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Myth & Sacrifice

The Great Grand Robin Jarvis (Re)Read

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warlock in whitby

A Warlock in Whitby | Chapter 13

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

The end had indeed come.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: All right but how terrifying is it when Prawny Nusk is thinking he’s evaded the Mallykin, only to hear scuffling noises from over his head? The cassette version missed out that particular detail, and I always find it absolutely chilling, especially because, for a while at least, we feel as if Prawny might be in for a fighting chance.

The brave last stand of the aufwaders brought a tear to my eye – especially when Tarr called upon those who were left to go down defending themselves rather than fleeing. It’s such an important moment for his character, as, in making that stand, Tarr has now stepped up in a way that he seemed incapable of before, even when Hesper died or when his granddaughter was being forced into matrimony. He’s always been a tough old pebble, but from now on he can really begin to come into his own as a leader of the tribe.

Reading that small page or so where Nelda takes the guardian from the Darkmirror and flees made me feel queasy when I was a young reader. It makes me feel queasy now, too, but I’m glad it wasn’t censored out or glossed over, because for all it uses the device of a young girl’s body as commodity, it handles that exceptionally well. These days, the entire forced marriage aspect probably wouldn’t make it past the first draft, but I think that says a lot about mainstream middle-grade publishing today and our changing attitude to what we believe young readers can and can’t handle, as opposed to being a comment on the worth of the sub-plot itself.

Ever since Esau tricked Nelda into marrying him, she has simply been doing whatever she could under the circumstances, and I find it incredibly powerful that her decisions throughout are portrayed as just that. She is just doing what she can to save herself and her people. There’s no romanticisation of her plight at any point, and no shame or blame attributed to her for her actions. You would think that would be a given, but, sadly, such an approach is the exception, even today. My respect to Mr Jarvis for the sensitive and impactful way he handled Nelda’s journey in this book, and my respect to the publishers who let Nelda be brave.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’d secretly love to know (says me, as I write this out in a public blog!) how much back and forth there was with the editors over this whole chapter. Anyway, regardless of that, I found it to be one of the most gripping chapters I’d read in a Jarvis book so far.

It’s so intense. The Mallykin – who, because his violence has been largely off-screen and/or reined in by Nathaniel – finally comes into his own and we realise that this thing is bloodthirsty (and difficult to defeat!).

And then, we’re just reeling from that, when wham! Mr Jarvis hits us with Esau’s hideous deal with Nelda. I’m sure it was controversial for its time, but given that we’re still dealing with the question of how women are treated today (and I’m made more aware of this, having a daughter), it still has a resonance today.

And then just as if that wasn’t enough, it turns out that that black pool is a giant serpent’s eye. The whole thing is just brilliant and I doubt anybody could stop there.

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A Warlock in Whitby | Chapter 12

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘The Anglo-Saxons called it Blotmonath – the month of blood.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This is definitely one of those chapters that would work very well on the small screen. The otherwise cosy and safe environs of Miss Boston’s cottage become claustrophobic with the arrival of Nathaniel and the gruesome Mallykin, and Ben’s helplessness serves to make a bad situation worse. In The Whitby Witches, Miss Boston’s home was a safe place for the children, somewhere they could return to if the world became too threatening and full of supernatural horrors.

Reading this chapter, I remembered Jennet sitting awake in bed during Book 1, hearing the howls of the Barguest outside but protected from its terrible jaws by the charms over the doorway. It’s testament to how the tone of the trilogy changes in this book – and to the threat that Nathaniel presents as the main antagonist – that it is Jennet who has now unwittingly destroyed the protections around the cottage, allowing all manner of supernatural nightmares to enter.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Poor old Ben! This time round he gets the trauma of Nathaniel arriving in the house with a Mallykin in tow.

