Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 5

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Call it the Silver Hare,’ he said softly. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The start of this chapter really just adds to what I was saying last time about the dream-like quality of Whortle’s moment in the past – not because he wakes up from it, but because he never actually reaches the Hobbers. 

I said previously that the journey to the past was all exactly what Whortle must’ve been wishing for, and that it was odd that he wasn’t more traumatised by the vicious battle taking place before his eyes. If Whortle’s trip into history was constructed as an exercise in wish-fulfilment for him by the water voles, it would make sense that he would never actually engage in any real fighting. He can go on all he likes about bashing evil meanie devils, but Whortle is still a very young mouse who has never seen real hardship, and the thought of having to actually slaughter other creatures in battle probably isn’t something he likes to dwell on.

Aside from all this rimpti-too theorising, we’ve got a very sweet chapter with some gentle humour and a dash of boat-building. I love the sneaky way in which the mice conceal the Silver Hare for the next day – there must be no end of rivals out to beat them to their prize, and I’m looking forward to meeting them.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I might have imagined this, but in this whole chapter – apart from some confusion on Whortle’s part when he woke up – almost nothing sinister happened at all.

It does give us a chance, however, to get a feel for all of Whortle’s friends in a way we never quite got with The Crystal Prison. Given that I fondly remember reading the original Deptford Mice to my siblings with all the voices, I did have a chuckle that Hodge – my namesake – is reigning Fennywolde King of Impressions.

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Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 4

Scan_20180702Warning: 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.

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 3

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

They looked as he imagined kings might in the old legends, and he realised that it was not his place to order the comings and goings of such lordly creatures. Whoever they were, they were far above the command or curiosity of a humble fieldmouse. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I’m almost certainly reaching here, but I do believe I spy a subtle Wind in the Willows reference in this chapter. Conscious decision or not, here we have three water voles (or indeed, water rats), ancient, wise, and elf-like, able to commune with the in-dwelling spirit of the Still Pool. One of them carries the title ‘Willibald of the Gilded Dawn’, and indeed, Whortle’s eerie, ethereal encounter with this trio has a strong ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ atmosphere throughout. I’d like to think this is Robin giving a little friendly nod to Kenneth Grahame, who has no doubt influenced his career as every other author of talking animal fiction from the last century onwards.

All majestic and mystical mood aside, this chapter also features Mr Jarvis’ first go at a constructed language outside of the Hagwood books, and it’s one of my favourite things. I love the implications attached to the water vole’s word for mouse, ‘rimpi-too’. Evidently the word carries connotations of pluckiness, of small but tenacious creatures – bold, daring, but amusingly tiny. Of course Whortle would be a perfect example!

Lastly, continuing the slightly smug undertone of this book, is that hilariously inaccurate recounting of The Oaken Throne. It’s somewhat telling of the state of Fennywolde’s local history and culture that Ysabelle is relegated to the role of damsel in distress, while Fenny takes centre stage as the strapping hero of legend.

I mean it’s not like Ysabelle was important or anything. She was only the last remaining princess of the last remaining squirrel house, the one who brought about the cessation of the age-long bat-squirrel wars and imprisoned the Lord of the Raith Sidhe in the ancient Green-blessed talisman of the silver acorn, who turned her people against the Hobber hordes in the nick of time, and who sacrificed everything and everyone she had ever loved to become the Starwife. She barely lifted a finger. Who cares about her, eh? (Also, where is Vesper in all of this? He doesn’t even get his name in the credits!)

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Ah, here we go. Mysterious water voles, and a quick recap of The Oaken Throne finale, which helps set the scene.

I really like the idea that there are these mysterious characters living tucked away in the corner of the field. It’s a great Jarvis trick that he does on a regular basis – he takes a place and gradually reveals magical secrets buried beneath it. Whether it is Deptford, Whitby, Glastonbury or this field, there is always the idea that there is something mystical lurking below the surface.

That said, now that I’ve actually spent a couple of weeks in England, I do feel like the whole country is like that. There are just layers of history buried anywhere, and all of them getting more dreamy and mysterious, the further back you go.

But the bigger question for this chapter is: are these water voles on the level? My memory of the end of this book is somewhat foggy and I cannot really remember whether the voles are trustworthy or not… Which I’m somewhat glad about. As the Jarvis canon progresses, Mr Jarvis’ ‘grey’ characters are getting harder to read and predict, making the stories that much more gripping. So go ahead, Whortle – follow a bunch of total strangers into a cave where the door rolls shut behind you.

