Continuing my read-through of Jeff Smith’s delightful Bone series. This week I’m covering Volume 6, Old Man’s Cave.
Generally speaking, you can divide the story of Bone into three sets of trilogies. The first three trades, covering the Bones’ arrival in the valley, tended more towards the slapstick humor than the others, what with the Great Cow Race being a center piece. The next three, concluding with today’s entry, Old Man’s Cave, more or less set up the mythology and backstory of the series, while the last three conclude everything.
As such, I feel like this volume answers questions set up by previous volumes, even if some of them are more implied than anything else. So, let’s see how questions get answered:
1. Who’s behind all this?
The Lord of Locusts is an immortal being of pure evil who had, once upon a time, taken possession of a powerful mortal creature, Mim the Dragon Queen. Afterwards, the other dragons turned her to stone, with the Lord of Locusts trapped inside. The Lord of Locusts needs a mortal, physical body to exist in the world of mortals and is looking for a spiritually powerful person to do that with. Its agent, the Hooded One, knows of two likely candidates: Phoney Bone and Thorn.
2. Phoney Bone? Seriously? He’s, like, the most material person you could find.
That’s actually Phoney’s reaction when he’s told all this by the Hooded One. Phoney’s been accused of threatening the Lord of Locusts and its followers, and he must have great spiritual power, making him the perfect sacrifice. By the time the reader finally learns why Phoney’s been an obsession of the Hooded One, one of the series’ great punchlines, it’s clear evil is a lot dumber than its been looking up to this point.
3. OK, why Phoney if everyone except the Hooded One knows he’s not the right one?
Back in volume one, Fone related how Phoney was running for mayor of Boneville and even made a large balloon of himself that got loose and chased a few prominent citizens into the river. What happened to the balloon wasn’t mentioned until now…when it turns out the Hooded One got the balloon and assumed it was an omen. Even the rat creatures see how dumb a move that is. But the Hooded One had another reason to go with someone other than Thorn. I’ll get to that later, but really, assuming a balloon was an omen was really, really dumb.
4. That was dumb. OK, why didn’t Lucius marry Gran’ma Ben?
Oh, that was a bait-and-switch. Lucius said he was in love with the most beautiful woman in the valley, and his devotion to Gran’ma Ben makes it look like it was her. Well, it turns out it wasn’t. Gran’ma had an older sister named Briar. Briar was the one Lucius loved, and the only reason they didn’t get married was because she was, well, evil, and everyone assumes she died when she was literally cut in half during a rat creature attack.
5. Gran’ma had an evil sister?
Yeah, see, Briar is the Hooded One.
6. Hokey smokes! I thought you said she died when she was cut in half.
She did! The Lord of Locusts has been keeping her alive ever since. She betrayed the rest of her family to gain power from the Lord of Locusts. Gran’ma told Thorn a handmaid had betrayed them. That was a lie, and Thorn knows it since she remembers there was no handmaid. It was Briar instead. In fact, that “keeping Briar alive” bit is probably why Briar is so obsessed with Phoney Bone. If the Lord of Locusts chooses Thorn as his new avatar on the mortal realm, that’s it for Briar. In fact, the Lord of Locusts attempts to take Thorn this volume only to be scared off by Fone with the sacred symbol of the dragons, but Thorn ends the volume with her hood pulled really low, which is surely a real bad omen.
7. So, why do Fone and Smiley stay with Phoney if he does nothing but cause trouble?
Well, Phoney may be a greedy jerk, but he actually has his good points. We learn in this volume that the cousins were all orphans. Phoney was the oldest, so he took care of the others. That may be why he’s so stingy: he grew up forcing himself to scrimp and save to help his cousins. He really is devoted to Fone and Smiley.
In this volume, as he learns more about what’s going on, he tries to ditch his distinctive star shirt and make a run for it. It could be an act of cowardice since he knows the rat creatures are looking for him and he knows they know he wears that shirt, but he says he did it to protect the remaining villagers holed up in Old Man’s Cave, and that may actually be the case…but its hard to say given his general personality. Phoney, to his credit, may be greedy, but he doesn’t seem like the type to want to see people get hurt because of him.
8. Whose side if Rock Jaw on?
His own. He brings Thorn and Phoney to Briar for a reward he negotiated himself, but he’s not in league with the Lord of Locusts beyond that.
8. Where does that leave us?
Well, Gran’ma, Thorn, and the Bones are on the run from the rat creatures, led by Kingdok. The Lord of Locusts isn’t defeated yet. There’s still a war to win. But first, our heroes need to escape in Volume 7, Ghost Circles.