The Deptford Mice Almanack | December

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What sinister darkness lies in store for us all? Audrey Scuttle was placed upon the Living Throne by the Green himself, a madness has consumed the folk of Greenwich and I fear for what will undoubtedly befall them. A distant, unpleasant place has my home become, and I shall not spend the eve here!

Aufwader’s Thoughts: So we finally come to the death of one year and the birth of another. When the Almanack was published in 1997, we Robin Jarvis fans could not have known that in four years time we would depart from the rodenty world of Deptford and Greenwich, to crash-land in an entirely new, reflected, realm for a new millennium. We could not have guessed at the fire and bloodshed and adult themes which awaited us, first in the be-ruffed players of Deathscent, and then in stubborn stain of the Dancing Jax trilogy. Back in 1997, none of us, perhaps not even Mr Jarvis himself, supposed that a return to the looming crags of Whitby would be in the offing, over twenty years after The Whitby Child first terrified young readers. And maybe, in light of War in Hagwood, some of us returned to the Mouselets with renewed optimism that the Deptford Mice finale the Almanack promised would see the light of day after all. 

For myself, the ending of the Almanack is basically perfect, and the only Deptford Mice closure I’ll ever require. Looking back on the whole of Robin Jarvis canon after two years of reading and writing my way through it, I would say that his greatest strength and brightest talent is his ability to hone in on one particular story and tell it well, while still giving the impression of thousands of other stories, happening off-page, but happening nonetheless. Robin Jarvis books come to an end, but life goes on in the worlds he has created, long after the reader has reached the last page.

Gervase gets up from his desk, puts on his squirrelly scarf against the weather, and goes to visit Thomas Triton. They have a drink, the bells chime. Somewhere out in the night, Modequai and Morella weave their devilish schemes. The Greenwich sentries chatter and wail. The rats of Deptford mutter about thrones and bones and daggers with amethyst pommels dredged up on the banks of the Thames. Perhaps Audrey seeks shelter with her brother Arthur and his family in Holeborn. Parhaps she flees into the dark. 

Matt’s Thoughts: Well, I figured something bad was on its way, but I wasn’t sure what! Now I understand why everyone who reads the Almanack is hanging out for more Deptford books.

The fact that we got prequels instead (the Mouselets series) does make me think that we were going to be set up for the return of Mabb (and perhaps Hobb as well) for any future books. And I’m assuming that Morella is perhaps Alison Sedge, possessed by Mabb and transformed into a squirrel somehow?

Well, I guess until Mr Jarvis decides to tell that tale, we’ll either have to wait and see or imagine how such a showdown would play out. 

And given that we’re still patiently (well, almost patiently) waiting for the final Witching Legacy book, that might be a while in coming.

Finally, what a cleverly done last twist. Here Thomas has been set up as the alcoholic loser all year long and now it’s Gervase that goes and joins him in hitting up the bottle. What an ironic way to finish the Almanack!

The Deptford Mice Almanack | November

The night when the effigies of enemies – or merely those who are resented – are paraded from door to door, before being sat atop a bonfire and ceremoniously set alight. In the past, the Skirtings mice would always make an image of Master Oldnose. Now, however, the youngsters love to make an effigy of Jupiter, though some of the older mice cling tightly to their brasses as the fire is lit.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  After an unexpected hiatus, we’re back, belated but bushy-tailed, with November’s entry. This is another of my favourites in the Almanack calendar – a festive, mildly unnerving scene, reminiscent of the Guy Fawkes tradition but featuring an effigy of Jupiter in place of the Guy. I love the gleeful expressions on the mice’s faces as they watch the Lord of the Winter burn, knowing that he really is burning still, somewhere out in the cosmos.

The entry to accompany this illustration, dated, of course, the 5th, is also an interesting look at the aftermath of large-scale mouse trauma. The youngsters, too little to recall the Eternal Winter, have diminished that past horror into a raucous, celebratory ritual, while the older mice, the ones who were there, dammit, clutch their brasses at the memory. Remember, remember, the Day of Deliverance.