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 2

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Down on the ground, Todkin and Samuel stared up admiringly. Breathless with anticipation, they watched their friends tear up the oak’s mighty trunk until the leaves hid them from view. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: There’s definitely a slightly smug undercurrent to this book. I’m sure I read somewhere that Robin always hated the sickly escapades of Enid Blyton, and I can well believe that. From the goofy sporting hijinks to Whortle’s gang with their passwords and dens, it all honestly feels like a giant send-up of The Famous Five, and I’m rather enjoying it.

Since we’re all fully aware that both Whortle and Hodge are for the chop, and that Alison Sedge will end up a raving vagrant after almost becoming a sacrificial victim in a deadly fire ritual meant to restore Jupiter, Lord of All, to life, it is very, very hard to take the happy little capers of the young mice seriously. We can’t help but shake our heads at their antics, tut loudly, and mutter about how it’s all downhill from here.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: It’s been so long since The Crystal Prison (over a year, rereaders!) that I’d forgotten the sheer joy of the location. Unlike Deptford, which is always sinister and Whitby, which is atmospheric and a bit creepy, Fennywolde is all sunshine, light and potential for happiness.

Throw in some skylarking, a vomit gag, the sultry Alison Sedge, and we’d almost think it was going to be a coming-of-age story about a bunch of teenage mice…

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 1

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

For one small fieldmouse the best week of his life was about to commence – one charged with magic, adventure, and difficult choices. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Thanks to Matt’s schedule, it has turned out that I’m blogging through this book in high summer – and in a heatwave. I can’t help but feel like a little Fennywolde mouse as I write this, lying in the grass with the coos of wood pigeons and the distant baah-ing of sheep as a soundtrack. It’s on a cloudless, scorching day like this that I imagine Young Whortle dashing over the stones of the ditch, late to hear about the Fennywolde Games, with no idea of the horrors that await him.

Whortle’s Hope is tonally really peculiar. On one hand, it’s a sunny romp through golden wheatfields with mild threats and mild thrills; a perfect holiday read for ages seven and up. On the other, it’s very solidly a prequel, with a tertiary character from the original Deptford Mice Trilogy as the hero and all major conflicts arising from already-established Deptford world villains.

There’s a strong melancholic, nostalgic element to it – both for Deptford adventures gone and past, and for the halcyon days of childhood in the sun. For Whortle, this will, tragically, indeed be ‘the best week of his life’. As I said with Fleabee, don’t be fooled by the cutesy cover and twee premise. No matter how pretty the setting, we’re still in Deptford, with all the danger and doom that implies.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Whortle’s Hope is unique in my own Robin Jarvis collection in that I never managed to get a brand new version of this in bookshops. Clearly, I was at the height of not having time to read Robin Jarvis books and I also was under the (mistaken) assumption that if you don’t feel like buying a book today, you can always go and buy it another day.

I now know some books go out of print!

Anyway, thankfully, the internet is helpful for this, so the copy I own is an ex-library version from the Worcestershire County Council library system. It’s great, it still has the old school date stamp card on the inside cover – you know, the one where the librarian used to stamp the dates with a rubber stamp? So it look like it was borrowed quite heavily between 2008 and 2011 and then obviously they put it up on the second-hand market. For some reason, for this Aussie, having a book marked as being ex-Worcestershire County Council just adds to the Englishness of the whole thing.

But on to the book itself! There’s a strangeness about this opening – if you had read no other Jarvis books, and just picked this book up and read the back cover, you would think it’s a somewhat light-hearted tale about a mouse who wants to win his local sports contest. And apart from the mention of Fenlyn Purfote in the opening couple of pages, there is nothing to disabuse the reader of this notion.

But we know that the war that Fenlyn was involved in was the savage battle with the Hobbers. We know that Twit is going to play a large and momentous part in the takedown of Jupiter. And we know that Young Whortle is going to be dead by the end of summer.

There’s something spectacularly morbid about the whole thing.

Up Next | Whortle’s Hope

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Summer has come to the Northern Hemisphere, and what better place to spend our holidays than in goode olde Fennywolde.

Whortle’s Hope, the second of the Deptford Mouselets series and the last to be published, follows poor, doomed Whortle Nep of Crystal Prison fame in the blissful and carefree summer before his death. In this, a pastoral horror shamelessly masquerading as a friendly mouse adventure, we follow Whortle and chums as they compete in the Fennywolde Games for the position of Head Sentry.

More than a quaint rural custom is at stake here, however. Our mousey heroes will also have mysterious encounters with inhabitants of their fair field far older and wiser than they, discover their blood-soaked heritage, come a cropper with various ancient evils, and generally be scared out of their wits.

Whortle’s Hope is surprisingly rare in the UK, but can still be found secondhand at all the usual places with some digging. Definitely bother your local library for it though, in my experience you’re more likely to find copies there than online.