Mortimer embodies everything needed to win a little
girlís heart, but for the rest of the family, Mortimer is almost more than they can take.
This raven is not too refined to sit in a coal scoop, or to substitute a favorite wagon ride for a roller skate ride. But heís a raven not tame enough to ignore out of reach objects, or hot water taps.
Mrs. Jones and her daughter, Arabel, first see Mortimer
sitting in their fridge surrounded by empty food containers
and the lettuce. While Mrs. Jones is horrified by the ďgreat
hairy awful thing,Ē Arabel is instantly smitten. She picks up the raven, takes him out of fridge and proceeds to give him a tour of the house. Mrs. Jones is not happy about this, but it doesnít stop Arabel from making Mortimer feel more at home. She tows her new pet around in her red wagon and insists
that he have a comfortable place to sleep. Mortimer does end up living with the family, but not before Mrs. Jones sets some rules
- the first being Mortimer is not to sleep in the fridge
anymore. Fortunately, sheís more lenient about the bread
He can fly, but Mortimer prefers to walk. Maybe thatís why he was hit by a motorcycle one night in Rumbury Town. Regardless of the why, he came to stay with the family due to Mr. Jonesís job and his successful revival techniques. Settling in with the family means exploring, and it seems everything Mortimer comes in contact with he either eats or hides. Heís gobbled down cold leftover drippings, grannyís baked beans, and several sets of stairs. Heís hidden mail under the doormat and flowers under the carpet. Heís flooded the bathroom and chipped the fireplace. The Joneses quickly learn that Mortimer cannot be left alone for a minute. With Mortimer being taken everywhere, he gets to know Mrs. Jonesís co-workers, family members and the other citizens of Rumbury. He may make a good first impression, but give him a few minutes and that will change. Mortimer may be nerve-wracking at times, but Mr. and Mrs. Jones eventually see the benefits of having him around. He brings great happiness and comfort to Arabelís life.
First published in 1972, Arabel's Raven contains three amusing Mortimer stories. The family meets Mortimer in the first story, entitled
"Arabelís Raven." In "The Bread Bin," Mortimer finds himself at Auntie Brendaís house with Cindy, Mindy and Lindy. In this story, he decides to explore their chimney before heading to the hospital to visit an under-the-weather Arabel. And in
"The Escaped Black Mamba and Other Things," Mortimer and Arabel acquire a staggering collection of vending machine products with the help of their babysitter Chris Cross.
Quentin Blakeís illustrations make the characters' personalities easy to visualize. Seeing Mortimer in a facecloth Viking costume, then stuck head first in a trumpet (yet still willing to go on a wagon ride to the store) shows he is a good sport and completely trusting of Arabel. Many of the drawings are hilarious. One
depicts Mortimerís spaghetti-hiding spot, and Mr. Jonesís reaction to the discovery of that spot.
Joan Aiken and Quentin Blake have created two memorable characters. Itís clear from the stories and obvious from the illustrations that Arabel adores Mortimer. I think many readers will, too. I loved reading this book, and my attachment to Mortimer was as instantaneous as Arabelís.
English novelist Joan Aiken (1924-2004) wrote many books for children and adults. She completed her first novel at the age of 16, and while working at the BBC, her short stories were broadcast on their
"Childrenís Hour" program. When she left the BCC, she worked at the UN until 1949. She was later able to leave an advertising job after the success of her book
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Her series of books starring Mortimer and Arabel were adapted for the BBC. Some of her titles for adults include
The Youngest Miss Ward and Lady Catherineís Necklace.
Quentin Blakeís illustrations are easy to recognize and easier to love. His illustrations can be seen in many books, including Roald Dahlís stories
The Twits and Esio Trot. Quentin Blakeís first drawings were published in
Punch magazine when he was 16 years old. In 1990, he started a second career as an exhibition curator, and more recently heís been working on illustration projects for London hospitals.