October 25, 2004


Of mice and moles: Brian Jacques's Redwall novels delight loyal young audience (David Mehegan, October 25, 2004, Boston Globe)

Ask most adults to name an author of British fantasy-adventures for kids, and the first name you'll hear is J.K. Rowling, or possibly J.R.R. Tolkien. But millions of kids would mention a name less widely known to adults: the swashbuckling Brian Jacques.

Brian Jacques (pronounced ''Jakes") of Liverpool is the author of the 17 (so far) action-packed Redwall novels, in which sword-wielding mice, badgers, squirrels, rabbits, and shrews defend the ancient Redwall Abbey of Mossflower Country against the depredations of evil stoats, rats, ermine, and suchlike villains. Unlikely as it sounds, these books have a fanatical following.

''There was always something about these books," said Betsey Detwiler, owner of Buttonwood Books in Cohasset. ''Kids were crazy to read them, they would struggle to read them on their own, and a lot of them would learn to read because of them." Redwall novels are long -- 350 to 400 pages -- and while critics marveled that kids would read the doorstop Harry Potter novels, it passed unnoticed that they have been reading Redwall since 1986.

The books are aimed at ages 9-15, though they appear to be about right for those 10-11. Translated into 16 languages, including braille, there are millions of Redwall books in print, according to publisher Philomel, a division of Penguin. ''Rakkety Tam," the newest in the series, hit number five on The New York Times children's bestseller list. There are audio versions, read by Jacques. An animated Redwall has been running recently on 'GBH Kids, a cable TV channel. There's even an opera, ''The Legend of Redwall Abbey," produced by OperaDelaware in 1998.

In style and content, the ''Redwall" novels combine elements of Patrick O'Brian, Homer's ''Illiad," J.R.R. Tolkien, and Kenneth Grahame's ''The Wind in the Willows." The mythical Mossflower country is closely modeled on rural England, with the flavor of North Wales, Scotland, and the borderlands -- full of castles, mountains, forests, and rivers. The characters speak in heavy dialect, such as Molespeak, and break into swatches of bardic poetry. (One proud mole says, ''Et bee's a gurt honner to bee ee moler, loike oi!")

If the problem with the Harry Potter books is you have to wait too long for the next, the problem with Redwall is every time you turn around there are more on the shelf.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 25, 2004 8:50 AM

The Redwall books are simply delightful. A surefire way to keep small boys content on long car trips is to have a Redwall book-on-tape in the minivan's cassette deck.

Posted by: Mike Morley at October 25, 2004 9:32 AM

And among aficionados of upright talking animal characters, Redwall is known for the most rigid and obvious ethnic typecasting outside of the NSDAP. To wit:

Herbivores good!
Carnivores BAD!
Herbivoters good!
Carnivores BAD!
Herbivores good!
Carnivores BAD!

Posted by: Ken at October 25, 2004 12:09 PM

Ken, do you think it would work to write kid's fantasies about good-guy ermines and rats who want to eat bad-guy mice and rabbits? Call it typecasting, but in fantasy it's usually the good guys who want to avoid being killed by the bad guys.

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 25, 2004 12:55 PM

Redwall's a generic load of crap. Not a patch on the Narnia books or Potter or Roald Dahl.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at October 25, 2004 2:48 PM

My kids love the Redwall books. Unlike Rowling's efforts, which a broad age spectrum find appealing, I'll bet my kids have put them on disregard in two more years.

As for me, I have read one, and loathed it for precisely the reasons Ali and Ken noted above. Although Ken could have been more precise:

Carnivores can be good, so long as they come in cute fur coats.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 25, 2004 3:34 PM

The typecasting only becomes painful because it's in every one of the million books. Every other problem with the series is similarly magnified by repetition. Stick with Redwall and it's good, throwing Mossflower in there won't hurt much.

Of course a young fan probably won't want to stop at Redwall, I certainly didn't, but he'll probably outgrow them long before getting through the whole series.

Posted by: Andrew Moore at October 25, 2004 3:56 PM