“Redwall” by Brian Jacques

US cover of Redwall

US cover of Redwall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So there I was. In my house. Standing in front of my bookcase that’s overflowing with books I’ve purchased but the majority of which I haven’t read. At that moment, I was trying to decide on a new book to read but was having difficulty choosing one (a chic lit) over the other (some classic novel). Then, out of nowhere, pops my baby brother (a grown 15 or 16-year-old) asking me if he could borrow my copy of Redwall since he read it as a child and wanted to read it again. At that instant, I realized that I, too, read Redwall as a child but for some reason I did not read the other books in the series. That made me curious. Even as a child, I always stuck to a book’s series until I read the last one.  My decision was made. I would read Redwall and try to recall why I decided not to bother reading the rest of the series. With that decision made, I told my baby bro to take his butt down the road to the library, where I’m sure he would find a copy of the book.

I probably should have given Redwall to my bro instead. I tried my best and pushed through the pages but 221 was my limit. At page 221, I decided to close the book and move on to something else, something more exciting. I did not need to read past page 221 because the plot of the book was so predictable that I knew what would happen in the end: Matthias and his comrades will defeat Cluny and his hoard; it’s likely that no one on Matthias’ side will get killed but most, if not all, the key figures on Cluny’s side will die, which means only Cluny because he is the only key figure on his side.

Of course, I understand that this is a children’s book and that most kids will enjoy this story, especially the fact that cute, furry animals are running around with swords, but, although this is considered a classic, it is not a great story. Everything in this story is portrayed in black and white: the good guys are totally good and the bad guys are totally bad. There is no gray matter and that lack makes this book a mighty bore.

I began to wonder if my reaction to this novel is due in part to the literature that I’ve been reading lately (GRRM’s Song of Ice and Fire series) and the types of YA literature that are being published today, which all incorporate the dark matters of reality into their plot. Compared to such stories, Redwall is a virgin. It is untainted by the gray matter of harsh reality. Yet, maybe those harsh, hard-core novels have made me unappreciative and impatient with a story that is simple and presents an idealistic situation where good always prevail, no matter what.

“What’s so wrong with the good side always winning?” I asked myself.  The problem with that is it makes the story one-sided. Throughout the novel, the good side, Matthias’ side, is always one up on the bad guys. Now, if that situation were reversed, the story would have been a tad more exciting. Then it would be the predictable plot where the bad guys keep getting away but in the “unexpected” end, good comes out on top. We always want to see good prevail but it should not be obvious that it will. Therefore, sometimes the bad side must gain the upper hand.

Not once is Cluny able to gain an advantage. At first, I thought that he would be able to break into Redwall when he devised the plan to have Redtooth impersonate him while he steals around to the back of Redwall Abbey to climb in and open the gates for his army. At this point, I thought to myself, “Finally some action!” But no such luck. It just so happens that wise, old Methuselah was able to logically locate the exact tree in which Cluny and his spies were in and Constance, who can run from one part of Redwall to the next at the speed of light (how big is Redwall anyway?), was able to get to the rear of Redwall in time to thwart Cluny’s plans. What a let down!

So no smack-down results from that first siege on Redwall, except for Cluny falling out the tree. I realize that Jacques might be building up to the point where Matthias will square off with Cluny but all the let downs along the way and predictable outcomes make me uninterested in that final fight, if there’s even one. The lack of complexity just kills the story.

There is no complexity in characterization. The personality of the characters are very one-sided: all good or all bad. The lesson in this story is very simple: if you are bad and mean like Cluny the Scourge, then you will be unlucky and meet a bad end. Fine. I’ll go along with that lesson for the kids. But, because the characters are so one-sided, no doubts are casted upon the good characters. During the first big fight, Matthias was nowhere to be found but everyone in the Abbey naturally assumed that he was doing something to help. Despite the fact that they’re in a war, no one once considered that Matthias is a punk and was hiding out in the bush somewhere. But being the all-good novel that this is, Matthias, of course, was off saving the day in another way. Predictable.

I did enjoy reading this novel as a child but it did not hook me to make me want to continue with the series. The story is okay and is well-written but not enjoyable.

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