On this day in 1986, the very first Redwall book was published by Hutchinson in the UK. To mark the 34th anniversary of this monumental work in the field of middle grade and young adult fiction, I am releasing this list of critiques that I have lovingly assembled over the course of reading this otherwise phenomenal series.
Brian Jacques is indisputably my favorite author of all time, both as a writer and a person. His Redwall series is easily one of my favorite book series. I still consider Martin the Warrior an absolute masterpiece of YA literature (so much so that I’ve read it thrice in English and once in German). So let there be no accusations that I am a hater of Mr. Jacques, his work, or furries in general. That said, there are a few little ‘flaws’ I find with the series. They’re more annoyances than real problems, but here they are in no particular order:
#1-Over-use of stock characters
While this isn’t true in all of the stories (particularly the early ones), it seems to me that a lot of Redwall books make repeated use of similar character types. For instance, the generic hero, the gluttonous hare, the otter skipper and the like. Of course, one might say their flatness only serves to make the less standard characters more interesting, but I still find it a little irritating at times.
#2-Lack of deity in a religious setting
Redwall Abbey is just that–an abbey! While it’s true that this is not historical, it is obvious that the whole world of Redwall is a thinly veiled Medieval England. I understand that it is common in fantasy not to reference religion in order to garner the widest array of readers, but it seems to me that by taking place primarily in a structure so closely associated with orders of Christian monks, this series is just begging for some kind of divinity. To me, it would make the whole thing feel more complete.
#3-Amazing degrees of literacy
For a Middle Ages type time period without any schools (except at Redwall and presumably Salamandastron), it seems like an awful lot of folks can read. Many of the villains can’t read, granted, yet a number of good creatures from equally humble backgrounds can. Perhaps it’s just Mr. Jacques’s way of saying bad students go on to do bad things.
While I understand that these animals have the ability to think and reason like humans, and can therefore potentially reason their way out of being eaten, I still find these woodlanders are overly friendly with birds of prey. After all, the fearsome beaks and talons of hawks, owls and the like are specifically adapted for catching and eating live prey. The idea that their digestive systems are suddenly adapted for eating the almost strictly vegetarian diet of the Redwallers is a little hard to swallow, and makes this the most annoying aspect of Redwall to me. (I realize it’s a sin common throughout furry literature, but it’s still a little irksome.)
#5-Apparent lack of technological advancement
The creatures of Redwall are very inventive. They can read, write, reason, and solve all kinds of puzzles. They can even craft impressive structures, weapons, and instruments. So why is it that, over the evidently long span of time of the Redwall series, no creature good or evil seems to come up with any major technological advancements? It’s not that I really mind–I’m no fan of tech in my books either. Nor is it wholly unrealistic (after all, Europe was in a period of technological stagnation for hundreds of years). It’s just a little odd, I find, though maybe it’s just me.
#6-Repeated reliance on outside forces for salvation
One would think after all the times they’ve been attacked, invaded, and besieged, the inhabitants of Redwall Abbey would have learnt their lesson by now about not being prepared. While some books do make mention of potential defences (there is mention of weapons training in the epilogue of Mattimeo and use of the bell tower as an armoury in The Long Patrol, for instance), most of the time the enemy takes them completely unawares. It is almost always by the intervention of an allied army, Martin’s ghost, or just sheer dumb luck that Redwall is saved.
#7-Lost historical records
It seems to me that some abbey recorders somewhere down the line really slacked off in their duty. From the very outset in the first book, nobody even knows where Martin, the great hero and co-founder of the abbey, is buried. It takes the solution to an ancient riddle made by Martin himself to rediscover it. Likewise, the fact that no one has any record of where Loamhedge (where the founding mice came from) is, or where the abbey’s designer is buried seems very remiss for folks with so much time on their paws. Admittedly in High Rhulain there is mention of a comprehensive effort to put the records into some sort of orderly library, which may indicate that they’ve finally wised up about holding on to their historical documents.
#8-Use of riddles to solve everything
The solving of word puzzles and riddles is an essential and charming element to the series as a whole, and I don’t really have a problem with it. I just find it kind of weird.
In Redwall, just about everything is cut and dry. There are good guys and bad guys, and they are divided primarily along the lines of species. However, there are notable exceptions. For instance, while most shrews and hedgehogs are good, some are neutral or downright hostile toward the heroes. Voles likewise tend to be a fifty-fifty tossup between good and evil. And every now and then there is a vermin who turns out to be not so bad after all–just dumb and misled. So, is there not the possibility for a little more dynamism here? I understand Mr. Jacques was probably trying to keep it fairly straightforward so as not to distract from the story, but he does leave open some interesting possibilities. (I, for one, always thought it would be neat to have an educated vermin who turned out to be a good guy in the end and became Abbey recorder, or something like that. But that’s purely wishful thinking now.)
#10-Misnomer of reptiles
As a naturalist, the lumping together of frogs and toads with lizards under the broad heading of ‘reptiles’ in the series kind of bugs me. They’re amphibians, plain and simple.
The definition of cannibal in Webster’s New World Dictionary and Thesaurus (2nd ed.) is “an animal that eats its own kind.” Therefore, labelling the aforementioned reptilian creatures who threaten to eat the heroes (except where specified that they eat their own kind as well) is a bit of a misnomer.
On a side note, for those who missed the earlier announcement, today also marks the release of my own debut novel, Sauragia. If you liked Brian Jacques’s classic YA series, then you’ll probably like this dinofied Medieval sword-slinger as well.