So, I admit to blog fail this week. My short string of consistent Friday evening blog posts has been cut. Oh well. Time to move on.
I wanted to take a little time today to a talk about Brian Jacques, one of my
favorite authors, who died last Saturday, Feb 5th, at the age of 71. He was the author of the extremely popular Redwall novels, a series of childrens’/young adult novels about a medieval-ish land filled with warrior hares, bandit weasels, and an abbey run by mice. The world of Redwall is beautifully rich and detailed, the cultures of the various animals are thoughtfully planned and distinct, and the dialogue is full of wonderfully written dialects that are one of the staples of Jacques’ strong ear and distinctive voice.
I started reading the Redwall series when I was in sixth grade; at that time the first eight books had already been published, and I read through them at a rapid pace. They were such enchanting books the first time I read them. Magical, adventurous, advocating tolerance and bravery, firm in the belief of selflessness and the inherent goodness of people (and animals). Adventures awaited all those who go looking. Adversity brought strength and mercy. The good guys always won, the bad guys always lost, and sometimes the bad guys even repented. And while life and age sometimes make us more cynical and skeptical of such things, the Redwall books continue to make us hopeful and bright-eyed with wonder after every reading and re-reading.
Jacques had a fascination for riddles, which often became important plot-points in many of his novels. He also spent quite a deal of time in his books describing enormous lavish feasts in amazing, almost obsessive detail – something he once attributed to the food rationing he experienced during World War Two. Every time I read the descriptions of his feasts, I long to try my hand at making things like Mole’s Favorite Deeper’n’Ever Turnip’n’Tater’n’Beetroot Pie, Otter’s Shrimp’n’Hotroot Soup, and Rubbadeedubb Pudding. Thankfully, there is in fact a Redwall Cookbook (though I haven’t bought it yet).
To give an idea of the stories, here is a quick quick summary of the first book (and still my favorite): Redwall. It is the story of Matthias, a young mice who lives in Redwall Abbey and dreams of adventure. Redwall Abbey is a refuge in Mossflower Woods for the animals of the forest, and when it comes under attack by Cluny the Scourge, an infamous rat who leads a horde of vermin, the local residents take up arms to protect the abbey. But Matthias fears it won’t be enough, so he begins a quest to find the legendary sword of Martin the Warrior. As Matthias wanders out into the forest to retrieve the sword from a gigantic snake called Asmodeus, Cluny attacks Redwall Abbey and claims it as it his own, leaving Matthias the task of returning to save everyone. Some would say it is a weakness of Jacques’ books that we always know who is going to win in the end, but the ending isn’t really the point of these books. It is the journey, the adventure, the strange and fascinating characters met along the way, and the development of the main characters that make these books so un-put-downable, and so worthy of repeats readings.
According to several of the articles I’ve read about Jacques online, he was working as a milk deliveryman when he wrote the first Redwall book. He had been invited to tea at the Royal Wavertree School for the Blind in Liverpool, one of the stops on his delivery route, and volunteered to read stories for the children. But he did not like the stories available for them, so he simply decided to write his own. From that generous but relatively inauspicious beginning, grew the series of 21 (soon to be 22) books that have enchanted readers of all ages for years and have been translated into 29 languages around the world.
I cannot express how much I will miss having a new Redwall book to read. While the first book will always remain my favorite, I have never yet found a Redwall book that wasn’t absolutely beautiful, enchanting, exciting, and adventurous. I cannot recommend these books enough. (One thing to keep in mind if/when you do read them: I read them in publication order, but there are a lot of prequels that come in at various times, so you might like to read them in chronological order, depending on your preference.)
According the Los Angeles Times article, Brian Jacques said in 2002 that he preferred not to call his stories fantasies but adventures, and “good yarns.” For all the things that can be said of his books, or of any well-written novel, I believe first and foremost a story should be a “good yarn.” And the Redwall series most definitely are that.
Here are some Brian Jacques related links that might be of interest: