Feb 9 2011 6:14pm

A Personal Reflection on Brian Jacques

Always the tide comes flowing in.
Ever it goes out again.
Sleep ’neath the shore evermore,
Free from hunger and pain.
Morning light will bring the sun;
Seasons go rolling on.
Questing ever far from home,
For Salamandastron.

—Gonff the Mousethief, Mossflower

Students were allowed to check out two books at a time from my elementary school library, with one exception. Students could only check out one Redwall book at a time—they were just too popular. At times the librarian, a tower of hardbacks in her arms, would sit us in beanbag chairs in the reading corner and dole out the big books with the mice on their covers. There were seven books then, and I had come late to the party. As the other fourth grade boys fought over who got to read Martin the Warrior next, the only thing they could all agree on was that I had to read Mossflower first. It wasn’t the first book in the series, but it was the earliest chronologically, and it was everyone’s favorite.

As an adult, what strikes me as odd about this scenario is that young boys displayed this degree of adoration for a series of novels, as opposed to what would be expected to garner such devotion and obsession—sports or video games. The Redwall series, in clear and simple language, tapped into how a boy sees the world: a place of stunning natural beauty ripe for grand adventures interspersed with even grander meals. The books never seemed to talk down to their readers, and so thoughtfully wove together action, mystery, and human drama (even though none of the characters was human) that the pages kept turning, turning, turning.

Explained simply, Redwall books are medieval fantasy adventure stories featuring anthropomorphic woodland creatures.

Like millions of fans, I was deeply saddened to hear of the recent passing of beloved author Brian Jacques. I will forever picture him as I suppose he would be pleased to be remembered, sitting in his garden and writing longhand, with his neatly trimmed beard and warm eyes. Those fortunate enough to have heard him read will perhaps remember him as the great raconteur he was, an orator of the finest quality. No one could do mole-speak better.

A noted teller of ghost stories, Jacques incorporated many mature elements into the Redwall series; there were frightening deaths, assassinations, wars, torture, betrayal, and more than a few intoxicating beverages. Most books featured monsters, but not the dragons and ogres of traditional fantasy fare. The heroes faced crabs, pikes, sharks, and sssssssssssssssnakes. He was not afraid to kill the innocent. At least one book ends in tragedy. This complexity is but one example of how Redwall enriched our lives.

The Redwall books established my love of rapscallions. There were many throughout the series, but none so iconic or beloved as Gonff the Mousethief. He is funny, and very good at what he does, and he gets the girl! Who wouldn’t want to be a rogue like that? He is like a furry Han Solo with a tail. This comparison raises an interesting point about the volume of the Redwall books. Each is a swashbuckling epic on the scale of Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. And there are twenty-one of them.

The fourth book in the series, Mariel of Redwall, stands out for having a tough warrior female as a protagonist. It was the first time I was introduced to such a character. As Salamandastron, Pearls of Lutra, and Triss indicate, Mariel was not the last time a Redwall story told the tale of a brave young woman.

Reading over the comments on’s earlier obit, it is nice to see how many parents have shared Redwall with their children. I had the reverse experience of sharing Redwall with my parents. As I recall my mother was very sick when I suggested she read Redwall, which she did immediately, in one sitting. I would poke my head into her room periodically as she read, and ask the questions everyone asks when someone you love is reading something you love: “Where are you? Have you met so-and-so yet? What’s your favorite part?” She told me she thought the hare was very funny, and she hoped those foxes got what they deserved. When she finished, I remember having an animated conversation about the book. Reading lifted her spirits.

