N. B.-This post contains spoilers.
Redwall is a great series by a fine author. It has a wonderful charm all its own that simply draws you in and allows you get lost in the depths of its vividly created world for a whole 22 books and beyond. Of course, it does have its flaws (as I have detailed in an earlier post), and perhaps one of the biggest is the mouse who could be considered the main protagonist of the series: Martin the Warrior.
Martin is an interesting character in a lot of ways. He is one of only two characters to physically appear in three whole books, the only character to appear in every other book as a ghost, and the only character to get one whole book essentially devoted to his past and family. However, as a personality, there are some definite problems he seems to suffer from. From a furious temper to an amazing proclivity for captivity (captured a record 6 times, by my count), I have to question on occasion why the author chose to make this the central figure of his series.
Beginning with his earliest appearance (chronologically speaking) in Martin the Warrior, the young mouse demonstrates his ferociousness in a scrap and his indomitable will. However, getting captured as a youth (and thus breaking an oath to his father not to let anyone take his sword) is not the most auspicious beginning for any hero. What is more, his apparent need to make things worse for himself by constantly nagging at his captor, Badrang the Tyrant, does not exactly bespeak good sense. Only by mere chance does this bad behavior lead him in a roundabout way to finding his freedom at the hands of Rose and Grumm.
Of course, this freedom is short-lived, as following a boat wreck, he ends up on some cliffs where he and his companions are netted by–of all things–pygmy shrews! Long story short, he earns his freedom from these diminutive critters by rescuing one of their own, and actually enjoys a whole couple days of decent free travelling before coming to a swamp where he and his companions…wait for it…get captured again! This time by “cannibal” lizards while sleeping, having failed to post a watch for the night.
This time their salvation comes in the form of the Warden, a lanky heron who fancies himself a guardian of the marshlands. Of course, even he is not total master of his domain or its creatures. While they rest (Martin’s party having learned nothing from their previous mistake and once again posting no night watch), he is nearly strangled to death by slowworms and other hostile reptilians. Martin does redeem himself a bit here by rescuing the Warden through his quick action. The Warden then leads them on toward the forest domain of the owl, Boldred. There Martin’s lot are harassed by primitive squirrels, and Martin gets a chance to prove his fighting prowess at last by besting the chief squirrel in a fight, thus earning his companions safe passage for a while.
After being chased up the side of the mountain, Boldred leads them on through to the other side where they are bound. They are left to frolic for a while, only to encounter a very cantankerous old hedgehog who, after a reprimand from Boldred, cordially invites them to his cabin. It all goes very nicely until they discover that the drinks were drugged! This I count as the fourth captivity, as technically they were in the hedgehog’s abode, and if he had so desired, he could have tied them up or killed them at his leisure.
At last they come to their destination, and eventually gather an army with which to return to Fortress Marshank and confront Badrang, thus fulfilling Martin’s vow of vengeance. However, one could well argue that had Martin not encountered so many delays–including his several preventable captivities along the way–he might well have arrived sooner, and thus saved more friendly lives, including the squirrel Felldoh (the real hero of the tale, in my opinion).
As it is, Martin proceeds to immediately lead a head-on assault against a heavily fortified enemy with no apparent plan in mind but to knock on the gates with a log and his dagger. Only Rose is able to bring him to his senses enough to call a retreat. Thus, after getting many of his troops needlessly slain in a fruitless assault, he at last makes a real plan by which to get inside the fortress. This one succeeds, and long story short, they breach Marshank and achieve final victory. Once more Martin’s word proves meaningless, however, as his promise to his beloved Rose’s parents proves false when she is killed by Badrang in the assault.
After recovering from his injuries and loss of his life’s love, Martin heads south, thus leading him after several seasons to Mossflower Country, and the beginning of the next story, Mossflower. True to form, he proceeds to get himself captured right off the bat after getting into a scrap with a patrol from the castle of Kotir. Once more he puts up a good but futile fight. He once again takes his defiant speech one step too far, however, causing the wildcat Tsarmina to break the blade of his father’s sword in the door jamb.
After lingering in the dungeons for a whole winter, he at last gains freedom (once more by chance) when the mouse thief Gonff is thrown in a cell with him and proceeds to pick the lock. Following their harrowing escape, Martin sets off on a quest to retrieve the badger lord of Salamandastron so that he may help free Mossflower from Tsarmina’s rule. On the way, he demonstrates once more his poor decision-making when, rather than staying to fight a vermin patrol on the trail of him and his companions, he decides to keep moving. His sixth and (to my knowledge) final captivity comes when those same vermin briefly capture the companions and tie them up before proving each other’s undoing.
Overall, Martin does prove a slightly more seasoned traveller in Mossflower, though, and commits no more major errors for the rest of the journey. Having his blade reforged into the legendary weapon of later Redwall tales at Salamandastron, he proceeds to return to Mossflower and lay siege to the wildcat castle. While parleying, however, he mistakenly makes a perfect target, thus allowing Tsarmina to wound him with an arrow before their final duel that occurs a couple chapters later. In the duel, Martin again proves victorious at immense physical cost. This time his wounds prove more grave, though in the end he survives. To his credit, Martin does not repeat the mistake of making a frontal assault when attacking Kotir as he did Marshank, thus proving he may have actually learned his lesson.
By the time of The Legend of Luke, Martin is a much older and wiser mouse without a doubt. For once, he makes no apparent errors on his journey to the north coast and back in his quest for news of his father, and his sword dance is a neat little demonstration of just how proficient his use of the blade has become.
Later appearances of Martin as a ghost tend to be more subtle, but effective. Whether aiding friends or hindering foes, one might well argue he does more good as a ghost than he ever did as a living mouse!
So, in the final assessment, Martin is what I would call a decent protagonist. Strong, brave, and ferocious when he finally comes to grips with his opponents in an outright scrap. And personality-wise, he is as well developed as a stoic, introverted loner hero ought to be. However, his truly shining moments are few and far between, overshadowed heavily by his hard-headedness, his often poor planning, and his slowness in learning from past experiences. He is a fine warrior, but seems to operate better on his own than when leading others. And leaving a cryptic verse about how to find his sword and tomb seems a rather mean trick to play on a future generation in its hour of need, but that can be forgiven in the interests of creating a charming storyline. I suppose his flaws and mistakes make him more relatable to an extent, but some are simply unforgiveable. So, whether overthrowing a couple of tyrants, slaying sundry lesser vermin, and helping found Redwall Abbey balances out six instances of captivity and getting many friendly creatures–including his own girlfriend–killed to sate his bloodwrath and personal thirst for vengeance remains up for debate.
Nothing against the books or the author, but I do think Mr. Jacques could have picked one of his less flawed heroes to represent the series as a whole. What do you think?
Update: Having reread Martin the Warrior as an audiobook since this post, I realize that the night attack by slowworms et al. was more the fault of the Warden, who would not allow a fire to be lit. Therefore, I absolve Martin of responsibility for this incident.