Brian Jacques, Redwall (Hutchinson Children's Books)

Brian Jacques' world of Redwall consists of the following novels: Redwall (1986); Mossflower (1988); Mattimeo (1989); Mariel of Redwall (1991); Salamandastron (1992); Martin the Warrior (1993); The Bellmaker (1994); Outcast of Redwall (1995); The Pearls of Lutra (1996); The Long Patrol (1997); Marlfox (1998); The Legend of Luke (1999); Lord Brocktree (2000); The Taggerung (2001); Triss (2002); and Loamhedge (2003). Several reference guides and picture books, as well as a cookbook, are either published or planned.

I will leave it to others to review individual volumes. What can I tell you about the world of Redwall as a whole?

There's the food: meadowcream, deeper'n'ever turnip'n'tater'n'beetroot pie, carrot and leek flan, dandelion and burdock cordial, hotroot soup, pasties. Redwallers are vegetarians, although they do eat fish. Vermin eat flesh.

Then there are the names: Teasel, Tansy, Thyme and Cornflower; Basil Stag Hare and Dorothea Duckfontein Dillworthy; Drigg Slopmouth, Ublath Mad Eyes and Rocpaw.

There is the richness of the language: the soft mole speech, the Sparras' rough talk and the hares' daftly aristocratic dialect. There are poems and songs, riddles and wordplay, acrostics and rhymes. The descriptions are careful and lush.

The society is egalitarian. Among both Abbey beasts and vermin, males and females share all roles equally — parenting, administration, scholarship, housework, warfare.

All the stories share the same conviction: everybeast must be true to its own nature, and everybeast's true nature will win out, whether for good or ill.

They also share the same violence: in the tradition of British children's literature, the world of Redwall has not been sanitized. Characters die violently, even heroic or beloved ones. Evil and cruelty are real and present and unavoidable; they are also to be resisted to the death.

Will you enjoy the Redwall books? Yes, if you enjoy rich descriptions, fascinating characters and stories that alternate between furious action and leisurely descriptions of life in the haven that is Redwall. No, if you can't stand anthropomorphism or violence.

What order should you read them in? All the stories stand alone, although there are some recurring characters, so it doesn't really matter. The usual recommendation is to follow the order they were written in, but if you really care about chronology they fit together roughly as follows: Lord Brocktree; Martin The Warrior; Mossflower; The Legend of Luke; Outcast of Redwall; Mariel of Redwall; The Bellmaker; Salamandastron; Redwall; Mattimeo; The Pearls of Lutra; The Long Patrol; Marlfox; Taggerung; Triss.

As a side note, the deliberate lack of religious details in books centred on an abbey struck me as odd at first, but on reflection I believe that adding the trappings of Roman Catholicism to a story about animals would be offensive to both Christians and non-Christians. Some religious iconography in early editions, such as a Maltese cross on Martin's chest and Gothic trefoils on the windows, was an error by the publishers.

If you're interested in exploring the world of Redwall in more depth, visit Brian Jacques' Web site.

[Faith J. Cormier]