This post is part of an ongoing series.
Part I: The Valley
Book One: Out from Boneville
Chapter V: Barrelhaven
You are warned, here be spoilers.
Alarum! This chapter begins with an attack on Gran’ma Ben’s cabin by the Rat Creatures. The attack finally commences when, with a small grin on her face, Gran’ma punches out through the cabin wall, grabs two of the Rat Creatures by the fur, and yanks them back in through the wall. While Thorn and Fone make their escape, Gran’ma crows, “I fought th’ rats back in th’ big war!”
Apart from Gran’ma Ben’s awesome display of badassery, I like that we get another hint of what went on back when. I love stories that feel like direct consequences of some grand event we never saw – like the overthrow of the Targaryens, or the Earth-Minbari War.
Thorn and Fone lead the Rat Creatures on a frantic, nightmarish chase through the dark forest, where the pursuers are seen mostly as ominous shadows and silhouettes, and their eerie flashlight eyes. Thorn mostly drags Fone along, what with having legs about five times the length of his. Just the presence of these two characters in each panel illustrates the story’s dual nature as a lighthearted cartoon romp and a stirring fantasy epic.
The chase concludes with more clues about “back when”. The Rat Creatures surround Thorn and Fone. One of them whispers:
“Give it to us… ….. Defiance will not be tolerated…… …… Once we return order to the valley……”
Fone and Thorn are rescued by the dragon. The Rat Creatures try to stand up to him – briefly:
Rat Creature: HISSS! Stay back worm! Our numbers are too great! Even for you!
Dragon: Funny you should mention that – – how many warriors do you have between here and the waterfall? A thousand? Two thousand? I believe this violates our agreement…”
The dragon runs the Rat Creatures off, then carries Fone and Thorn back to Gran’ma Ben’s farmhouse – to find it a smoking hulk. There is, at least in this chapter, no sign of Gran’ma Ben.
Intercut with this story is an amusing little episode with Phoney Bone, who’s made his way to Barrelhaven. It’s funny in and of itself, but it also lays the groundwork for some of the events of Book Two, The Great Cow Race. Phoney bellies up to a bar, and makes two discoveries. One, that the bartender is his lost cousin Smiley, and two, that the people of the valley don’t use paper money. This latter discovery is made the hard way when the bar’s owner, a frightening, adrenaline-tautened man, charges him two eggs for his drinks. Phoney is sent to the kitchen to work off his bill, despite having plenty of cash.
This scene sets up Phoney’s nascent plan for the cow race. We saw a hint of it last chapter – at one point, he stepped into Gran’ma Ben’s barn, and used some boots and a blanket to fashion the beginnings of a cow costume. Here we see him scheming with Smiley (or, rather, scheming at Smiley – their relationship is not entirely dissimilar to that of Pinky and the Brain). He’s delighted to learn that the race doesn’t have an official bookmaker.
Smiley Bone makes a halfhearted attempt to talk Phoney out of his plan, whatever it may be. “Remember th’ first time you got us run out of town? You opened up a chain of franchises – – Bone Environmental: nuclear reactor and endless salad bars!” The idea of the nuclear salad bar is kinda funny, but not half as funny as the off-hand establishment that the Bones’ current exile from Boneville isn’t their first.
This is the second-last chapter of Book One, and it represents a fairly satisfying arc sub-arc. A lot of the status quo established over the first four chapters is broken here in the fifth – Fone’s new home with Gran’ma Ben is lost, the missing Smiley is finally found, and the dragon, like Polkaroo, is finally revealed to more than one character.