Friday, February 25, 2011
"Redwall" by Brian Jacques
Musings: This should probably be less of a review and more of a love letter to Jacques and the Redwall series. I first discovered Redwall as a kid, sometime in elementary school, when I read Mossflower, which chronologically comes after Redwall. I read a paperback library version, which, at around 450 pages, seemed huge to me. Nonetheless, I was completely sucked in and read the entire book in one sitting. I was so entranced that once I finished, I begged my mom to take me back to that library--right at that instant--in order to pick up Redwall, which I also finished in the same day. I probably read eight or so books in the series (there will be 22 as of May) before reaching those teenage years when I read little, but Jacques' stories have always had a special place in my heart. With the recent news of Jacques' passing, I knew I wanted to return to the Redwall world again.
Redwall is the perfect epic story of good heroes defeating evil villains. Redwall is a multi-cultural paradise where all woodland creatures--mice, badgers, otters, squirrels--exist in harmony. But despite the essential goodness of all the characters, the protagonists don't feel boring or simple. There's the determined Matthias, willing to take on a leadership role despite his young age. The strong and stubborn Constance the badger is probably my favorite character, followed closely by the experienced fighter rabbit Basil Stag Hare. It's hard to choose a favorite character because the world is so richly populated.
As much as the Redwall citizens are good, the villain Cluny is truly evil. My husband pointed out how effective Jacques is at making Cluny terrifying despite the fact that he never really has any success at taking over the abbey. And, truthfully, I like that about the series. It's not a series for very young kids--there are violent battles, terrified characters, and even some deaths. But the books are never tragic, hopeless, or morose.
Could I do some critical analysis of the series? Perhaps. And I'm sure there's something to say for the division of "good" woodland creatures and "bad." In the end, though, I think that's rarely going to matter for the reader. Redwall is a rousing adventure in a world the reader can't help but want to inhabit. Who doesn't want to jostle among the bickering shrews or scale walls alongside Tess the squirrel? Then there's the food! Anyone who has read the series knows that just as the fights and quests are epic, so are the feasts, which are so fully described that the reader immediately becomes hungry.
I hope to read these books aloud with my children some day, and I'd like to continue to reread the series myself.