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The Redwall Novels of Brian Jacques
by John O'Neill

The SF Site Reader's Guide to Fantasy, Part I

Click on any of the covers below for a larger image.

Art: Troy Howell
I'm on the phone with Bettina Seifert of Penguin/Philomel, clearing up some details on pub dates for upcoming titles, when the conversation turns to Brian Jacques. I'm familiar with Brian -- he of the famous Redwall books. In my days in grad school I hunted down his early novels in paperback, the ones with the gorgeous Tom Canty covers depicting heroic mice in triumphant poses. I even had a poster of Salamandastron on my dormroom wall. I used to fall asleep on top of thick quantum physics texts, watched over by the image of some kind of valiant badger critter. It was oddly comforting.

"Yeah, we'd love to do something on the Redwall books," I tell Bettina nostalgically. "David Soyka did a feature on The Great Redwall Feast last month and our readers loved it. We could do survey piece on the hardcover reprints, maybe, or a look at the latest novels. How many is he up to now?"

"Eleven," says Bettina. "And the next one, Marlfox, is due in February."

"Eleven?" Clearly I haven't been keeping up. That's a lot of activity for a bunch of mice. Time to backtrack. "Well, yeah, that'd bury any single reviewer. We'll focus on the ones still in print. Tell you what -- send us just what's in print, and we'll work on some coverage on those, okay?"

Brian Jacques
"Well, okay," Bettina says. "Give me your address again."

Right about now my finely tuned publisher senses are tingling, and I'm picturing the Brian Jacques shelf I saw last week at Borders. Handsome thick hardcovers, all lined in an impressive row. A lot of hardcovers. "Uh, Bettina, how many are still in print?"

"All of them."

"All of them?"

"Yes. What was your address again?"

Now, maybe this doesn't mean a lot to you. But perhaps you're not an established science fiction author who just watched your Hugo Award-winning novel from the early nineties go out of print. Or a mid-list author finishing a three-volume series, already getting letters from frustrated readers who can't find the first two volumes. Unless your name is Stephen King or Robert Jordan, you get used to having your work go out of print. And no matter who you are, you don't get used to having your small print-run paperbacks returned to print in hardcover by a major publisher, ten years after they first appeared.

The Redwall Adventure Series
Redwall (1986)
Mossflower (1988)
Mattimeo (1989)
Mariel of Redwall (1991)
Salamandastron (1992)
Martin the Warrior (1993)
The Bellmaker (1994)
Outcast of Redwall (1995)
The Great Redwall Feast (1996)
Pearls of Lutra (1996)
The Long Patrol (1997)
Marlfox (February 1999)
The Legend of Luke (1999)
Lord Brocktree (2000)
Except for Brian Jacques, apparently.

About a week after my conversation with Bettina an extremely heavy box is delivered to my office by a cursing UPS officer. Carefully packed inside are eleven Philomel hardcovers bearing the name Brian Jacques, decorated with mice, hares, evil-looking rats, and furry creatures of all persuasions. Almost 4000 pages of heroic rodentry. Yowzah.

Art: Thomas Canty
So what is it about these books, anyway? Why have readers of all ages, and from all over the world, shown them the kind of devotion that would make some of our most successful SF authors green with envy? I'd plucked that first volume off the shelves readily enough myself, all those years ago. Its first line, a poetic fragment that promised a tale of adventure wrapped up in the warm glows of summer -- "It was the start of the Summer of the Late Rose. Mossflower country shimmered..." -- was memorable enough that Tom Canty made it the centerpiece of his cover. I settled back with the first volume to unravel the mystery.

The Tale of Redwall Abbey

Redwall (368 pages, 1986), the first volume in the tale, is really the story of the young mouse Matthias, who as the book opens is eagerly preparing for a great feast at the Abbey with his friend, Brother Alf. As Matthias helps escort the abbey's guests home he witnesses the passing of a wagon pulled by a terrorized black horse -- and catches a glimpse of a giant one-eyed rat, far larger than any he's even seen.

Art: Troy Howell
Matthias's description matches that of Cluny the Scourge, a creature of dark legend, half history and half old wive's tale. Cluny is a terror, a rat who carries a pole topped with a ferret's skull and uses his immense, poisoned-barbed tail as a whip. Even Matthias' closest confidants at Redwall have trouble believing Matthias's story. As Matthias struggles to convince his fellows, the great rat warlord leads an army of four hundred rats, ferrets, weasels, and stoats towards the Abbey un-noticed.

