Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In Memoriam: A Review of Redwall

I've spent so much time and energy this month on reading depressing, disheartening books that I had almost forgotten what it was like to feel a surge of joy when a book ends. I'm only half-serious, of course, but Redwall did serve as a nice departure from books about plagues and nuclear wars. The reason I chose to reread and review this book, however, is not so nice.

In an earlier post, I explained that I was honoring the memory of the late Brian Jacques (thanks to Nonners for the link!) by rereading the first book in his Redwall series. It has been over a decade since I last read it or any of Brian Jacques novels, but I could clearly remember the joy that I got from reading them and was sad to hear of his death. By rereading Redwall I got to revisit that joy.

Redwall tells the story of Redwall Abbey (what is it with me and abbeys this month?) and its inhabitants: mice, moles, badgers, and other woodland creatures. The main character, Matthias, is a young mouse training to be a brother in the order who is drawn into an adventure to help save the abbey from a horde of vicious rats, led by the meanest, ugliest rat of them all--Cluny the Scourge.

This rat isn't even half as ugly or as mean as Cluny. Seriously.

The novel is beautifully written, full of rich description and memorable characters. I was shocked to find that from the minute I began reading this book, I could still see vividly in my mind the same images that I conjured up in the sixth grade. The abbey and the surrounding countryside were exactly how I picture them all those years ago. Yet, while some of the story and its characters were still familiar to me, there was much about this book that I had forgotten. To be a bit cliché, it was like reconnecting with an old friend; there's so much that you know about that person, but there's also so much of which you have to be reminded. 

As this was Jacques' first novel, I can forgive him for some of the dialogue, which wasn't always that great. Most of it was well-done, but there were a few phrases here or there that seemed fake and forced. His descriptions, though, were always amazing and his characters always so unique and full of life. Even though these are mice and rats and birds and foxes, they become realistic in the mind of the reader because Jacques put so much care into giving them a voice and a history and a purpose. Even the villain, Cluny, comes off as being refreshing and new. Many times villains can be very one-dimensional, but Cluny is not one of them. Sure, he's always evil, but he's also a rat who is cautious, sly, smart, and just a little bit haunted. 

Redwall was written for children but even adults can enjoy it. Jacques didn't dumb his story down, nor did he shirk on the blood and guts. Nothing's too gross or horrific or anything, but he does do a very good job of describing Cluny's violent assault on the Abbey and the defenders' valiant efforts to fight him off. I like that in a writer; someone who isn't afraid to admit that children aren't stupid and that they know when an author is trying to shield them from something that convention tells them children shouldn't know about.

One of the most fascinating things about this novel is that, although it takes place at an abbey, religion doesn't play a factor at all. In fact, these mice care more about feeding and healing the inhabitants of Mossflower Wood than they do about anything else, including, presumably, religion. Not once is God mentioned, something that I find reassuring. Jacques didn't write this book with religion in mind; he wrote this book with his story in mind. It simply made sense for this story to take place in an abbey because very few other places on earth could have high walls, a long history, and a benevolent, non-violent ruler. Because of this, people of any faith (or of no faith) can enjoy this novel without feeling like they are being preached to. 

I cannot say enough good things about Redwall. I loved it the first time I read it and I loved it even more the second time. This is the kind of book that I could read at the age of 80 and still be satisfied. It is incredibly sad that Brian Jacques is no longer with us but it is heartening to know that his name will live on through the quality novels that he has written. It is my sincere hope that these books will continue to be read for ages to come.

I won't give this book a rating out of five out of respect for Brian Jacques. I will say that if you've never read one of his novels, you really should. I stopped reading them after a while because there are so many of them and they tend to follow the same story line, but he is a great author nevertheless and is definitely worth checking out. 

If anyone is interested, The Story Girl is hosting a Brian Jacques challenge from February 9th to May 31st. Click the link for more details. 

Also, here is the official Brian Jacques website.

This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Brian Jacques (1939-2011).

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