John Doman's Reviews > Redwall

Redwall by Brian Jacques
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's review
Apr 03, 2012

it was ok
Read in January, 1990

(This is a review I wrote on Amazon back in 2004)
I would not recommend this book, which I read once when I was 12, and recently re-read. The reason for this is that - although Brian Jacques does a great job with plot and description, creating an enthralling fantasy world and a clever tale that combines elements of epic, detective story and quest - his characters are simply too flat and one dimensional. In addition, since Redwall is primarily a story of war, this creates some serious moral problems that, in my opinion, simply ruin the book.
In the universe of Redwall, all characters seem to be labeled by the author, from the beginning, as either good or bad. The characters themselves are varied to the extreme. There are "good" animals that are quarrelsome (the shrews), snobby (Gingivere the cat), ruthless (Constance the badger) and naive (Abbot Mortimer) and there are "bad" characters that are pitiable (Ragear the rat, who is eaten by Asmodeous) loyal and efficient (Scragg the weasel) and brave (many of the rat army, and Cluny himself). However, the overall label of "good" and "bad" will always determine the character's fate. Moreover, all the "good" characters have nothing but contempt and even hatred for the "bad" characters. This had the effect, for me, of feeling a bit sorry for the "bad" characters, no matter how despicable their actions. But what was even more disturbing to me was how dishonorable the "good" characters can be in the book.
One example: imagine that it's the middle of World War II, with Britain being menaced by the Nazi regime. Then one day, a spy within the Nazi regime, offering valuable information about the Nazi invasion plans, contacts the British government. The spy offers the information in return for a large cash reward. The British government arranges a secret meeting. When the spy shows up, at the risk of her life, British agents cudgel her senseless and steal the information from her, leaving her to be found by the Germans. A little while later, the spy is caught and ruthlessly executed; but her associate escapes and returns to Redwall (oops, I mean Britain) severely wounded, but with more secret, valuable information. The British government takes the second spy in, but withholds water and medical attention until the spy spills his guts.
What would you think of the British Government after an incident like that? Would they be that much better than the Nazis? Would Britain be worth fighting for?
Oh, and incidentally, after the war is over, the British victors slaughter every single German soldier they find, leaving none alive.
Yet, a very similar situation occurs in the pages of Redwall. Yeah, I know it's just a kid's book. But I was a kid when I first read it, and that sort of thing bothered me then, too. A big part of the book is supposed to be about honor; but the good characters all tend to act dishonorably. The book is supposed to be about a conflict between good and evil; but the good side doesn't seem to be that much better than the bad side. Sure, the good guys don't kill and conquer, like the bad; but the good guys don't have any problem with using any chance they can get to win, or with killing and torturing the enemy. No problem at all.
These problems arise, I think, with an undeveloped morality on Mr. Jacques's part.
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