I should probably preface the below by warning that this entire post requires a SPOILER ALERT. Quite a lot about the books is revealed below, and I doubt that certain passages will make sense to anyone who has not read the books.
One of the most striking things about the relationships in Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series (so far, technically a trilogy plus a short story, but a fourth book is supposed to come out this year!) is the way in which love in a variety of forms is presented. There is romance, yes, but more interestingly there are sibling relationships, extended families, companion-loyalty, and even a complicated and ever evolving captive-captor dynamic. As well as a deep love for Life.
There’s just so much to say. Where to begin?
Well, perhaps with Mogget. Mogget is an interesting one: we learn in Sabriel that (SPOILER ALERT) Mogget is an ancient and powerful being who was captured by a long-ago Abhorsen, and therefore he is presumably a baddie, because the Abhorsens are definitely on the side of good. Mogget resents being bound (not surprisingly) and seeks freedom and revenge. He can be freed by removing the slender red collar from around his neck. The collar looks like leather but is really an intricate construct of Charter marks, sealed with a miniature Sareneth, the bell that binds Mogget. In Sabriel, Mogget convinces Sabriel to unleash him in order to avoid certain death. She does so, and Mogget saves them both, proving that he probably isn’t all that bad. Then again, when they both regain consciousness, his first act is to initiate a slow and excruciating revenge on the nearest Abhorsen, which is Sabriel. She foils and rebinds Mogget, who then returns to the form of a small white cat, cynical but not directly antagonistic. Sabriel also learns (via Touchstone) that a hundred years ago, Mogget served/fought alongside the Abhorsen of that time, or at least helped him in the form of a short albino man. In the final battle against Kerrigor, Mogget fights fiercely in defense of his exclusive right to take revenge on Sabriel, who finds, when it is over, that she had rather missed the cat. An important development at this point is that Mogget, though rebound, is bound with Ranna (the Sleeper), rather than Sareneth (the Binder).
This becomes important in Lirael and Abhorsen. Sameth, son of Sabriel and Touchstone, is wary of Mogget and initially afraid to find the white cat wandering the Old Kingdom instead of safely contained within Abhorsen’s House, as Mogget and Kerrigor ought to be. Mogget’s reassures Sam that he has come “aware [that] his services are required” (462), and that Kerrigor still sleeps. The implication is that Ranna (all the bells have something of a life of their own) allows Mogget certain freedoms, and that to a small extent – very small, and remembering to never take off the red collar – Mogget can be trusted.
The rest of the two books that narrate Lirael and Sam’s coming-of-ages and the defeat of Orannis the Destroyer can almost be read as the narrative of how Mogget and the Abhorsens, most particularly Sam and Lirael, alter this two thousand year old relationship (Abhorsen 113; although it is also described as a “millennia of servitude” 512) of mistrust and resentment into one of wary trust, hope, and ultimately, alliance.
Throughout Lirael, Mogget is a voice that goads Sam into action and understanding. Not a pleasant voice – Mogget clearly considers Sam an idiot and doesn’t hesitate to say so – but one that produces good results. That is, Sam survives, which he probably wouldn’t have done if Mogget weren’t there.
This, however, is not enough for the Disreputable Dog (Kibeth), who sees Mogget as her enemy today, as he was so long ago. Nix establishes a tension between Mogget and the others (Lirael, Sam, the Dog): Mogget obeys resentfully, plays pranks, and does not actively work against the others; Sam is doubtful but willing to accept Mogget; the Dog mistrusts Mogget entirely; and Lirael listens to both Sam and the Dog, and strikes a balance.
One possible turning point is when Astarael, whose presence unbinds Mogget, detains him and yet releases him, bound again. This is interpreted by Mogget and the Dog as a second chance; at what is not explained until later. When Mogget rejoins the companions, Sam learns that a long-ago Abhorsen forbade Mogget to take his albino form in the presence of an Abhorsen without prior permission, which suggests that Mogget had exploited it in some way to work against the Abhorsens. Mogget dodges further questions and demands, paradoxically, that Sam serve him (“Wake me up when we’re somewhere dry and comfortable, Prince Sameth. With civilized food.” Abhorsen 147). Sam is not sure how much of a relief it is to have Mogget back and the Dog is disgruntled.
