in that story actually took place in a remarkably few short days. We’re also picking up on Gervase’s contempt for Thomas Triton, which is somewhat sad, given that the Almanack is (I believe) the tail end of the Deptford stories timeline. The idea that Thomas Triton, one of the great Jarvis heroes, disappears from the histories as an alcoholic is so tragic.
Highlight of this month for me, without a doubt, was the entry for the 30th, where we see an illustration of the famous Grill. This particularly sinister item of Victorian finery was mentioned many, many times in the original trilogy, but this is the first time I remember actually seeing it.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: For this little forktail, February is all about Scalian New Year, which I decided at age ten falls upon the 4th. Do not ask me what the significance of that date is because I’ve honestly no idea, but since then, ever year, I have done something to honour Sarpedon the Mighty.
It always seemed to me a bit of a swizz that every other god in the Deptford universe should have so many festivals and holy days, while the Scale were left standing gloomily on the sidelines. Even Jupiter has the repurposed Hobber rights of First Blood and Goregut to look forward to. Blame it on biased squirrel scribes or ancient records now lost to mould in the Starwife’s archives, but the Scale have been short-changed for high days and revels, and over the years I have done what I can to rectify that sad state of affairs.
Speaking of First Blood, that falls this month, as well as the moon entering the House of Hobb in what should be the start of a new calendar year for all Children of the Raith Sidhe. It may also be noted that these events coincide with one another in a manner that I imagine was quite difficult for Jupiter’s lieutenants to gloss over in the past. Of final note is the birthday of Wendel Maculatum, right in the Peeler – well, that explains his gift for turning sacrifices into ‘art’!
Matt’s Thoughts: I love the illustration for this month – both because it’s possibly one of the single best illustrations of Thomas Triton you’re likely to see, and also because its corresponding entry for the 10th refers to the tossing of the coin to propitiate the Lords of the Deep. Those three can certainly do with plenty of propitiation, that’s for sure!
I loved the mix of the humorous (Madame Akkikuyu’s sniffles remedy) and the tragic (the burial mound of Mr Woodruffe and the entry for Piccadilly’s birthday). Also, given that 18th marks the beginning of the Ash Month, I was actually wondering to what degree the Wyrd Museum was taking shape when this was written?
The idea that ash trees are somewhat distasteful to squirrels because of some dim dark connection to the World Ash Tree, while being completely my own reading into the passage, is an idea that I find quite appealing. You could see somebody like the old Starwife (or even the current one) knowing the whole tale of Yggdrasil and thinking it a rather pathetic example of squabbling divinities engaging in power struggles.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: The Deptford Mice Almanack is a rare and beautiful curiosity. Probably the closest thing to an artbook that Mr Jarvis has ever released, it slipped under the radar about as soon as it was published and is now something of a collector’s item. I didn’t actually know of its existence until a few years ago, and was delighted to discover this treasure trove of rodent lore and exquisite original paintings.
Although the Almanack follows on from the finale of the Deptford Mice Trilogy, it has none of the derivative feel of a series tie-in, and all of Robin’s trademark attention to plot continuity and world-building. It might be in wide and colourful format, but this is to all intents and purposes the next instalment in the epic of A Few Small Mousies Against The Forces Of Darkness, and it shows in the depth of the story woven between the titbits of in-universe mythology and folklore.
As for Gervase Brightkin; official limner to Audrey the Starwife, as a premise I find him to be quite endearingly self-aware. In the hands of a lesser author it might seem somewhat glib, or even vain, to insert oneself into one’s own story. Here, however, it works with the tone rather well – we all know Mr Brightkin is Robin in disguise, we all know it’s a twee conceit to make yourself a squirrel for the fun of it, but then, ‘for the fun of it’ is the point. The Almanack is Mr Jarvis throwing a party in honour of his own world, and we’re all invited to attend.
January starts us off in characteristically bleak fashion, with the most notable date being the grandly-titled Day of Deliverance on the 18th, upon which Audrey liberated the world of Jupiter’s menace from atop the Greenwich Observatory dome. Our heroine also has her birthday on the 3rd, directly following the day in honour of the Fir Realm, that most musical of squirrel houses. January also introduces both the Squirrel Calendar, with each month named for a different tree, and the Rat Zodiac, a delicious piece of villainous esoterica complete with moon phases in the houses of Hobb, Mabb and Bauchan. What are your favourite entries for this month, Readers all?
Matt’s Thoughts: Not having read the Almanack before, I love the concept. I also now realise why there have been some fans clamouring for more Deptford stories – clearly those hints by the writer Gervase Brightkin that something bad is on the move is a suggestion that all may not be peaceful for our mice in Deptford just yet …
And, by the way, I love the fact that all the squirrels at Greenwich seem to have spectacularly pretentious names.
As for the Almanack entries themselves – what a sad January that was to remember! Piccadilly, Oswald, Mr Oldnose, Holeborn being decimated. It would take a long time for those memories to die down.
Most poignant entry, though, was the one about the Sadhu giving the wooden figures to Kempe. This is a small detail but in chapter 5 of The Crystal Prison, Kempe has those figures and shows them to Twit. What a layer of irony that entry adds to that scene now!
Hi, Matt here, with an update on what’s coming next:
In January of next year – We can’t believe we made it through 12 months of blogging our way through Jarvis! – we’ll be starting both the Tales from the Wyrd Museum series, and also reading through the Almanack entries for each month. So, if you want to keep up with us, you’ll need to get yourself two books for next month!
Let’s start with the Museum …
The Woven Path is a bit of an abandoned book for me. I remember buying it when I came out. In fact, I loved the original cover artwork, featuring an elaborate arched doorway and a terrified, one-armed teddy bear fleeing from what looked like an enormous cockroach with glowing red eyes. (As an Australian, I can appreciate the fear of giant cockroaches: the things are miserable.)
However, like all of my Jarvis books from Warlock in Whitby onwards, I never got around to reading them at the time they came out. I eventually caught up on the remaining Whitby and Deptford Histories books, and later on down the track I decided to jump back in to Jarvis when Dancing Jax came out.
But the poor old Wyrd Museum either sat in boxes in cupboards or on shelves, unread, moving from house to house. So I never did find out – who was that giant cockroach? What was the teddy bear’s full backstory? (There are some hints at it on Robin’s author website, but they only make me more curious.)
So, finally, the time has come to dust off my still mint-condition originals and give it a read. Looking forward to it!
If you’re looking to buy a copy, this one is still in print on Amazon in paperback or Kindle edition, all of which contain the original illustrations. (Though sadly the terrified teddy bear no longer features on the latest covers.)
Meanwhile, now that we’ve read our way through everything Deptford barring the Mouselets, we thought the new year would be a great time to begin the Deptford Mice Almanack. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a guide to the year, arranged in months and date entries – explaining further lore of all the characters and societies from the Deptford books. It probably won’t make as much sense if you haven’t read those books, but it’s a beautiful extra enhancement if you have. As soon as I flicked through the first few pages, I immediately decided I didn’t want to read it cover to cover and am going to space it out over the year.
At the end of every month, we’ll do a post on our favourite bits and interesting trivia from that month’s selection of the Almanack. This one is out-of-print, so you will need to do some searching for it, but it is fairly cheap on the second-hand market (at least in the UK) and has heaps and heaps of original illustrations.