As always, there are many notable dates this month following our main plot, not least the discovery of Mabb’s altar by Gervase and the Starwife’s sentries. The image of those quivering squirrels coming across the gored corpse of old Dodder is the kind of grotesque scene that deserves a Penny-Dreadful-like engraving. I can just see their horrified little faces, and the lurid printed caption “Another Sacrifice Had Been Made In The Temple Of The Unholy Three!”

On a slightly more heartwarming note, I’ve always liked the four day spread of the Quilt Festival. There’s something so Brambly Hedge about all the mice gathering together for this most cosy of annual celebrations, but of course, being Robin Jarvis mice, they’re busy sewing in iron for good luck and rowan to keep evil at bay.

Finally, in the Rat Zodiac, we enter the Sign of Discord, and though it be Hobbish heathenry and though “kill-ems” apparently have ‘many friends, all dead’, I daresay I could do worse than share a sign with Black Ratchet.

Matt’s Thoughts: Now this is fascinating. Because I have never read the Almanack before this reread (so this is just a read for me!), I didn’t realise that the story of ‘Orace Baldmony was traced out in 1997 back in this Almanack (rather than appearing in Fleabee’s Fortune, where I first read about it.

There we go – so many intricate parts of the Deptford landscape floating around in Robin’s brain!

Highlights for me were the Nepwort story (I know it’s meant to be something that scares mice, but it is rather blackly comic, don’t you think?) and Widdershins Eve (which is so flat out bizarre, I can’t help but like it).

Clearly, there were plans also – in the current-day narrative part of the story – for some sort of return of the Raith Sidhe, but that one might just have to wait. Or be crowd-sourced. Or if Aufwader gets her way, never written at all so we can imagine how it all plays out!

 

The Deptford Mice Almanack | October

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Occasionally figures have been glimpsed – dim and indistinct, yet all locked in a fearful combat. Perhaps in the dawn of days when the Raith Sidhe ruled the land, a conflict took place that was so ghastly that its memory was imprinted upon the aether, doomed to be performed at this time throughout the ages. Maybe it is a warning of some kind, or a reminder of ancient horrors. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This is another one of my favourite calendar illustrations. The doughty squirrel warrior, sword gleaming; and the vile Hobber, eyes glinting just as brightly. Seeing it, one hears the echoes of war cries and pictures banners emblazoned with the silver crest of the Ancient, spattered with blood. Having been to Blackheath, I can well imagine such spectres flickering in and out of sight in the halflight of a red October sunset.

Of greatest note this month are the diaries of Gervase Brightkin, as he recounts his meetings with doddery informants, sightings of shady rats of Deptford past, and alarm at the wanton hedgehog murder happening right on his doorstep. What are these mysterious happenings leading to, we ask ourselves? Tune in for next month’s installment.

Matt’s Thoughts: Of course it was Halloween when Jupiter’s spirit returned. This was just one of a few grim things this month, including a football game with decapitated heads, a murdered hedgehog and the bats predicting that barely any squirrels will be left alive in a year.

But there is also so many strands that point tales we’ve never heard. The ghostly rat and squirrel warrior fighting in the colour illustration – who were they? Was this one of the many battles between squirrels and Hobbers? Or something else completely?

The more I read of the Almanack, the more I realise it was a small miracle for us Jarvis fans that a book with such lavish production values got to be in print.

The Deptford Mice Almanack | August

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At last the two itinerant rats where discovered skulking in a deserted rabbit hole, and were brought before the Starwife. They were none other than Vinegar Pete and Leering Macky, who where believed to have perished with the rest of Jupiter’s followers more than ten years ago.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: My favourite entry this month is actually the 1st. I hadn’t really considered that the fieldmice and other small fuzzy creatures of the farming countryside would be under threat every summer from the harvest, but of course they would. I can imagine that, it being Robin Jarvis, the ghosts of those who had faced a quick but gory death with their temporary summer homes would probably return to walk the fields in the condition in which they had died. I bet the young mice of Fennywolde scare themselves silly with tales of bloody, manged ghouls roaming among the shorn wheat…

Of greatest note in terms of plot this month is the return of (gasp) Vinegar Pete and Leering Macky. Like everyone else, I had thought them either plagued to death in The Dark Portal, or ice wraithed in The Final Reckoning. It appears however that they are both born under the Wheel of Fortune in the Rat Zodiac, because they seem to have actually lived through the entire Deptford Mice trilogy. What a feat!

