A couple of years ago my wife found a big bargain sale of children’s books at a warehouse in the northeast part of town. As that covers two of our main interests (books, bargains), we went and cleaned up. Among other textual detritus on a folding table, I saw a stack of books called Redwall, on sale for a dollar. A quick survey showed it to be some kind of medieval warrior fantasy about mice, which seemed appropriate for my son, so I picked it up.
He loved it. He loved it so much, that he’s now read a few of the sequels and wants to read more (#20 in the series just came out in October, so he’ll have plenty of fodder for a while). Wanting to keep up with my son’s interests–and enjoy a story that was coming so highly endorsed!–I finally read it, too.
Simply splendid. The author, Brian Jacques, writes in a mode that we rarely see: an innocent, earnest fantasy adventure that doesn’t blink from the reality of evil’s power to inflict suffering, yet never denying that goodness endures, and may do so with wonder and joy.
It’s closer to The Hobbit than to The Lord of the Rings, but is a seamless mixture of the two tones, what we might expect from children’s literature and what we tend to see in books meant more for older readers. Jacques never hesitates to summarily kill off characters–good and bad ones–to serve his story, but the reader never doubts for a moment that the peaceful, charitable mice of the tragically besieged Redwall Abbey will prevail. If Disney had made The Lord of the Rings, it might have looked more like this.
Along with this unblinking yet childlike coming of age tale (for our headstrong hero must put off the silly boy mouse he was in order to save his friends), Jacques gives us his novel in prose that T.S. White would have approved of. His writing is simple enough for most precocious children to understand, but clever and allusive enough to interest anyone who cares for good style (at one point, the young mouse is counseled by an older rabbit character–whose dialogue is rendered in a pitch-perfect harmony of British dialects, as are the words of all the minor characters–to keep a “stiff upper whisker”). My only complaint is that Jacques is overly fond of exclamations; it got distracting.
This Christmas, buy two copies. One for a fantasy-loving child, and one for yourself.