Warning: Contains Spoilers!
‘From peril we have come and into worse danger we now charge. Some of us will not return but if your hearts are quailing, I say to you – ignore them, for what we do this night shall echo down the ages.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: For new readers, this is a lovely moment for Whortle as he is punted back in time to take up arms against real, genuine Hobbers and be twinkled at by Fenny. For us, however, the segment in which Whortle finds himself in the midst of the bat-squirrel wars is an intriguing conundrum.
I’d like to put forward a theory that only occurred to me on reread: that Whortle’s brief sojourn into the past really was a fantasy. Not a fantasy of our young hero’s imagination, but an amalgamation of real past events with those of legend, created for him by the water voles. It’s unclear at this point whether they have an ulterior motive for sending him back in time, but it’s evidently not for the purposes of putting him in immediate harm’s way, otherwise he would’ve been cut down by the forces of the Raith Sidhe before he’d so much as looked up from the horn.
This in mind, let’s consider that it was an indulgence on their part. They were so pleased to see a mouse who still upheld the name of Fenny and the history of the Wolde that they let Whortle have his moment of glory, so to speak. For the sake of this post, let’s say Whortle’s field trip to the past was a bit of fun. Now read it over, ye veterans of The Oaken Throne. Isn’t something slightly off about it all?
Whortle literally watches ‘blood rain from the sky’ and sees squirrels cleaved in two, yet these nightmares of war are strangely remote. When Vesper and Ysabelle saw the same carnage, they, roughly Whortle’s age, were stricken with horror. It was real to them, because Whortle’s world of distant legend was their daily reality. In a segment like this, we would expect that Whortle’s bubble of wonder would be burst by the dreadful truths of the violent, blood-soaked past, but apart from one small cinder and a few evil looks from the Hobbers, the devastation does not touch him. Even under the ‘minimal gore, all deaths off-page’ remit, that’s a very kind sort of battlefield.
Then look at Fenny. I don’t know about you, but it seems a bit woolly to me that he would immediately notice Whortle out of every barely-of-age mouse in his legion. The exchange between them is reasonable enough, but that Fenny should salute Whortle with his own sword seems just a little, well, wish-fulfilmenty. (And this is glorious Captain Fenlyn ‘the mouse, the legend’ Purfote we’re talking about. He does everything as if he knows it’s going to be recorded on a tapestry later.)
Far be it from me to say exactly what went on during the last stand at Greenreach, but please consider that everything about the time-travel segment is exactly what Whortle must’ve been longing for ever since he first heard Old Todmore recount it in inaccurate but fulsome detail. It’s all just a bit too polished, a bit too dream-like, and the fact that Whortle charges gamely into battle serves to emphasise the peculiar, theatrical element to it all.
Okay, so it’s great fun to read and in retrospect perfectly placed in the course of the book, but now that Whortle has had a taste of time-travel, there’s got to be more in store for him in the past than chats with his hero and waving spears at the baddies. Since this is the Mouselets and we already know the manner of Whortle’s death, I hesitate to make too many dire predictions, but I daresay things will get, at the very least, creative from here on out.
Matt’s Thoughts: This book makes so much more sense if you read it in close proximity to The Oaken Throne! Reading it now, I see that the end of this chapter gives us a magic transportation from one Jarvis series into another, as we’re transported back to the ferocious climactic battle against the Hobbers. (Albeit from a different point of view.)
While I’m at it, I love the experimentation with the double-page spread illustration in this chapter. In fact, this series probably contains the only double-pagers in any of the Jarvis books, so they’re worth collecting just from that angle.