Here’s a confession of mine: when I was a kid, I spent most of one summer hanging out by myself in the woods behind my house. I crafted my own (somewhat less-than-deadly) weapons, I collected empty glass bottles to concoct “drinks”, and I invented, narrated, and acted out a whole complex storyline based on this series.
Redwall consists of twenty-two books, published between 1986 and 2010 (and most of which we have here at the library). It’s set in an imaginary world populated by mice, badgers, squirrels, moles, stoats, rats, weasels, and all manner of woodland creatures. Towards the beginning of the series, an order of peaceful mice build an abbey called Redwall in the heart of Mossflower Woods, and this abbey is at the centre of most of the novels. Also, despite the use of words like “abbey”, “abbot”/”abbess”, and “brother”/”sister”, the books are not overtly religious. If anything, the creatures of Redwall Abbey seem to be committed to peace, security and generosity rather than any kind of deity.
We have this series in our fantasy section, and though there isn’t really any magic, and few supernatural elements (a few visions, a few ghosts), it does take place in a world where animals talk, where they fight with swords and slings and bows, and live in a kind of pastoral paradise surrounded by a mysterious and sometimes frightening wilderness. Aside from the creatures of Redwall, there are other factions in the world with which they come into contact – the Guosim, a band of boat-savvy, river-sailing shrews; the otters who live in tightly-knit holts and are masters of the waterways; the moles who cooperate often with Redwallers and who are master diggers with their own curious and difficult-to-understand dialect; and the birds who fly around the woods and provide intelligence – for a price. The emphasis is on adventure and puzzle-solving and good triumphing over evil. There are also a LOT of really delicious-sounding descriptions of food: candied chestnuts, hotroot soup, deeper’n’ever turnip’n’tater’n’beetroot pie (a mole specialty), October Ale, meadowcream, and any number of amazing cheeses. The feast scenes always, always make me go to the fridge for something.
The books often follow a pattern: first, some crisis arrives to interrupt the peace of Redwall. In order to resolve it, some kind of ancient treasure or hidden knowledge must be unearthed. This usually involves solving a series of riddles devised by Redwallers of generations past and hidden around the abbey. There’s also often a second plot involving a group who must journey away from the abbey to either face a villain or find some important item, creature, or place. For kids, reading a series with a foreseeable plot arc can be a really good thing. It feels familiar, it’s reliable, and they know what they’re getting into – the details are different enough to hold interest and to feel like a whole new story, but the overarching plot lines are (and I mean this in the most neutral sense of the word) predictable. Because of that, they are satisfying.
Another big draw for these books is that there is a lot of continuity between books. Many characters appear over and over again and if not, they often feature as the ancestors or descendants of other characters in the present novel. Some of the books even follow right on the heels of another, as true sequels.
My favourites of the series include Redwall, Mossflower, and The Pearls of Lutra. One of the things Jacques does best is provide a richly imagined world in which readers can truly get lost and feel at home. It’s not often that a series goes on long enough to give readers the chance to become familiar with every aspect of the history and geography and lore of its setting, and I think that’s what keeps kids coming back (and, occasionally, adults who are still trying to figure out the best way to fashion a bow and arrow from common backyard materials).
Click here to see all the Redwall books in our collection!
-Kayleigh, children’s staff