When the danger finally becomes clear to all the immediate reaction is to flee, abandoning Redwall to the attackers. But Matthias has other plans. With the help of his compatriots he convinces the Abbey to mount a defense... while he himself tries desperately to decode the many ancient inscriptions on walls and behind paintings believed to be written by the great Martin the Warrior. The inscriptions are part of a puzzle, which legend says will lead to the hiding place of the sword of Martin himself -- a weapon that could well mean the difference between death and survival for the desperate defenders of Redwall.

The version we have is the 10th anniversary edition, with attractive new art (including six full-color plates and a new cover) by Troy Howell, the cover artist for all of Philomel's U.S. hardcover editions. Howell's artwork has displaced rather than supplemented the fine line drawings of Gary Chalk, whose interior art is scattered throughout the other books, but is still a fine addition.

Of Mice and Men

My immediate reaction on starting Redwall perhaps was typical: why mice? In fact, why the urge to anthropomorphize these fine stories at all? They're exciting tales with nicely developed characters in a simple but colorful setting, one that might just as easily been England, circa 1450. Yes, there's a fine tradition of adventure tales featuring furry heroes, from The Wind in the Willows to 101 Dalmatians to the classic Watership Down, and Jacques clearly has designs on the same audience. But none of those tales displaced humans with the effectiveness of a Neutron bomb -- leaving buildings, roads, and swords intact. Mice with sandals are one thing, but rats traversing the country in a horse-driven wagon? C'mon.

But it doesn't take much to see that the Critter Cast of Redwall serves a broader purpose. Their nature clearly signals the tone of the story -- that of an epic fable of good vs. evil -- far more succinctly than, say, an advertising campaign could. The novel's furry inhabitants also provide the author an economy of storytelling, as Jacques draws liberally on established stereotypes to quickly set the stage: evil rats, peaceful mice, cunning foxes, and et cetera. And stereotypical or not, Jacques' characters and storylines are surprisingly compelling, and the rapid pace of these tales is one of their key strengths.

Jacques also adds something new to the mix: a fascination with food. The traditional charm of the furry-animal setting is surprisingly enhanced by a pageantry of berries, nuts, and oddly appealing forest concoctions -- which seems a very natural element in any epic involving creatures who spend most of their lives burying food and then trying to remember where they put it. There's also a touch of class struggle in these tales, heightening the tension with classical themes of the downtrodden hero, and plenty of British humor and dialect. All in all, Jacques has mined his far share of themes from traditional and Young Adult literature, and repackaged them in fine form for a modern audience.

The Sequels

Art: Troy Howell
Mossflower (431 pages, 1988) is a prequel to Redwall, a tale of the great Martin the Warrior himself. In his early days Martin was a wandering warrior, a mouse with no belongings save the rusty sword strapped to his back. When he enters Mossflower Country he is captured by the King of the Thousand Eyes, a wildcat who rules over the fortress Kotir, and is locked in the dungeons. There he meets the mouse-thief Gonff, and together they hatch a scheme to escape. But a greater plan had seized Martin... together with Gonff and Dinny the Mole, he sets after his escape out to recruit a huge badger named Boar the Fighter from Salamandastron mountain -- a fighter who can help raise an army to fight the cruel wildcat Queen Tsarmina, and liberate the beloved Mossflower from tyranny.

Art: Troy Howell
In Mattimeo (446 pages, 1989) we return to the time of Matthias, hero of Redwall. Matthias is now the guardian of the Abbey, and has a son named Mattimeo. On the night of a great feast at the Abbey, a group of rats, foxes, and other strangers arrive at the gate claiming to be Magicians. The fox leading the band wears a checkered mask, and performs some simple magic tricks.

When the inhabitants awake the next morning, however, they make a horrifying discovery. The Woodland children are missing, including brave Mattimeo, and no tracks give a clue to their whereabouts. The masked fox was none other than Slager the Cruel, the almost legendary enemy of Redwall, and now it's up to Mattimeo and his companions to somehow stop Slagar and his band of marauders.