It’s about this point that I realised that it’s quite a clever plot point having Ben with supernatural powers and Jennet being just his ‘normal’ sister. If they both had the sight, then you wouldn’t be able to get the horrific tension of this chapter, where from Jennet’s perspective, she’s entertaining a guest and making cups of tea. From Ben’s point of view, his sister is about to be savaged by a vicious monster. What makes it so effective is complete lack of awareness of the danger that lurks around her.

And then the final scene in the Gregsons … while it’s the destruction of the guardian that is the terrible part that is going to release doom on Whitby, for me, it’s the interactions between the Gregsons that makes this scene so effective. Mrs Gregson, spoon-feeding her husband and begging him not to die and leave her alone. The same husband that, a few days ago, she had nothing but contempt for. While the Gregsons wouldn’t be pleasant people to hang around under normal circumstances, Mr Jarvis invites us to show a moment of compassion (again!) and reminder us that no one deserves to have Nathaniel Crozier happen to them.

A Warlock in Whitby | Chapter 11

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Soon Nathaniel and I will be together,’ Miss Deacon growled, and her teeth were visibly larger.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  I feel like this is one of those chapters that everyone remembers. Even if they haven’t read this trilogy for many years, mention this particular book to even the most casual Robin Jarvis fan and you’ll either get, ‘oh isn’t that the one where the kid gets ripped to bits by the little sea monster?’ or ‘isn’t that the one where Alice Boston gets menaced by a werewolf witch pretending to be a nurse?’

Everything about this chapter is so flamboyantly ghoulish that it definitely sticks in people’s brains, and it certainly stayed with me after I heard it on cassette. I was one of those who recalled The Case of Miss Boston and the Evil Nurse more than I remembered Danny’s awful fate, but both are moments of real tension and horror, and, after Nathaniel in the Church of St Mary, are two of the most stand-out scenes in this novel.

On reread, I realised I had forgotten about Nathaniel’s role in both the death of the young bully, and the ploy to keep Miss Boston away from Whitby. After his callous murder of Mr Roper in Chapter 9 – not to mention the plots for world domination – it seemed as if Mr Crozier could not get any more nefarious. This chapter proves that assumption wrong with gusto, and also introduces one of the main elements of The Whitby Child in the form of Judith Deacon, werewitch.

Earlier, it was established that Roslyn Crozier’s ability to transform into a hellhound was in some way connected to Nathaniel. Although Roslyn is gone, it appears that she was not the only one upon whom certain powers were bestowed in return for allegiance. How many more lonely, vulnerable women has Nathaniel drawn into his dark thrall, and what manner of vile deeds might they perform against Ben, Jennet, and Miss Boston in the blindness of their devotion?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This chapter gets me from two angles. On the one hand, there’s the part of me that has been having a lot of conversations with commenters on this blog over the last few months about what Jarvis film adaptations might look like. But when I get to a chapter like this one, I realise that there’s no way someone is going to make a kids movie with these scenes in them – at least not delivered the way they come across in the book.

So I feel this sense of gleeful delight in Robin’s writing (which could well be totally imagined and perhaps it’s just me reading into it!) that he’s thrown aside any fears of what parents, teachers or highly-sensitive readers are going to think, and is just going for it on the creepy stakes. So here we go with fish demons teaching young kids the evils of nicotine addiction and lycanthropic nurses!

But then there’s the other part of me that is totally invested in the story and hooked in by the grimness of the whole thing. Also, because the back story to the London subplot is never explained in detail, we don’t know exactly how Nathaniel engineered every detail or how long ago he has been planning it. All we know is, this is that moment in the story where you realise the bad guy is in control of everything and he’s got no conscience whatsoever.

This just takes me back to the grand days of 70s horror novels (all right, I’ve only read half a dozen of them, but still). And what a great cliffhanger!

A Warlock in Whitby | Chapter 10

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Let the Briding commence!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Along with last time’s dreadful instalment, this chapter is definitely pretty high on the list of Chapters From The Whitby Witches Trilogy We All Remember But By Gow We Wish We Didn’t. Everything about it is just so, so hard to read when you are an adult and you know what’s passing through Esau’s wizened noggin as he eyeballs his reluctant bride in her wedding gown. The fact that Nelda outwits him at the close of the chapter is small comfort in the face of the endless years of imprisonment she has to look forward to, and we can only hope that the doom the Lords of the Deep promised for Esau is on its way.

