Fiction: “Redwall” by Brian Jacques

Okay, so I’m going to try and write this in-between my daily tasks at work, because dudes, this program we use?  Super-slow.  I hate it.  I can write entire paragraphs in the time it takes to look a customer up.  Also, the boss is out of the office.  I love when the boss is out of the office, because that means when I do decide to work, I can get all sorts of shit done (for the record, I started writing this at 8:30 a.m.  I’m writing this half of the sentence at 12:55 p.m.  In that span of time, I’ve written about a third of this entry and solved approximately seventeen problems.  I haven’t had lunch yet.  And now the phone’s ringing!).

(1:00 p.m.: Eighteen problems solved!)

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

I was finally able to finish Redwall on Sunday, and last night Erica and I had our Tweetversation about it.  She liked it much more than I did, which is fine; and I’m not saying I hated the book, the length of time it took me to complete it notwithstanding.  At the end, I found that there was not enough suspense to propel me through the book as fast as I would have liked.

redwall

Redwall is a young-adult fantasy novel, and the first book in a very long series, first published in 1986.  The cast is made up of woodland creatures, ranging from mice and squirrels to stoats and sparrows.  They all live in the peaceful area known as Mossflower, and they live in Redwall Abbey.  Matthias is … for lack of a better term, the “Maria” of this Abbey – he’s a novice, but doesn’t quite fit in.  He has big dreams that don’t fit within the Abbey’s walls.

But then, Cluny the Scourge – a bilge rat with an eyepatch – and his horde of marauders come upon Redwall Abbey, and because they’re evil and pirates and just want to conquer everything (much like Alexander the Great, only more evil and less blond), they decide they are going to attack the Abbey.  Matthias goes against the Abbot mouse and wants to defend the Abbey, much like Martin the Warrior Mouse, the mouse that founded Redwall Abbey.

But Matthias needs the sword of Martin the Warrior in order to truly defend the Abbey!  So he sets off on a quest to find the lost sword of Martin, and along the way he makes friends with Basil Stag Hare, a jackrabbit that talks as fast as he runs; Warbeak, a Sparrow warrior princess; and Log-a-Log, the head of the Shrew Army.

Dear God, I am not making any of that up.

And look, the book is very well-written; I am not denying that.  My main point is that, for me, there was no suspense and there were no surprises.  I knew what was going to happen going into it (SPOILER ALERT: ANDY ESCAPES SHAWSHANK AT THE END OF THE MOVIE) and I’d never read any of it before:

– Young character goes on a quest of discovery: ostensibly to find [the MacGuffin; in this case, a missing sword of a warrior {a totem, if you will}], but ends up discovering his true character;
– He meets interesting people on his journey, who he must either band together with or outwit in order to continue on his quest;
– Meanwhile, the villain shows how he is surrounded by idiots and he has much hubris that we know is going to be his downfall;
– And in the end, the hero defeats the villain, there are a couple of casualties to make the victory bittersweet, but everyone (except for the dead ones) live happily ever after.

I just … I couldn’t get into it.  I read it because I vowed to Finish! Everything!, but if I hadn’t taken that vow and was reading it on my own, I would have put it down.  As I read, I kept wanting to put this on the Murtaugh List:

murtaugh

The Murtaugh List is a list that Ted Mosby makes on How I Met Your Mother, and it is a list of things he’s too old to do.  Some of the items on that list include: get his ear pierced; crash on a friend’s futon; and help a stranger move in exchange for pizza.  I am adding “reading a book involving anthropomorphized mice” to my Murtaugh List.

And again, that’s not a slight to the book.  And, hopefully, not a slight to my imagination.  The book is, again, wonderfully written – I’m just above its comprehension level.  While I don’t want to be too old to read about warrior mice, I couldn’t enjoy it like Alaina at 12 probably would have.  I kept going, “Are they walking on their hind legs or all fours?  Is the sword really that dangerous, or is it more like a splinter?  How do the animals all speak the same language?  Are all hedgehogs drunks, or just Ambrose Spike?  How do they get medals?  Who makes the medals? How did they build the Abbey, were there mouse slaves like in Egypt?”