Lirael, on the other hand, takes this opportunity to negotiate. Although Mogget does not have a choice about obeying, Lirael requests his help. She and Sam offer fish and mice in return. They refuse to give Mogget birds, however (symbolically they offer something closer to equality though with limits), which he accepts, characterizing this new stage in their relationship as “a civilized agreement… better than being a slave” (Abhorsen 152).
Soon after, Sam issues an order, which Mogget slyly elides by first pointing out that Sam hasn’t asked Mogget properly, and second by nearly sending Sam asleep by tinkling the little Ranna on his collar. This is interesting, because now Mogget appears able to manipulate what binds him against the family that bound him. Sam, however, overcomes sleepiness and takes care of the sleeping Mogget, “making sure Mogget would not fall out [of Sam’s backpack] even though the cat deserved to” (Abhorsen 195), and continuing on his way without the cat’s help.
The adventure continues… At the first opportunity, Sam obtains tins of sardines for Mogget, an act which the cat views with suspicion.
“Why are you giving me this?”
“You like fish,” said Sam. “Besides, I said I would.” (Abhorsen 360)
Mogget suspects ulterior motives on Sam’s part, but when he sees none he devours the fish. Mogget and the Dog, however, are still wary, more like enemies with temporarily sheathed blades than comrades in a doomed venture. The Dog is waiting for Mogget to “turn” on the Abhorsens, and warns him that she will (permanently) kill him for it. Mogget points out silkily that she may not be able to do so. The scene ends with a frustrated Dog and a smug Mogget. Not a good sign for Lirael and Sam (and the rest of the world, which they are trying to save)!
In the climactic confrontation with Orannis the Destroyer, Lirael and her allies, who stand as descendants and representatives of the original Seven who bound the Destroyer and created the Charter, are unable to prevail. All seems lost. Then Sam undoes the red collar and frees Mogget, adjuring him to “Choose well” (507).
Is this a good decision? Mogget’s first act is to turn to Sabriel aggressively. Sabriel faces Mogget, now a pillar of white fire, without flinching, and he pauses. He next goes to the other Abhorsen, Lirael, who pleads with one quiet sentence. And Mogget responds. The Eighth Bright Shiner joins the Seven to bind the Ninth.
“Life,” said Yrael, who was more Mogget than it ever knew. “Fish and fowl, warm sun and shady trees, the field mice in the wheat, under the cool light of the moon.” (Abhorsen 509)
The terrible and vengeful Yrael, who a millennia ago cared nothing for anything other than him/itself, so that the Seven had to bind him/it in order to defeat the Destroyer, has been shaped by his time as a little white cat – and an albino man – and came to love Life, the diversity and physicality of being, so that he/it joined its captors and forgo revenge. This didn’t happen overnight; Mogget hated the Abhorsens enough even in Sabriel’s earlier life that he might have joined Orannis for the pleasure of destroying. In the changing, increasingly non-hostile relationship between himself and Lirael and Sam, Mogget found enough even in his enemies that given the choice, he sided with them, for Life.
With Sam having freed the cat, I am not sure why Sabriel must do so formally (512) but she does, which again indicates how wholly Yrael has changed, that the two of them can converse without restraint, that she who bound Mogget (on two separate occasions, once with Sareneth the Binder, once with Ranna Sleep-bringer, again a progression) now releases him with Belgaer. Yrael’s quarrel with his human enemies has died.
And what of the Dog?
When the Disreputable Dog returns Nick to Life, the second thing he sees is a white cat (important! the shape that ought to have reminded him of thousands of years of imprisonment is voluntarily chosen by Mogget in his newfound freedom) who, disdainful as ever, examines Kibeth’s work (i.e. Nick, alive). Mogget then “looked past Nick at something that wasn’t there” i.e. at Kibeth, wandering on the border between Life and Death “and winked, before trotting off in a northerly direction” (Abhorsen 517). The old enmity between Kibeth, one of the original Seven who Bound Yrael, and Yrael/Mogget also has been laid to rest. Mogget winks. As if at a friend. As if at an equal he liked very much after all.