Art: Troy Howell
Mariel of Redwall (387 pages, 1991) begins with a fine new addition to the series -- a female protagonist, the brave and surprising Mariel. Tossed overboard during a raid on her ship by unscrupulous rodent pirates, the Searats, by the time she finds her way to Redwall she's cold and half-starved. But Mariel recovers in the care of the Abbey, and vows to settle accounts with the dread Gabool the Wild and his furry privateers, who've kidnapped her father, the bell maker. Armed with a powerful weapon, the Gullwhacker, and accompanied by Dandin, Tarquin L. Woodsorrel of the Long Patrol, and the young hedgehog Durry Quill, Mariel follows the clues laid out in an old poem to Gabool's stronghold -- past vicious herons, dangerous masked weasels, and a loathsome group of toads. But it's not until her brave band meets up with Lord Rawnblade Widestripe, the great badger hero, that Mariel's real adventures begin.
Art: Troy Howell

Badger heroes stole the limelight in Mariel of Redwall, but they step to center stage in the fifth volume in the series, Salamandastron (Philomel Books, 393 pages, 1992). Salamandastron is the mountain of fire, home to the great fortress of the same name ruled by the wise old badger Lord Urthstripe the Strong. It's a place of legend in song and history for the inhabitants of Redwall. But when Ferhago the Assassin, an evil weasel, attacks the mountain stronghold with his corps of vermin, the great badger warriors find themselves in a desperate struggle to regain their land from evil invaders. Urthstripe leads the animals of the fortress against the siege as Mara, warrior maiden and Urthstripe's adopted daughter, finds herself at the heart of the action with Redwall inhabitants Samkim, a young squirrel, and his molemaid friend, Arula -- who may have discovered and lost the sword of Martin the Warrior.

The next book in the series travels back to the earliest days of the saga with a grand tale of Martin the Warrior (Philomel Books, 375 pages, 1993), founder of Redwall. It's the sixth published book but the first in the sequence, featuring the story of Martin's

Art: Troy Howell
early adventures -- how he regained the sword given to him by his father, and brought peace to Mossflower Woods. As the book opens Martin is a young captive and slave of the ruthless stoat, Badrang the Tyrant, working on the construction of the stronghold Marshank on the Eastern Coast. Martin's working conditions are cruel, and he is often whipped or flogged. But this isn't enough to break his spirit, and when he witnesses similar mistreatment of an elderly squirrel, he attacks the captain of the guard and nearly strangles him to death with his own whip. Martin is subdued by the guards and brought before Badrang, who commands him to be bound to the highest point of Marshank, there to be eaten by birds. And so it is done, and Martin is tied to two poles upon the rooftop, and expected to be long dead by dawn.

Martin's journey from the pit of despair to the eventual leadership of a noble and brave band of protectors -- a band which confronts Badrang's horde of weasels, ferrets, foxes, and rats head on, and eventually storms his evil hold in a final, bloody battle -- is vintage Jacques, and a tale fitting of the legend that's been hinted at for so many volumes. One of the most beloved of the Redwall books, Martin the Warrior has moments of great tragedy, but also legendary heroism.

Art: Troy Howell

For the seventh installment Jacques leaps about in the time line again, this time with a sequel to Mariel of Redwall which takes place between that book and Salamandastron (if you're already getting confused with the sequence -- and I certainly was at this point -- check out the handy series chronology, below). The Bellmaker (Philomel Books, 336 pages, 1994) features the feisty Mariel and her father, Joseph the Bellmaker. Joseph has not heard news of his daughter's fate for several seasons, and is growing concerned. When Martin the Warrior appears to him in a dream with a warning, he is driven to action. Soon he is sailing south with a small group of loyal companions to face off against another classic Jacques villain, the diabolic Foxwolf Nagru, who has not only conquered the kingdom of Southward with his bloodthirsty rat hordes, but in the process has imprisoned Mariel and her companions. Once again we follow the separate adventures of a number of brave bands, heroes who only come together for the final battle, this time between the Squirrel-King Gael and the vicious Nagru. At this stage in the series it's almost a formula, but still a successful one.

Art: Troy Howell
Jacques tweaks the formula more than a little with Outcast of Redwall (Philomel Books, 360 pages, 1995), centering his tale on the unusual relationship between the gentle Bryony of Redwall and Veil, ferret son of the blackhearted warlord Swartt Sixclaw. Abandoned and left for dead at a very early age by his father, Veil is raised by Bryony. Despite the often-voiced concerns of those around him, Bryony is convinced that the goodness in his ward will prevail. But when Veil commits an unforgivable crime he is banished from the abbey forever, turned out into the woods as an outcast.