That’s probably an exaggeration.  [1:57 p.m. – Three more problems solved, but the boss walked in.  Crap.]  I mean, it’s not that I don’t have imagination – I just couldn’t lose myself in this fantasy world where mice could talk.  And I feel like I might have been able to if there was any weight to the story.

[And here’s the part where my boss actually let everyone go home early because there’s a blizzard dumping quite possibly a literal fuckton of snow on the Northeast quadrant, so I hastily hit publish so I could get the fuck out of there, and now I’m finishing this at 9 p.m. and I still haven’t shoveled because it’s cold out there and have I mentioned the possibly-literal fuckton of snow?  I AM SO OVER WINTER I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING]

For me, the characters didn’t have nearly any depth.  And before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, I don’t mean to say that the characters weren’t fully-formed within their universe; I just didn’t feel that there were any underlying stakes that propelled the characters forward outside of the needs of the story structure.  (Matthias as the hero needs overcome obstacles in order to fulfill his quest; enter Recapturing the Banner, Defeating the King Sparrow, and Working With the Shrews to Kill Asmodeous.  Or: Cluny the Scourge is the Villain; Therefore, He Must Kill Without Empathy or Discretion.)

Again, these feelings I have towards Redwall do not mean that I outright hate the book; far from it.  If I hated the book, you’d be hearing a whole different rant up in here.  What I’m trying to say is that, for the right reader, the story is going to be fantastic: full of swordfights and different animals working together towards a common cause; enough humor and pathos thrown in to keep the emotions balanced; and a struggle against pure evil.  I just know I didn’t get what I wanted from this book, and I feel it’s because I’ve grown past its age bracket.

That’s not a slight against Erica, who loved the book – she was able to let everything go and she jumped right into the story and fell in love with it.  That’s awesome – I’m very glad you enjoyed the book and want to continue reading the series!  I will not be joining you.  I’ll be at home, playing Donkey Kong 64 and reading about Hannibal on the internets.

(What?  It’s a snow day and HOLY CRAP TEN MORE SLEEPS UNTIL NEW HANNIBAL OH MY GOD)

Erica and I did agree, however, that for a book that focuses on a typical male struggle (hero vs. villain; hero on journey of self-discovery), many of the supporting characters are not only female, but contribute enough to the story that if they were not there, the hero would not have succeeded.  Jess the Squirrel, Constance the Badger, and Dunwing and Warbeak the Sparrows (I might be wrong on Warbeak’s mother’s name, but the book is in the other room and I’m saving my strength to go shovel so I’m not looking it up right now) were all very integral to Matthias succeeding in his quests and saving the Abbey.  It was refreshing to me to read a young adult novel that had a male protagonist, strong female supporting characters, and no love triangle.

HOWEVER.  This brings me to the final point I want to make.  Throughout the book, Matthias has flirted with another mouse, Cornflower.  At the end of the book, after Matthias has defeated Cluny the Scourge and has been named the hero of the piece, the Abbot pretty much gives Cornflower to Matthias as his bride.  And actually, I am going to go get the book for this, because I feel people won’t believe me unless I quote it:

“Now, Cornflower.  Where is little Cornflower?”

The young fieldmouse came.  She stood by the Abbot waiting upon his word.

“There you are, dear Cornflower,” the Abbot smiled.  “A warrior needs a good wife.  You are the beauty that will grace Redwall and rule the heart of our Matthias.  The old gatehouse will be extended into a proper home.  It belongs to you both.  Guard our threshold wisely and well.” [348-349]

WHAT THE HELL.  I almost wish Cornflower had pulled a Princess Jasmine and stormed out yelling I AM NOT SOME PRIZE TO BE WON, but I again have to guess that this book wasn’t written with me in mind.

Tune in in the next six weeks for our next Collaboration – and I do believe it’s my turn to choose.

OH GOD HE'S SMILING AT ME I'M GOING TO BE MADE INTO A VERY FANCY DINNER

Grade for Redwall: 1.5 stars

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