Friday, August 8, 2008


Title: Redwall

Author: Brian Jacques

Genre: Mid-grade (8-12) Animal Tale/Adventure

Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Redwall:

Matthias cut a comical little figure as he wobbled his way along the cloisters, with his large sandals flip-flopping and his tail peeping from beneath the baggy folds of an oversized novice’s habit. He paused to gaze upwards at the cloudless blue sky and tripped over the enormous sandals. Hazelnuts scattered out upon the grass from the rush basket he was carrying. Unable to stop, he went tumbling cowl over tail.


The young mouse squeaked in dismay. He rubbed tenderly at his damp snub nose while slowly taking stock of where he had landed: directly at the feet of Abbot Mortimer!

Immediately Matthias scrambled about on all fours, hastily trying to stuff nuts back into the basket as he muttered clumsy apologies, avoiding the stern gaze of his elder.

“Er, sorry, Father Abbot. I tripped, y’see. Trod on my Abbot, Father Habit. Oh dear, I mean…”

The Father Abbot blinked solemnly over the top of his glasses. Matthias again. What a young buffoon of a mouse. Only the other day he had singed old Brother Methuselah’s whiskers while lighting candles.

The elder’s stern expression softened. He watched the little novice rolling about on the grass, grappling with large armfuls of the smooth hazelnuts which constantly seemed to escape his grasp. Shaking his old grey head, yet trying to hide a smile, Abbot Mortimer bent and helped to gather up the fallen nuts.

When a peaceful mouse abbey comes under attack, a young, bumbling apprentice sets out to find an ancient sword

The Writing: I picked up Redwall to read because, although the original copyright is listed at 1986, I heard a fair amount of chatter about it at the homeschooling conferences I attended last spring.

I was not impressed.

The characters were what I heard about the most. I did find it interesting how dialect and people group characteristics were assigned to the different animal species, and this plucked an occasional smile from me.

However, character connection was weak for me, and the characterization wasn’t over and above many of the books I’ve read. In fact, I like Donita K. Paul’s characters from her Dragon Keeper series more; they are just as colorful and varied and much more engaging.

My opinion of the plot is about the same. While solid enough with no major holes, it simply failed to hold my attention. Even at halfway through the book, I could have put it down and would not have wondered long about what happened next.

On top of this, there were minor point-of view (POV) problems (mainly from a poor attempt to mimic the fairy-tale voice, in my opinion), and the writing was very choppy from trying to create tension from rapid POV changes. An occasional two- or three-paragraph scene is fine, but the constant switching is hard to follow sometimes and it ultimately diffused tension, not created it.

The Content: Like the writing, the content of the Redwall was unimpressive.

There are several murders, deaths and injury from war, whippings, and references to temporary starvation. Most are not over done, although I found the number and descriptions of the snake’s kill somewhat disconcerting even as I understand the necessity to keep bringing a character forward that won’t show predominately until the last quarter of the book.

But for me, more unsettling were some of the undercurrents. I can’t identify them all, but together they left behind a feeling of something off-kilter. However, I can name a few things.

  • There are a number of instances of talking with the dead/the intervention of the dead. They usually occur through dream sequences and in a way that most times isn’t clear that’s what is happening, to either the reader or the protagonist. It is similar, however, to how the original Star Wars portrays Luke’s mentors after death.
  • Attitudes of vengeance and deep-seated hatred among some of the good characters, which seemed condoned instead of rejected.
  • The protagonist’s obsession with finding an object which is declared to have no magical properties (and therefore useless beyond symbolism) to the neglect of helping his friends—and is rewarded for this.
  • The appearance of godliness with the power—e.g. the abbey’s setting and way of life with little connection to any form of religion, much less Christianity.
And these are only the most obvious things.

Summary: Great writing might make a book worth while reading, even if the content is questionable, such as with Princess Academy or Ender’s Game. Great content can provide so much encouragement or edification as to overcome mediocre writing. But Redwall has neither. With average writing and questionable content, it doesn’t seem worth the time to read this 351-page tome.

Ratings: Writing—1.0, Content—1.0, Overall—2.4

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