I came relatively late to the Redwall books, at the ripe age of nine or ten. Many of my classmates had become fans the year before, but at the time, the 300-page tomes seemed too thick for my undivided attention, and I struggled with the British accents as written on the page. But when, in fifth grade, I finally entered the world of Matthias the mouse, I was captivated, and quickly devoured the original trilogy: Redwall
, and Mattimeo
. When I heard that Brian Jacques died
this weekend, I wanted to take a look back at the series that cast a spell on my childhood self.
The series, which now numbers more than 20 books, chronicles the adventures of the small creatures living in and around Redwall Abbey. Those living in the abbey itself are peace-loving but frequently forced to defend themselves when under siege by rats and other unsavory characters. Mice and hares are called upon to go on quests; vicious stoats don't hesitate to try and slit their throats (Jacques never held back on the violence). The books had everything I needed to feed a 10-year-old imagination: young male protagonists wielding swords; rich, ever-expanding geography; old, wise figures studying dusty volumes of abbey lore. A standout feature of the novels was the complex history of Redwall. From the series' start, the books darted back and forth in time, with the first one following the second chronologically and the third coming after either one. It was a welcome challenge to try to reconstruct the overall story from individual tales that were completely out of order. (Many fellow readers have told me they loved the lavish descriptions of abbey feasts, but I have to say those didn't interest me much.)
For several years I lugged Redwall
books to school, eager for silent reading period when I could imagine myself into Matthias' small shoes. As I got older, I moved on to other novels, but I could never bring myself to relegate the series to the attic: it stayed on my bedroom bookshelf.
Once or twice in college, I looked back at Redwall
, hoping it had retained its magic. I'd love to be able to say it did, but in fact I found myself troubled by unanswerable questionsof scale, for example: I'll accept the tiny swords, but how could a mouse realistically befriend a rabbit? And why are rats uniformly evil?
Still, the books had left a mark, helping to awaken the Anglophile in me. When I spent a semester studying in Norwich, England, I noticed an advertisement for a Brian Jacques appearance at a local bookstore. When the night arrived, it was clear that Redwall had retained its hold on new generations, even in a Potter-dominated world: I was the oldest non-parent there. I'd expected an audience of people my age, former fans eager to weigh in on the series' hidden literary merit.
Jacques swept in, wearing a cape and a huge grin. He told his own life story, and read excerpts from a new book, acting it out as if it were a play. Then, loving every moment, he took questions from the awed young listeners. At a time when the line between children's and adult books is becoming blurred, this event was all about the kidsthe author aimed at their imaginations. He had no wish to be grandiose: Jacques' job was to tell stories, and he knew how.