Matt’s Thoughts: The world of the Deptford Mice Almanack is a sort of twilight world of remembrance and haunted psyches. The more I read it, I realise that it is somewhat unique in what it achieves: it tells us about aftermath and pain.

Most of Mr Jarvis’ books have tragedy built into them – especially the third book of most of the trilogies, with lots of beloved characters meeting horrible ends. And we assume, of course, that this would continue to be a source of sadness for those who remain as time goes on, but the books often end with just a brief epilogue, so we don’t have to live through the pain too much.

Whereas, month by month, the Almanack chronicles trauma. Thomas still drinking, the shrews remembering Tysle day, William Scuttle looking at a picture of the Starwife and perhaps most vividly of all – Alison Sedge, looking positively ratlike indeed.

The other thing is that I’m starting to connect the dots of Alison’s dire warning and the appearance of Vinegar Pete and Leering Macky. You get the feeling that there was one almighty final showdown going to happen with the original cast of the Mice.

I’m not sure what kind of epic adventure the fourth Deptford Mice book would’ve been, and we’ll possibly never know, but it’s tantalising!

The Deptford Mice Almanack | July

 

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Waldo and Dilly-O are fine fellows, if a trifle boisterous. Named after Arthur’s two late friends, Oswald and Piccadilly, they seem to be to be quite a pawful, but my attention was taken by Waldo, who is quite artistic. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This month starts off in bad, bad form, with the very first date being the fall of Sarpedon at the Black Temple. This is only somewhat made up for by the inclusion of the ‘Nine Bright Stars’ poem, and the only drawing of the Dark Despoiler we’re ever likely to get – Gervase’s small doodle on the 28th, scrawled over by Pirkin Gim-Gim (the absolute heathen). I’ve moaned and groaned about the Scale being short-changed in the Almanack before, but this month really shows how little the folk of Greenwich seem to know about the Serpent’s brood. Quite a dangerous ignorance, if you assssk me.

Lizard business aside, I’d forgotten that Morgan was actually born in the House of Mabb, ‘a loner who shifts his allegiance to whomever is in power’. I find this a trifle harsh in description of Morgan specifically, since he never actually chose to be Jupiter’s henchrat for most of his life. Considering that his one goal was independence, it’s rather grimly ironic that he was literally born to be a lackey, if a respected one.

There are a couple of mysterious dates this month – Baffles Day on the 14th, upon which Audrey lost one of her tail bells (who found it? we must ask ourselves), and the mention of the Holly Princes of the old squirrel realms. Once more, we catch glimpses of tunnels branching off to either side, leading away into darkness.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: A few little poignant gems in here – Madame Akkikuyu’s final resting place, Arthur and Audrey leaving Fennywolde. Also, some lovely stuff like Arthur naming his kids Oswald and Piccadilly – nice to know those two lived on in some form!

I know that the humorous entries were meant to be the ones such as the 7th and 29th, but I must admit, I got my biggest chuckle from the 30th, where we see a toothy maw waiting for a frightened mouse to run into its hole from a thunderstorm. I feel this is the sort of scenario that is told to frighten young fieldmice into obedience – a little bit like the mouse equivalent of Stranger Danger.

Finally, it seemed very fitting – in the month where we have just finished Whortle’s Hope – to read these words ‘I … was met with great friendliness by Master William Scuttle, the present King of the Field … [i]t was wonderful to note the great respect which the others have for him.’ What a great character he was.

The Deptford Mice Almanack | June

 

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The country mouse keeps his eyes peeled during this month as he goes about his business, for the Green Mouse is supposed to visit and bless the hedgerows, and to spy Him bodes wondrous joy and fortune. 

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.

The Deptford Mice Almanack | May

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Two years after moving to Holeborn and becoming the new Thane, Arthur brown married Nel Poot. Many of the mice from the Cutty Sark made the journey to celebrate the wedding. Gwen Triton, however, attended the event alone, since Thomas was too ‘ill’ to travel and Arthur’s sister, the Starwife, was too busy with her high office. 

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?