It's best not to ask which religion the animals of Redwall Abbey practice. It's not that anything bad goes on there—the residents (mostly mice, voles, badgers, rabbits and the like) are naturally gracious and peaceful creatures who display virtues like love, courage and self-sacrifice on a regular basis.
Redwall exists in a fantasy universe where humans don't intrude, either as characters or through remnants of culture. (There is a horse and cart in the book Redwall, but that's the only reference.) The animals wear clothes, speak various forms of English, walk on their hind paws, and carry herbs and food (when they're at peace) or swords and battle-axes (when they're not).
Brian Jacques was a lifelong Liverpudlian who traveled widely and read folklore and adventure stories voraciously. He was a man of action, and his stories feature adventure, romance and discovery rather than reflection and didacticism. The Redwall novels are perfect for children, whose need for wholesome reading and excitement must both be satisfied. (They resulted from readings to blind children at a local school; Jacques devised ways of describing things to the kids that they could understand!)
Adults often love Jacques' books, too. They're filled with a homey, fun-loving quality that's hard to resist, especially if you're predisposed to enjoy good things. The plots are repetitive at times, but that's part of the appeal—once we're comfortable within the world of these gentle furry creatures we want things to stay as they are, we don't want to leave, we don't want anything too shocking to send us hurtling from our fantasy.
Not that terrible things don't frequently befall the quiet creatures. Villains like Cluny the Scourge, Badrang, and Slagar the Cruel are always just around the corner with their hordes of stoats, ferrets, foxes, rats, and weasels to bring darkness and bloodshed on the denizens of the Abbey. What would be terrible is not knowing good would prevail and evil be banished.
In our postmodern society, there's far too little conflict between good and evil. We always find out the good guy is really the bad guy, or the bad guy has some good in him, or there's no such thing as good guys and bad guys. Jacques won't let us escape from the real existence of good and evil, or from the reality that good will always triumph.
These are some of the best-loved children's novels in recent years, and destined to become classics. The mix of gritty realism (as far as you can take that with animals wearing suits of armor), bucolic geniality, and wholesome morality make the Redwall series appealing to children and parents. We just hope Hollywood refrains from making a poor rendition so Jacques' original imaginative powers can continue to ignite ours unadulterated.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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