Trick or Treat? Life with Joan Aiken’s Mortimer the Raven…

Mortimer & Jones Fam.

A typical day for the Jones Family – mayhem with Mortimer, or occasionally miracles; although Joan Aiken described him as the personification of a wonderfully childish ID to the sensible Arabel’s Ego, his wilful mischief which severely tried their patience was just as likely to turn up lost treasure and bring delight to his weary but ever-loving family!

As a couple of Mortimer fans have observed, ravens have a long and significant history in legends and literature, there is much fascinating material to be found about them, whether as ‘tricksters’ or all knowing clowns, or prophets of doom; Joan Aiken would have been familiar with many of these myths and stories. She was also an early reader of Edgar Allan Poe, and even won a china bust of the writer as an award for one of her own mysteries – and Poe is obviously responsible for Mortimer’s one and only utterance of ‘Nevermore!’ taken from his poem The Raven.

In fact Joan Aiken’s raven is as much a parody of Poe’s aggravating night time visitor, as he is a figment of Aiken’s own imagination; but he also owes a good deal of his insouciant character and the wicked twinkle of his eye to his artist creator, Quentin Blake who drew the characters of the Jones family and their ‘great awful bird’ for the first Jackanory stories where he appeared.

Mort Poortrait

In this one, ‘Mortimer’s Portrait on Glass’ which has luckily been preserved, he is also given voice (as, charmingly is Arabel too) by the great Bernard Cribbins in a fantastic tale of a typical Jones family holiday which includes the gleeful destruction of a glass factory and the discovery of a dinosaur…

Joan Aiken had an enormous amount of fun incorporating the worst disasters that could occur in or out of the family home in a way that is deeply cathartic to the parents of small children, and which all can enjoy sharing at any reading aloud session.

Thanks are also due to the amazing puppet team led by Francis Wright,  with designs by Malcolm James for the BBC who brought several series of the stories to life on CBBC, and built wonderful sets that even took Mortimer back to his ancestral home at The Tower of London.

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These delightful puppet films are now available to download here, although sadly the BBC store itself will be closing down soon. (Or even more fun – in Spanish here! )

So if you are out Trick or Treating over the Hallowe’en season, one door you should perhaps not knock at is that of the Jones Family in Rainwater Crescent, London NW3 and a half…like the burglar from that story above coming back for his sock…?

You are likely to get more of a trick than you bargained for!

Mortimer & pirate.

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Other recommended reading for Mortimer fans:

a lovely blog on Three Sets of Ravens  by Nick Swarbrick,

and  posts from the always erudite Calmgrove

Quentin Blake can also be seen here talking about working with Joan Aiken

 

 

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Meet Mortimer – Riotous Raven of Rumbury Town…!

MortFridge

It was a dark and stormy night (of course!) when Mortimer entered the life of Arabel and the Jones family – and Rumbury Town N.W.3 and-a-half would never be the same again.  Arabel’s Raven is the first of the many tales of his adventures told by Joan Aiken and masterfully characterised by Quentin Blake’s illustrations.  The devoted pair appeared on a series of Jackanory readings, and then in books and a puppet series for the BBC which earned them a following of fans of all ages.

It was love at first sight for the pair Joan Aiken described as her version of the relationship between the ego and the id:

MortFridge1

Before too long chaos reigns in Rumbury Town, and Mortimer (through no fault of his own of course!) is in the thick of it:

MortRaid

Amazingly he does, with the evil squirrel strapped to his back, and is soon holed up in the gangsters’ hideout – while Arabel goes into a decline wondering where he can be?  Everyone is on their trail…  and now strange things are happening at Rumbury Tube station, but no one can solve the mystery….ReporterReporter1Reporter2Pretty soon everyone is going round the bend, and it is up to Arabel to keep her wits about her and unravel the hilarious trail of chaos that leads her back to Mortimer…will she be parted from him again?  “Nevermore!” says Mortimer.

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Read more about Arabel & Mortimer and the BBC Puppet Series

on the Joan Aiken Website

NEW EDITIONS of the first stories OUT NOW from

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Letters from You…we love Mortimer!

Mortimer's Cross2

However badly he behaves Mortimer is still finding friends…

Some readers will always remember Joan Aiken for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, or her heroine Dido Twite in later books in the Wolves series, but many of the letters that still arrive from her fans are about Mortimer – the ‘feathered fiend’ who worries the life out of Mr and Mrs Jones, a taxi driver and his wife  who live in Rainwater Crescent, London NW3 1/2,  but who is besottedly beloved by their daughter Arabel.  Somehow she always sees the right side of him, and in return he would do anything for her.

Here’s a lovely letter from a fan so devoted to these stories she’s even used them for her email address.

I am writing to you because Joan Aiken’s books are amazing! My love for her books all started when my mom was a kid and was sick in the hospital. My grandad bought Arabel and Mortimer and read it to her to cheer her up. She really loved the book and kept it until she was an adult. When I was around eight, my mom read me Arabel and Mortimer. I loved it so much, we got the whole series. In fact, my email address is inspired by Arabel and Mortimer!

One time, when my parents and I went camping, my Mom had to go to a store next to the campground because we were out of milk. When she came back to our car, she said, “I’m so glad there aren’t any RAVENS here…..” at that moment she made a weird noise and threw a black thing into the backseat. I picked it up and looked at it for a moment. Then I said “Thanks Mom!” because the thing that she threw back to me was a stuffed raven. She asked me “What are you going to name him?” and I said: “Mortimer.” and I’ve had that silly bird ever since.

Just a couple of months ago, my Mom crocheted Mortimer a scarf. (It looks handsome on him.)

In the book Mortimer’s Cross, Mortimer has a special box that is labelled Mortimer’s Cross, H.A.R.R.I.S (Hush, A Resting Raven’s Inside! Shh!). Arabel’s Great-Aunt Olwen mails it off by accident, thinking that it is a box with the same address with clothing inside! I have re-created that same box and Mortimer likes to sit in it.

We also read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and loved it. So now we are reading Blackhearts in Battersea.

Joan’s books have made such an impact on my life, I just really wanted you to know how special and funny they are!

Sincerely,

Sarah

sarahs-mortimer

Sarah’s Mortimer & Box!

Many more letters ask where, oh where can they get hold of the  CBBC TV Mortimer and Arabel series that came out in the 1990’s? Where indeed! Let’s get up a petition for a reissue!

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