If we take a second to look at it from Ben’s point of view, the ghastly situation is actually magnified in its awfulness. The whole way to the aufwader caves, the poor kid was probably thinking that Nelda had suddenly fallen in love and forgotten him completely in favour of some dashing aufwader gent. After all, the only experience Ben has of the grown-up world of romance so far is Jennet, who is besotted with Nathaniel ‘by the dark powers invested in me’ Crozier.

From Ben’s perspective, it’s perfectly possible and probable that Nelda might be caught up in a whirlwind of impossible-to-understand but seemingly inevitable infatuation. ‘Doesn’t Nelda want to get married?’ he asks innocently, and I think we can all relate when he clutches his stomach in horror upon learning how things truly stand.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Those of us who read the first book in the series have pretty clear memories that the Lords of the Deep are, on the whole, a miserable bunch. Placing curses on the aufwader race, drowning people that they don’t like, only doing favours when they can get moonkelp, that sort of thing.

Not really the kind that I’d invite along for a Saturday afternoon’s fishing trip.

So when you find yourself, as a reader, agreeing with the Lords of the Deep that Esau should not be marrying Nelda, you realise just how disgusting and old Esau actually is. Then, throw in the fact that he’s happy to offer mortal insults to the aforementioned Lords rather than give up what he wants – geez! He just does not care.

I also admire Nelda for sticking to her guns at the end, but it’s not a great situation to be in.

A Warlock in Whitby | Chapter 9

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

The mist behind him billowed and curled, forming a spectral tunnel of smoke, and framed at the far end of it, prowling slowly towards him, came Nathaniel.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  This chapter is absolutely sadistic, there’s no other word for it. I cringed inwardly to read that shockingly violent encounter between Ben and Jennet and the bullies. I admit I reacted rather like Miss Wethers (‘they did what?’) and was very pleased to see the dithery postmistress up in arms on the children’s behalf.

On reread I also appreciated the quietly ominous scene between the museum curator and Nathaniel. Honestly, that beardy creepster could make skipping through a meadow seem sinister, and here the deep dark of evening and the unassuming silence of the closed museum only add to the already chilling atmosphere Nathaniel brings with him into every scene.

Finally, a moment of silence for Mr Roper. The awful tortures he endures were absolutely seared into my memory as a child (to this day I have not forgotten the stinging ants! Thanks for the nightmares, Mr Jarvis!) but this time I also noticed the explicit foreshadowing of Mr Roper’s death in the opening of the scene.  Not only do we get, ‘The faint beat of the dance band was like the distant pulse of a dying man’, but also, ‘the sound of the falling ash was like an expiring sigh’. Honestly if Mr Roper’s demise were not so tragic and traumatic, these not-so-subtle indicators would almost be darkly funny.

(As a last note, did anyone else notice the word ‘skrike’, uttered by Danny as he torments Ben? Apparently it’s a regional term, the official definition being ‘to cry out, scream or yell’. I’ve never heard it spoken and would love to know if it’s a Yorkshire-only word? Can any knowledgeable Readers help me out there?)

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Things are starting to get brutal now on all fronts! We have one nasty encounter in the form of Danny and Co tormenting Ben and Jennet. 

Which seems bad enough until the encounter at the end of the chapter between Crozier and Mr Roper, which was even harder to read.

However, despite all the miserable goings-on in the chapter, there’s so much to enjoy. First of all, I learned a new word, when Miss Wethers decides to go round to the Turner house to complain. She makes a comment about how she doesn’t care if they pack him off to a ‘borstal’. I’m rather curious – I’ve since looked the word up online to find out what it means – but is this still in common use in the UK? (If the word was ever used in Australia, it was before my time and no one says it now.)

