BOOK SHELF – Redwall – by Brian Jacques – Book 1

James Brian Jacques, was an English writer known for his Redwall series of novels and Castaways of the Flying Dutchman series. He also completed two collections of short stories entitled The Ribbajack & Other Curious Yarns and Seven Strange and Ghostly Tales.

His book Redwall was written for his “special friends”, the children of the Royal Wavertree School for the Blind, whom he first met while working as a milkman. He began to spend time with the children, reading books to them. However, he became dissatisfied with the state of children’s literature, with too much adolescent angst and not enough magic, and eventually began to write stories for them. He is known for the very descriptive style of his novels, which emphasize sound, smell, taste, gravity, balance, temperature, touch, and kinesthetics, not just visual sensations. His work gained acclaim when Alan Durband, his former English teacher (who also taught Paul McCartney and George Harrison), showed it to his (Durband’s) own publisher without telling Jacques. Durband told his publishers: “This is the finest children’s tale I’ve ever read, and you’d be foolish not to publish it”. Soon after, Jacques was summoned to London to meet with the publishers, who gave him a contract to write the next five books in the series.

Redwall was an 800-page handwritten manuscript. It is now common for children’s books to have 350 pages, and the Harry Potter books far exceed that, but in those days 200 was regarded as the maximum that would hold a child’s attention. It set the tone for the whole series, centered on the triumph of good over evil, with peaceful mice, badgers, voles, hares, moles and squirrels defeating rats, weasels, ferrets, snakes and stoats. He did not shy away from the reality of battle, and many of the “good” creatures die. Redwall alludes to the surrounding human civilization, for example with a scene featuring a horse-drawn cart. But the subsequent books ignore humans completely, portraying an Iron Age society from the misty past building castles, bridges and ships to the scale of forest creatures, writing their own literature and drawing their own maps. Jacques was highly involved in the audio books of his work, even enlisting his sons and others to voice Redwall inhabitants. Jacques said that the characters in his stories are based on people he has encountered. He based Gonff, the self-proclaimed “Prince of Mousethieves”, on himself when he was a young boy hanging around the docks of Liverpool. Mariel is based on his granddaughter. Constance the Badgermum is based on his maternal grandmother. Other characters are a combination of many of the people he has met in his travels.

Redwall – Book 1

Redwall is a fantasy novel by Brian Jacques. Originally published in 1986, it is the first book of the Redwall series. The book was illustrated by Gary Chalk, with the British cover illustration by Pete Lyon and the American cover by Troy Howell. It is also one of the three Redwall novels to be made into a TV series.

A young mouse named Matthias is a novice monk at Redwall Abbey, where he was adopted as a young orphan, though he dreams of a life of adventure, inspired by the legends of Martin the Warrior, the founder of Redwall. One summer, Redwall Abbey is surrounded by the army of Cluny the Scourge, an infamously evil one-eyed rat. Matthias is guided by visions of Martin the Warrior, while the abbey inhabitants prepare the defense of their home against Cluny’s impending attack. Matthias seeks Martin’s famous sword, supposedly hidden somewhere within the abbey, helped particularly by Methuselah, an ancient and grizzled mouse who serves as Redwall’s historian. Cluny, meanwhile, attempts to gain entrance to the abbey and murders a defector from his horde: Sela the fox. Sela’s son, Chickenhound, seeks refuge at Redwall but ends up accidentally killing Methuselah after being caught stealing. Driven from the abbey, Chickenhound is maimed in the wilderness by the venomous adder Asmodeus Poisonteeth, a local terror in Mossflower Wood, the forest that surrounds the abbey.

The Redwall inhabitants have been using boiling water, oil, barrels of hornets, and fire to repel Cluny’s horde, but the abbey finally falls when Cluny threatens the family of the gatekeeper, who allows Cluny’s forces access to the abbey. Matthias, his allies now including the Mossflower shrews and the whole Sparra tribe, along with the newly captive Redwall population, battle against Cluny’s minions. Cluny strikes his poison-barb tail at the father abbot, Mortimer, but Matthias quickly avenges the abbot’s injury by dropping the abbey’s giant bell on top of Cluny, crushing him to death and cracking the bell in the process. Abbot Mortimer proclaims Matthias the Warrior of Redwall and dies from his wound. The battle ends in victory for the defenders of Redwall.

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