Bren's Reviews > Redwall

Redwall by Brian Jacques
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Jul 02, 09

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Read in June, 2009

One group of beings defend their territory against a hostile, invading force. One of these defenders strives to attain his folk hero's legendary status. And on the other end of the spectrum, a heartless ruler brings the "fairy tales" of his cruelty to light once again...

An epic story, resplendent with gothic architecture, visions from beyond the grave, war and death, and a multitude of tribal variations...

...from the point of view of a mouse?

Redwall presents an alternate world, in which the roles of history's greatest heroes and villains are portrayed by field mice and sewer rats, pacifist squirrels and warlord ferrets. To eliminate the stigma associated with such animals as being "cute' or children's fare, witness the multiple killings, the nefarious violence, the devious schemes put into action by characters, both ostensibly good and evil, (and those somewhere in between, although never "neutral").

This book represents Brian Jacques' first novel, although is considered to be the "middle" portion of a trilogy (which has since been expanded into nearly ten volumes). Jacques understand the vitality of strong characters - even those in minor supporting roles (or even those destined to remain alive for a mere few pages). None of the creatures are thrown away by the writer, not even the most cruel or the least active.

In this way, Jacques keeps the reader guessing as to what will transpire between chapter to chapter. Predictability cannot be assumed, as each character has been crafted as fully as possible, thus nullifying the all-too-common trick of assuming a non-entity will be removed from the story in an unnatural manner. Many of the attackers are killed, even murdered in cold blood. But then, so are many of those on the protagonist's side.

And the methods of Easiest Way Out are kept to a minimum: no glut of over-the-top action to fill up pages; no series of brisk coincidence to ease into a happy ending, benefiting the heroes; no hollow stereotype left unchallenged as the story progresses (although, admittedly, there are plenty of characters who seem to start out as such, like the venomous adder Asmodeus who fits the role of "slithering serpent" perfectly)...

The weaknesses of the novel are inherent to the series itself. For instance, there is the basic question of scale - as in, how big must the sanctuary of Redwall Abbey be in order to comfortably accommodate not only the resident mice, but also visiting rats, ferrets, squirrels, and foxes? Too, the very nature of what is known of such animals is brought into question. In case of point, are the animals purely biped, or are there defined differences between the "personified" and other genus of their species?

There is no magic within the novel, frequently used as a crutch to mask poorly conceived conflict or to manufacture a stilted resolution. However, the "magic" involved in bringing forest creatures into a progressed form of humanity is magic enough.

The question remains as to why Jacques placed animals into all-too-humanistic roles. The most obvious answer is that it proved necessary to make the reading more palatable - not only for the youngsters (for whom the series was ostensibly intended), but for the readership as a whole. Reading about the sudden, violent disembowelment of an unfortunate fox is harrowing enough, but would be absolutely nightmarish to depict such actions against human beings.

An exceptionally strong first novel, with a vocabulary which both challenges and stimulates, without becoming overwrought. It is the characters alone who drive the story - and what a story is granted to the reader!
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