Warning: Contains Spoilers!
‘When thou bringest the silver to the Starglass, all things are possible, child.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Apparently, Giraldus and Tysle were the first characters to appear to Mr Jarvis and demand that The Oaken Throne be written. The leprous mole and his shrew companion started it all, and I can think of no better beginning to what would become one of the greatest legends of the Deptford Histories.
These two also bring with them the concept of the good old medieval pilgrimage. Like the Black Plague back in The Alchymist’s Cat, pilgrimage was something I knew about as a child, but not in any great detail. Giraldus and Tysle not only introduce it as an idea, but address it in a three-dimensional way, which I just think is fantastic.
First, we have this pair of creatures, both afflicted in some way and seeking the healing power of the divine for their ills. Then, we have the idea that these two are not only two individuals who just happened to be going the same way, but that they have bonded in such a manner that we could no longer picture one without the other, and that their pilgrimage has cemented this bond. We have their fear that their quest is fruitless when they hear of the despoiling of their destination, combined with their unshakable faith. Finally, we have Tysle’s heartbreaking willingness to deceive Giraldus about the state of the Orchard of Duir, determined that the old mole’s suffering to get that far would not be in vain.
All of this, in some form or another, is what real pilgrims experienced – the idea that the journey and the faith of the journeyers is more important than the destinations rings very true, even today. Medieval pilgrims must have banded together on the road, been disappointed by holy sites that did not live up their expectations, and had their faith grow the greater for the hardships they endured. In their bumbly way, Giraldus and Tysle embody traditional pilgrimage, and Ysabelle and Vesper could stand to learn from their stalwart example.
Matt’s Thoughts: Aufwader has pretty much said everything I was feeling as well – it brings the idea of pilgrimage to life in a way that old history books often can’t. (I particularly loved the nice touch of the ‘caterpillar penance’.)
But what was interesting was that, just as the characters were settling down in the trees to sleep, I was thinking to myself, ‘This could be a long, miserable stretch of book here’ – all of a sudden, we have that amazing vision of the Green. And so it begs the fascinating question: is the holy site still just as alive and thriving as ever, but it only looks as if it’s old and decayed? Is it to do with a combination of the Green’s desire to reveal and the faith of his followers?
Either way, it’s a great section, and immediately has throwbacks to the summer pool in The Crystal Prison (without requiring you to have read that particular book). And also sets up that someone in Ysabelle’s party is a traitor … which is much more effective than you think, because all of the characters here are so ambiguous. Apart from Ysabelle and Vesper, who we sort of understand, everyone else is seen through their eyes. So do we really know who any of these characters are or what their real motivations are?
It makes you wonder whether Mr Jarvis just ran into one too many shifty people in his life and decided to populate his books with characters who look like one thing but may well be another … it certainly puts me on edge!