Recalling ‘Redwall’

By Eddie Hand

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

There a fictional place where mice and other woodland creatures live in a perpetual war with rats and their evil followers. The mice live in an abbey (despite showing no religious tendencies) and occasionally thethe rats are trying to take over the abbey. Sometimes they’re trying to sell the children of the mice and their friends into slavery. Occasionally, they aren’t even the main villain and a cat or a fox will take that role for a book (though they will still be working with rats).

This is the world of “Redwall,” a children’s series by Brian Jacques. For many kids “Redwall” was the first book series that we really could delve deep into.

Jacques died of a heart attack last week at the age of 71. While I can only imagine how sad those who actually knew him are, this is still quite depressing for those that grew up on the books even now that we’ve stopped reading them as we’ve grown older.  

My parents used to read me “Hardy Boys” mysteries when I was younger but I was never particularly interested in any sort of literature. I’d tried to get into the “Goosebumps” series because they were popular, but they were also repetitive and I lost interest quickly. Like most kids, I was dependent on video games and TV for entertainment. In fourth grade, a friend gave me a book with a picture of a mouse with a sword and a mean looking rat with an eye-patch on the cover. I brought it home and coerced my mom into reading it to me, because I still didn’t have the attention span to read it myself. Soon enough, I was hooked.

There’s no one thing about “Redwall” that drew me into it. Jacques had a brilliant eye for detail and would spend literally pages just writing about the magnificent feasts the woodland creatures would eat. He knew when to write action and when to slow things down, everything was written with vividness uncommon for a children’s book. On writing, he once described himself as a painter. “Paint pictures with words. That’s the greatest advice I can give anybody. Paint the pictures with words. The picture will appear in the imagination so the person reading it can say, ‘I can see that.’”

He never held back; not when it came to complicated issues like death and slavery and war. He respected his readers enough to understand that the world is not always a beautiful place and things don’t always end the way you want them to, even though most of said readers were only kids. 

I remember seeing him on his book tour. It was the fifth grade and I was antsy waiting in line, my copy of “Martin the Warrior” clutched tightly to my chest. The line moved fast and soon we were face-to-face. As he cheerfully signed it, I impulsively asked him “Where did Martin get his sword from?” and a big smile appeared on his face as he spoke with a surprising amount of enthusiasm considering just how many times he’d probably been asked the question; “He got it from his father Luke, who got it from his father who got it from his father who got it from his vicious grandmother.”

He handed my freshly-signed book back to me, still grinning broadly.

This is my sole memory of him in the flesh, though I am told he made numerous appearances in the animated version of the series that made its way to PBS years ago. I continued reading the series, eventually becoming competent enough that I didn’t need an adult’s help; “Mattimeo” (the sequel) and “Mossflower” (the prequel) came next. Then I started reading other series like “Animorphs” and “Harry Potter.” Like most, I stopped after I felt I outgrew the series and moved on to bigger and better things. But “Redwall” is where is all started. Whether it was Orlando the Axe vengefully cutting down his enemies, Ambrose Spike, the alcoholic hedgehog sharing his ale with all the other woodland creatures during a great feast, or Matthias the Warrior Mouse’s final showdown with Cluny the Scourge, Redwall opened me and so many others to worlds of adventure the likes of which come by only once in a rare occasion. The silver lining is that these books will last forever. There’s only one thing those who grew up with “Redwall” can say to that to the man that it to us now:

Thank you.

Eddie Hand is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]