As you probably know, I am quite an admirer of Brian Jacques and his work. It has been a major source of inspiration for me in my own writing without a doubt. However, sometimes it is good as a writer to step back and take an objective view of the books etc. that we like, as it can help us identify what makes a story work as well as what to avoid.
I already made a Ten Problems with the ‘Redwall’ Series post, and I advise reading that first if you haven’t. But some of these problems either were not as important then, or else I did not notice them so much until I recently began working my way through the audiobook versions of the series. As before, these may not be ‘wrong’ in the technical sense, but merely things that annoy me personally. If you disagree, feel free to tell me so.
When I first read this series many years ago, I remarked that if all the descriptions of food were left out, these books would be about half as long and twice as good. Seriously, I do not understand why every story must be interrupted at least ten times by vivid descriptions of food being prepared, admired, consumed, and even sung about! Very rarely is it integral to the plot. Now I realize, of course, that Jacques himself was a hobby cook, and the constant descriptions probably helped sell a few copies of The Great Redwall Cookbook. And if it had been an every-now-and-then kind of thing, that would have been fine. But if ever there was a case in point for not placing undue emphasis on food in your narrative, the Redwall series (especially from book 4 onwards) is it.
This is one that really stands out if you sit through the audiobook productions. While reading a song on a page, you can make up the melody in your head, or even just skim past it to get on with the story (and most of the time you wouldn’t be missing much if you did). Songs are, of course, integral to many Medieval fantasies, since radio and television are not ready forms of entertainment, and the characters have to amuse themselves somehow. But in my personal opinion, it is nicer when the songs have something to do with developing the story, world, or characters. Silly ditties about (yes, you guessed it) food do none of this, and in the case of the audiobooks, make the whole production just a tad too Disney-esque (especially when the singers are magically accompanied by such un-English instruments as harmonica and banjo).
(This is another one that becomes more apparent when listening to the audiobooks.)
Perhaps the most annoying aspect of this whole series from the viewpoint of story progression is the many little “rogues”, “rips”, “rascals” and whatever other “endearing” terms you wish to apply to the very young creatures included in every story from the second book onwards. Occasionally a young one will play an important role in the story, such as Rollo the vole prodigy in Mattimeo or Arven in Pearls of Lutra, who grows up to become the Abbey Champion in The Long Patrol and later an abbot. But for the most part, the little “scamps” and “scalawags” have absolutely no purpose in the story other than to slow things down with unnecessary bouts of domesticity in what are supposed to be adventure stories for middle grade and young adult readers. What is more, the reason the kids are such “bounders” in the first place appears to be a complete lack of discipline instilled in them by their most indulgent elders, no matter how silly or downright dangerous their antics be.
(I also can’t help wondering why there are so many parentless babes in Redwall Abbey in the first place if Mossflower Wood is such a peaceful and idyllic place to live, but I guess that’s beside the point.)
As if moles weren’t handicapped enough by their “homely” appearance and short stature, Mr. Jacques sees fit for some reason to put them at a further disadvantage by giving them a rustic Cornwallian speech pattern that can be hard at times to decipher. This seems fine on the surface, as it appears to be a rare attempt by the author to create a species-based subculture that makes some sense given moles’ semi-isolation living underground. However, in the case of moles who are born, raised, and presumably educated by Redwallers, the retention of their peculiar dialect is a bit of a mystery. I hardly think the Redwallers are advanced enough to develop a concept of intentional cultural preservation, and as it would be to everyone’s advantage to be able to communicate clearly and effectively, the Redwall moles should at least be able to speak properly to the non-moles in their midst (i.e. the majority of Redwallers), even if they revert to their own mole dialect amongst themselves. But maybe I’m just letting my linguistic instincts get the better of me…
I sort of addressed this in my post analyzing Martin the Warrior, so I will keep it brief here. On the whole, protagonists in Brian Jacques novels–and that includes the Castaways of the Flying Dutchman books–are pretty 2-dimensional. They are straight-shooting, unimaginative, and too stubborn for their own good. Often they come from the bottom of society and have suffered undue hardship in their lives, which gives them a strong moral compass. Thus, their hearts are in the right place, but they’ve often got a head full of rocks to go with it. In short, they’re boring. For this reason, with the possible exception of Martin himself and a couple others, the secondary characters are far more interesting. Just don’t get too attached to them, though: 9 times out of 10, the interesting ones always buy it in a Jacques novel.
So, there you go: more critiques of my second favorite book series. Were it not for these issues and the ones mentioned before, it might have made it to my #1 spot. Even so, it is definitely still a good, entertaining read by a skilled wordsmith, and I highly recommend checking it out if ever you get the chance. Maybe you’ll com up with a different list. Or maybe you’ll find it perfect as is. Who knows?