Redwall (Redwall #1), Brian Jacques. New York: Ace Books, 1998 (originally published in 1986).
Summary: The first in the Redwall Saga,where Matthias, the adopted mouse, dreams of being a warrior like Martin the Warrior, hero of the Redwall Abbey tapestry, a dream (and prophecy) he has the chance to fulfill when Cluny the rat and his forces attack Redwall Abbey.
How did I miss this fantasy, and miss reading it aloud when our son was growing up? Only recently, when I kept seeing it turn up in the recommendations of online friends did I decide to pick up the first of the series of Redwall Sagas (twenty-two in all) by Brian Jacques, who passed in 2011. I found Redwall absolutely delightful and absorbing.
The story centers around a mouse adopted by Redwall Abby, Matthias, who has dreams of following in the footsteps of Martin the Warrior, founder and hero of the abbey, celebrated in a glorious tapestry. He’s mentored by Methuselah the gatekeeper, old Abbot Mortimer, and Constance the Badger, perhaps the fiercest fighter in Redwall. He’s rather impetuous for a novice monk but his true mettle shows when news comes of the approaching attack of Cluny the Rat, known as the Scourge for his poison-barb tail. Cluny has struck terror wherever he has gone, but the residents of Redwall, who quickly recognize Matthias leadership, refuse to surrender.
So it is war. Cluny is strangely troubled in his dreams of a mighty warrior like Martin, and even succeeds in stealing the Martin portion of the tapestry. But this just reveals a prophecy, that points to Matthias as Martin’s successor–if only he can find Martin’s armor and sword. The Sparras, living in the rooftops of the abbey are sworn enemies of the mice and clues point to their possession of Martin’s sword. Matthias ends up their prisoner, but in the end secures the shield and the friendship with the future queen of the Sparras and learns that the sword has fallen into the deadly grip of Asmodeus, a poisonous adder who has already claimed several victims. He sets off to Mossflower forest, seeking the counsel of a wise owl as to the whereabouts of Asmodeus, after making friendship with the voles of the forest.
I will leave you to find out whether he succeeds in his battle against Asmodeus, and whether he is able to save Redwall from the increasingly devious attacks of Cluny. But here is what I really liked about the story: the contrast between Cluny and his minions and the residents of Redwall. The former reminded me of the demons of the Screwtape Letters, in endless rivalries, seeking to enlarge themselves by devouring others, including one who even fancies taking Cluny’s place, leading to his demise. By contrast, it seems that the character of Redwall is that residents magnify each other, the wise old abbot and old Methuselah pouring themselves into Matthias, and all working with harmony, and even joy, amid their efforts to defend. The Sparras are reconciled to the Redwall mice, and the voles to the former arch-predator owl. Jacques is also skilled in description, enabling us to envision Redwall, the old Saint Ninian’s church, the Mossflower woods, as well as all of the principle characters.
From what I read, the plans for a Redwall movie from Netflix are on hold due to the company’s troubles. I’m not altogether disappointed with this. It gives me a chance to discover more books in the saga. I loved Jacques worldbuilding and story-telling, more accessible than Tolkien, though richly textured in its own way. Only twenty-one more to go! I only wish I’d had these books in those wonderful “read me a story” days (although Asmodeus might be a bit scary for a young child).
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