I also got a little thrill from Tarr showing up at Miss Boston’s house. There’s something enjoyable about the whole interplay of who can see him and who can’t and how that looks. It also goes to show how tough he is, that he would venture that far into town.

Finally, Mr Roper. Of course it makes perfect sense that your family would be the guardian of a sacred object. (But it’s also fascinating, though, because unlike Miss Boston, there’s nothing particularly magical about him, is there? He’s just a quiet old gentlemen, carrying on the family tradition.) It does make me wonder also, whether there was a deeper layer to his friendship with Ben.

Even if Nathaniel hadn’t showed up and tried to take the guardian, Mr Roper had no children (unless I missed something?) and so the guardian would have had to be entrusted to someone. Did he see in Ben the potential to be the new keeper of the guardian? We’ll never know but it’s a strong likelihood.

Still, watching him hold his own against Crozier’s magic was awe-inspiring and he is a worthy addition to the great list of Worthy People Taken From This World Too Soon By Robin Jarvis’ Imagination.

As a final musical tribute to him, here are the Sea Interludes from the opera Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten:

A Warlock in Whitby | Chapter 8

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

But perhaps it was more than that, for not once did the thought of forgiveness enter anyone’s mind – the destruction of the third guardian had already wrought an unpleasant change in the townsfolk.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  Poor Ben! I suppose he was never going to get away with his plan to reveal Nathaniel to the world, but it’s just galling to watch him ruin things completely by accident. It’s also such a fright for us as readers to have Nathaniel be right there in the kitchen, slurping his coffee as if he wasn’t plotting in deeply melodramatic fashion to unleash an unfathomable evil from its age-old fetters only hours ago. After last chapter’s otherworldly scene, his oily nonchalance comes across as even more sinister. We suspected there was something nasty about this guy, but now we know the truth.

The reason that this is my third Chapter of Nameless Dread is mainly due to the dredger scene at the end, but on reread I really appreciated how skilfully written Ben’s encounter with Mr Roper is. In a few paragraphs we can infer that not only does he know and understand what Ben is talking about, but that he is in some way directly involved, and that he is trying to shield Ben from the danger that he now finds himself in, however vain an effort that may be. I suspected in Chapter 5 that Mr Roper might be a bit too nice for a Robin Jarvis book, and now we can only hope that he doesn’t meet a similar fate to the Gobtrots in The Alchymist’s Cat!

It doesn’t matter if you’ve read it before a million times, the scene where the men dredge up that giant scale is still wonderfully spine-tingling. My favourite part has to be at the very end, where they all agree that they did not just see that and quietly go home to think about what they definitely did not just see. This time around I noticed that one of the men was named Peter Knowles – I have to wonder if that might be a reference to Lucy Boston’s son Peter, who illustrated the Green Knowe books?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: SO MUCH TO LIKE in this chapter. First up, a bit of sly Jarvis humour with the cranky Vicar scene. But just as quickly, the smiles fade when we have the horrendous scene with Crozier in Miss Boston’s kitchen. (And speaking of Miss Boston – what’s happening to her? I’m still in suspense about what’s going on with her London subplot.)

While there have been occasions when Jennet hasn’t always believed Ben straight away, the idea that she is enthralled (still mega-creepy, BTW!) by Crozier is really nail-biting. It essentially means that bit by bit, Ben has been isolated away from everyone that could help him. (Which, of course, is all due to the diabolical plotting of Mr Jarvis.)

My son just turned eight a few days ago – trust me, eight years old is not very old. So my heart goes out to Ben having to wander around bearing the weight of a) an ancient curse that he didn’t lift, b) being the only one aware of a warlock being in town plus c) still able to see ghosts everywhere (even though that doesn’t feature much in this story so far). It’s not great.

Which is what makes it so sad when Mr Roper seems to dismiss Ben’s concerns. But then we realise, in the moving finale to that scene, where he says what looks very much like a final goodbye, that maybe there is more going on than we realise.

