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Myth & Sacrifice

The Great Grand Robin Jarvis (Re)Read

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whitby witches

The Whitby Witches | Chapter 1

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The building was in ruins, but that did not diminish its power. The abbey had dominated Whitby for centuries, and waves of invisible force flowed down from it. The ruin was a guardian, watching and waiting, caring for the little town that huddled beneath the cliff. It was a worshipful thing.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  Before we leap into the cold and eerie depths of this most mystical of tales, let’s talk about the scene at the very start. I hesitate to call it a prologue because it’s only about half a page long in the edition I own and has no title, but it makes more of an impression than many full prologues I’ve read in my time.

It’s an instant manifestation of place. The phrase ‘the sands of Tate Hill Pier’ emblazons itself across the very first line, and even if we are not Whitby locals we are immediately smacked in the face by the damp, salt-scented wind of a British seaside town. Then, like the tide, the venerable mythology and folklore of this very specific setting wells up to greet us, and by the time we arrive at ‘Yes, it is a cold morning, and I am chilled’, we have already been pulled under, never to resurface.

The first chapter is classic in a multitude of ways. It is Robin Jarvis classic, in that it begins with small, vulnerable protagonists in a wide and threatening world. It is children’s literature classic, echoing and referencing every train journey taken by displaced children into danger and adventure, from the Pevensies evacuating London to young Tolly disembarking for Green Knowe on a dark and soaking night. Finally, it is horror classic; with its narrow, winding streets steeped in history and the black skeleton of the abbey on the East Cliff like a watchful sentinel, Whitby is a town heavy with dark secrets. Of course, Ben and Jennet have secrets of their own.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: It’s been so long since I have read this! I’m with Aufwader on this one – we immediately get the impression of place. I’ve never been to Whitby (sadly, it was just that bit too far from London for a day trip when I was there last year), but I feel like I have been there, because the town just rises off the page, doesn’t it? In some ways, the small, cute nature of it makes you feel comfortable. But then the wild, sea-side oldness of it make it feel laden with sinister potential. (Both of which turn out to be true in this book.)

It’s also impressive to watch Mr Jarvis change from animal characters to human characters in this one. I remember the first time I read this, I wasn’t sure how well this would work coming off the Mice, but his knack for characterisation never falters. In some ways, also, it’s a new departure in that there is no community to start with. In both Deptford and Fennywolde, there was always a feeling of lots of other people being around you to look after you. (Even though the trilogy opens with a family tragedy.)

But in this opening, it’s just Ben and Jennet, just the two of them, on a train. They’re coming from having nobody and they’re not really sure what awaits them in Whitby. One old lady doesn’t sound like much of a friendship circle! So it’s a more lonely start.

In terms of literary comparisons, I had never thought of Aufwader’s connection between train journeys before. But what this book did remind me of was another famous story. It also features a small boy with a knack for seeing strange things. In short, Ben straight away reminds me of Danny in The Shining. But this is that thing that we all love about Robin’s stories. He straight away reminds us of other stories (and types of stories) but his stories are all uniquely his own.

Finally, Robin, I’ll forgive you for the crack at Australia in this chapter, but I do feel this should be made up for by setting at least one chapter of The Witching Legacy series in some sort of Australian flashback setting … I still hold by my theory that the Whitby coal boat that took Captain Cook to Australia must have had some infernal device or object hidden in its hull somewhere. Surely?

Up Next Reminder | The Whitby Witches

Hey everyone,

This is a courtesy reminder that you will want to track down a copy of The Whitby Witches which we’ll be reading in April.

But before we put in our version recommendations, I just wanted to give you a quick warning about what is coming up in May. When Aufwader and I sat down to work out in what order to tackle the Jarvis canon, we decided to go in order of publication, to get a feel for how his writing style grew over time.

It also allows us the opportunity to replicate the experience (at least a little bit) of what it was like for Jarvis readers to discover the quirky sequence of publication that some of these books took. For instance, after the Deptford Mice, the next book to appear was The Whitby Witches, which appeared as a single edition with no indication on the cover or the inside title page that it was anything other than a stand-alone.

But then, not too long after that, his next book was an exciting return to the world of the Deptford Mice with The Alchymist’s Cat, which proudly declared that it was Book 1 of The Deptford Histories. However, just when you thought that the return to Deptford was going to be a thing to look forward to, the next book after that was A Warlock in Whitby, which declared itself to be Book 2 of The Whitby Witches.

Yes, that’s right. Robin Jarvis – or his publishers? – had decided to bring out two trilogies at once, alternating books. As someone who bought the original books, I can only say IT WAS AWESOME. To this day, I love mixing up series and alternating one book in a series with another.

Apologies for those of you that can’t stand that sort of thing and will be driven crazy by it. Where that all leads is just to give you a heads-up that if you happen to see some mega-deal on the Deptford Histories and you don’t own then, this might be a good idea to snaffle them as well.

With regard to versions, if you’re after the original illustrations, here are the two versions of choice:

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The original Hodder Wayland version from 1995.

 

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The Hodder Silver edition from 2001.

But if you want to hold off a bit longer – or you’re like us and enjoy collecting – you can currently pre-order a brand spanking new version with cover art that ties in to the current Witching Legacy series. (However, for various reasons, this doesn’t feature the original interior illustrations.) This new version is classed as an Egmont Modern Classic and will also feature … wait for it … NEW BONUS CONTENT.

We’re definitely adding this one to our collection …

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Cover by Rohan Eason, 2017.

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