When a horde of vermin attack Redwall, led by none other than Swartt Sixclaw himself, Veil finds himself facing a very difficult decision. Should he join Swartt's band in their rampage, or side with the only creature to ever show him kindness, in battle against his true father? Outcast of Redwall asks tough questions on the true nature of good and evil, and at times Jacques draws on a smaller canvas to tell a tale of heightened poignancy.
The Redwall Chronology
Martin The Warrior
The Legend of Luke
Outcast of Redwall
Mariel of Redwall
The Bellmaker
The Pearls of Lutra
The Long Patrol

The following year saw the publication of the first illustrated Redwall storybook: The Great Redwall Feast (Philomel Books, 64 pages, 1996; illustrated by Christopher Denise). A gorgeously illustrated epic poem detailing the events surrounding a surprise feast for the Father Abbot of Redwall, The Great Redwall Feast introduced the colorful characters of Redwall to an even younger audience, who found a great deal to enjoy in Jacques' storytelling ability and natural rhythm of language.

Art: Troy Howell
That same year came the next major installment in the series, its tenth book and the ninth novel: Pearls of Lutra (Philomel Books, 408 pages, 1996). As far as classic tales of adventure go, this one has it all: mystery, legendary treasure, riddles, and a race against time with the evil emperor Ublaz Mad Eyes to claim an ancient treasure.

The young hedgehog maid Tansy is determined to locate the Tears of All Oceans, six missing rose-colored pearls said to inspire passion and greed in everyone they encounter. But the pearls have left a cryptic trail of death and deception in their wake and -- even worse -- their disappearance has attracted the attention of Ublaz, ruler of a tropical isle beyond where the sun sets. With the help of her friends Tansy sets out from Redwall to locate the pearls, each hidden separately along with a single clue to guide you to the next. As the search continues the stakes grow higher for Tansy, as the life of someone she holds very dear soon hangs in the balance. And all the while the dark brood of monitor lizards and corsairs under the flag of Ublaz grows restless...

The Latest Chapter

Art: Troy Howell
The eleventh and most recent volume here in North America is The Long Patrol (Philomel Books, 358 pages, February 1998), centered on a young hare named Tamello De Fformelo Tussock (Tammo to his friends). Tammo's greatest dream is to follow in his father's footsteps and join the Long Patrol, the stalwart band of hare warriors headquartered at the top of Salamandastron Mountain. But his father is too strict to allow it, and so he runs away from home and makes his way to Redwall.

At the abbey, a band of small creatures has gathered under the command of the Long Patrol to defend Redwall from its latest threat. The vicious Damug Warfang has succeeded his father as Firstblade of all Rapscallions, and has lead the thousand seafaring Greatrats who survived the failed assault on Salamandastron inland toward Mossflower Woods, seeking plunder and riches. When they learn the southern wall of the Abbey is in desperate need of repair, their set their sights on Redwall.
Suggested Redwall Links
The Official Brian Jacques Homepage
The Redwall Library
The Redwall Index
The Redwall Library
Meanwhile, the residents of the Abbey rush to investigate the cause of the sudden disintegration of the south wall. Ancient blueprints provide a clue: the presence of an old castle buried beneath the ramparts. Soon the Abbess Tansey, Diggum Foremole, Crakyn the recorder and others descend into the dank subterranean ruins, where surprises and danger await.

Jacques weaves these three parallel story lines together into a single taunt tale, often building suspense by switching scenes at the height of the action. As the Abbess and her brave companions probe the underground, the Long Patrol -- with their frisky new recruit Tammo -- arrives to coordinates defense with a column from Salamandastron, hatching a scheme to confront the evil Rapscallions before they reach the vulnerable abbey. And for the first time Tammo learns what life, death, and honor really mean.

Art: Chris Baker
In the Works

Coming up this February is the twelfth volume in the series, already released in Britain: Marlfox (Philomel Books, 1999). Details on it are sketchy, but it looks like another handsome addition to the rapidly growing legend of Redwall Abbey -- and to the legend of Brian Jacques, who continues to add to his fan base around the world. The tales of Redwall's heroic inhabitants have delighted millions of readers in many languages, and that shows no signs of stopping any time soon. The field of fantasy literature should consider itself lucky -- there are few writers with such storytelling ability, much less such stamina. If you haven't sampled the books yourself, I would suggest you correct the situation immediately.

Join us next month for the next installment of The SF Site Reader's Guide. You know where to find us.

Copyright © 1998 by John O'Neill

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