And then, finally, the bit with the dredger which is a nice bit of foreshadowing that just makes the whole thing even more exciting. Isn’t this book just a cracking read?

And my Mr Roper sea-music dedication today is by a famous German composer, who nonetheless visited Britain several times. On one of those occasions, he went up to tehHebrides and was gob-smacked by the awesome sight of Fingal’s Cave. He then had to write an overture about it, because it was so good. The composer was, of course, Felix Mendelssohn and the piece was the Hebrides (or Fingal’s Cave) Overture.

Hope you like it:

A Warlock in Whitby | Chapter 7

 

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Here in Whitebi the dark one had indeed made its home.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: On to our next Chapter Of Nameless Dread, and my goodness, what a set-piece. I recalled this one very vividly from the cassette tape of this book (read by Dame Siân Phillips) and it exceeded expectations on reread. Being more aware of the contrivances of film and television now than I was as a young reader, I found myself imagining the terrible scenes with Ben and Nathaniel through a grainy 1980s lens, and the notion of this book as a cult film or TV series from that era really came alive for me. I could practically hear the whining synth score and see the flaring light effects, and if that talking head was not written with animatronics in mind I’ll eat my Whitby Witches box-set.

Here we also see Nathaniel showing his true colours for the first time. Thus far he has been rather intimidating and rather skeevy, but now we glimpse his intent and begin to understand what motivated him to come to Whitby in the first place.

Reading the scene in the crypt again, I was pleased to discover that there was more to the stone head’s exposition than I recalled from the audiobook, and I may have cheered a little bit when I read of the aufwaders going to war. (Going to war! With the Lords of the Deep and Dark! Would you credit it!) For me the whole thing had echoes of Tolkien’s Silmarillion, especially the mention of the unnamed evil being cast down in chains.

As a final note, I think Ben is great in this chapter. This is the first time in a while where he has proactively made a decision to embroil himself in a Whitby mystery, and it shows how much he has grown since arriving there only a few short months ago. I really like that little detail of him going out into the deep dark of night in his pyjamas with a coat on top; he may not know it, but he’s treading in the slippered footsteps of every young hero of classic children’s fantasy, and he ought be be proud of what he achieves by eavesdropping on our villain’s nefarious plans.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Who else is rubbing their hands together gleefully at this brilliant mythological chapter? It has all the elements that fantasy fans love. We’ve got some sinister Evil Thing that could be unleashed, held in place only by the mysterious guardians of Whitby. And Nathaniel Crozier, determined to destroy the guardians and unleash whatever it is upon the world.

The talking stone head reminded me a little of the opening magical sequence in the church in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. (Has anyone else on here read that? It’s a little erratic in storytelling impetus, but it has some fantastic British mythological ideas.) I’m also still loving that I can’t remember many details of this book at all, so how this is all going to be resolved, I have no idea.

Finally, as I threatened to do – a Mr Roper special – some classical sea music (either by a British composer or inspired by Britain). This piece is a little obscure, but no less awesome and, yes, it’s inspired by Cornwall, which is not at all near Whitby. But it’s coastal and it’s awesome. It’s Tintagel by Arnold Bax.

A Warlock in Whitby | Chapter 6

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Oh, forgive me, Alice, say you forgive me – please!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  This chapter and the following two are some of the most striking in the whole trilogy. (Please do add your comments in this, dear Readers, as I’d love to know if this section had as much of an impact on you as it did on me.)

Finally, we catch up with Miss Boston in London, and of course, there are devilish doings afoot. Like Ben and Jennet, Aunt Alice cannot seem to go anywhere without the supernatural growling at her heels and making a nuisance of itself, and in this chapter we find that she can’t even visit an old friend for a few days without all manner of hocus-pocus ensuing.

What stands out to me about this chapter and the next two is the atmosphere of absolute dark dread. The ominous emptiness of the grand house, the icy demeanour of Judith Deacon, and the chilling scene where Mrs Gunning tries to warn Miss Boston of ‘great evil’ all contribute to make things suddenly profoundly ominous in a way that is far more pronounced than in The Whitby Witches. In that book, there was always a sense that our heroes could band together to save the day, or at the very least, make a noble sacrifice in the attempt. Here, the children are isolated from the one guardian who might be able to help them, and that guardian in turn has come into a situation in which she is, for the moment, powerless.

This whole chapter is very affecting, but on reread I was struck by the almost poetic imagery of Mrs Gunning on her deathbed, looking ‘more gossamer-like than the curtains’ and perfectly echoing the chapter title. At the close of this chapter, we must ask ourselves: if Mrs Gunning is about to pass through the veil, what might have already passed the other way and entered the realm of the living?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’m having such fun with this one. Whitby has become so much like a character in the story that it is immediately alienating to be thrown into London. Even more so, when you throw in all the goings-on at Mrs Gunnings’ house.

I always hate how Agatha Christie comparisons are the first to pop into my head with this stuff. (I blame that partworks series that came out at the newsagents a few years ago that I was collecting – drip-feeding Christie novels at the rate of one a fortnight for several years has blurred them all together in my brain.) But even if it’s not Christie, it’s Great British Novelistic Tropes thrown together. There’s the Woman in the Sickbed. There’s the Snotty Butler.

And, of course, greatest of all – the Terrifying Nurse. What is it about Terrifying Nurses? How many Christie novels feature somebody who looks particularly like they are slowly poisoning someone else? Or Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Or perhaps Nurse Noakes – if there are any fans of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (or the movie of the same name) in here?

Either way, what is going on here? What is this devious stuff – that feels like a trap – that Miss Boston has wandered into? I don’t know about you, but I’m going to keep reading!

A Warlock in Whitby | Chapter 5

 

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

On the ground, just next to where he had been crouching, were the gutted remains of a cat.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Having spent Chapter 3 with Nelda and last chapter with Miss Wethers and Jennet, we now take a peep into how things are for Ben.

On reread I’ve been noticing the structure of this novel a lot more, and I like how each of our main characters is established as having their own small ‘world’ within the overarching story. Nelda has her internal struggles and the woes of her tribe. Jennet has the difficulties of being an orphan on the cusp of her teenage years, expected to both care for others and submit to cosseting by her guardians. Miss Boston has some mysterious business in London that we will get around to in due course, and Ben has the worry of school bullies and the reassuring presence of Mr Roper.

I absolutely love Mr Roper. He’s another fantastic Robin Jarvis tertiary character; the little details about his cosy, old-fashioned house, lost wife, and passion for collecting sketch him out as a whole person in a few short pages. It kind of warms my heart a bit to see that Ben has a grandfatherly figure in his life to balance out all the strife he has already been though since arriving in Whitby.

A segue involving the deeply unpleasant but also slightly cartoonish school bully, and then we’re straight into some visceral gore with that poor mauled cat. Honestly at the close of this chapter I find myself wishing right along with Ben that Miss Boston were there to sort things out. She may not be absolutely exemplary at all times, but she’d be more use than Miss Wethers, who just isn’t equipped to deal with the string of peculiar happenings that Ben and Jennet call their daily existence. Come back, Aunt Alice, all is forgiven!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This is a very short chapter, and plotwise, mainly advances ‘The Mystery of the Missing Cats’, so I don’t have a lot to say on that front. (Though possibly because I’m not a cat person, I’m being too callous about how horrific this chapter is?)

However, I did love it for the character of Mr Roper. (Another one in possession of an old Bakelite radio, eh, Aufwader?)

And that sort of inspired me to start sharing ‘sea-themed’ English classical music. (The sort that I like to think of Mr Roper listening to on a foggy evening on the radio.) However, given that he went to sleep tonight dreaming of big bands and dancing with his wife, I will just have to share this one for today:

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