Perhaps everyone is partial to the first book they read in a series, and I am no different. I have always had a preference for Mossflower, mainly because of its many iconic scenes, from the solving of the riddle of Brockhall, to Boar’s fall among the searat horde, to the flooding of Kotir, and that brutal final battle between Martin and Tsarmina the Wildcat. I’m curious to hear what others’ favorite books are, and favorite scenes. My favorites from other books include Matthias facing Asmodeus in Redwall, Swartt poisoning Bowfleg in Outcast of Redwall, and when Urthstripe floods the tunnel in Salamandastron with boiling water. There is also this passage from the original Redwall:

Cornflower and Matthias had become quite friendly. They were young mice of the same age. Though their temperaments were different, the found something in common—an interest in Tim and Tess, the twin church mice. They had passed a pleasant evening, joking and playing games with the little creatures. Tess had clambered onto Matthias’s lap and fallen asleep, whereupon baby Tim did likewise in the velvety fair of Cornflower. She smiled at Matthias as she stroked Tim’s small head. “Aw, bless their little paws. Don’t they look peaceful?” Matthias nodded contentedly in agreement.

Which somehow encompasses everything there is to understand about young love, how when caught in a moment with someone, a look can overwhelm you, or inspire you to take on a rat army.

Somewhere Jacques is slurping hotroot soup and eating a big slice of deeper’n’ever pie, rinsing it down with Dandelion Cordial and October Ale, and crunching dozens of candied chestnuts for dessert. So please, share your thoughts and fond memories in the comments.

Matt London is an author and columnist because a long time ago he wanted to tell stories the way Brian Jacques did.

1. wandering-dreamer
I loved the original Redwall and Pearls of Lutra since they had big puzzles that were central to the plot and when I was a kid I dreamed of stumbling onto a conspiracy with puzzles like that (wait a minute, I still do!). I was really sad to hear he passed away, I do believe a re-read of some of his books is in order!
Jeremy Heater
2. nexus
I really couldn't choose my favorite. I must say I've always had a weakness for the badgers and their hares, but that doesn't narrow down the choice much at all!
I started on Redwall, with an edition with the last chapter or so missing. It ended with "the abbey is yours". That dampened my pleasure for sure, until a few years later I found at a library an edition with the whole ending. Then I tore through the series.
Benjamin Hinojosa
3. NebsiNsaNe
Just last Sunday night I was explaining to my wife the need for me to go out and buy ever single Tale of Redwall available (partly because I love the cover redesigns) so that I could introduce my son to deeper, semi-pictureless reading. With a girl on the way, it has become an even bigger obsession to bring in my childhood love to share with my children... we had a quiet evening discussing this wonderful man with his brilliant world of adventure and codes of honour and bravery. I even went as far as to explain to her how much of a humble and wonderful man Mr Jacques himself was.. Then I come to hear of his death the very next day. I'm still devastated by the news. The only thing I can do now is pass the torch to my children and hope that they too find a home within the walls of Redwall Abbey..
4. Pikestaff
Even though it has admittedly been years since I picked up a Redwall book (probably almost a decade), the series' effect on me is just too much to condense into one comment. They were a big influence on my own writing and storytelling style and a big influence on my online "life"-- when we first got the Internet in our house all those years ago, the first thing I did was look up Redwall fansites and roleplaying message boards.

These days I call myself "Pike" on the internet-- long ago I was Pikestaff the Hare, and I'm sure you can guess why.

My favorite Redwall book? Pearls of Lutra. Romsca the ferret was my favorite character, a swashbuckling villain who became a good guy in her final moments. I still remember that scene...

RIP Brian Jacques, your influence was profound.
5. Matthew Meyer
Thanks for sharing that. The Redwall series was the fuel of my early imagination. I hadn't heard of Brian Jacques passing until now, and you've written a great eulogy. We will all miss him.
6. Annie Bacon
When I read the first RedWall, I worked as a Game Designer in a Video game company. I was so impressed by the epic adventure and so touched by its characters that I wrote a 10 page document to try and convince my employer to turn it into a game! A shame it didn't work!
7. Kadere
It took me, I believe, 8 months to get through Martin the Warrior in 5th grade. It is by far my favorite of the series. I always thought he should have written more books about Redwall's past. I couldn't stop reading it, even though I'd only read a few pages a day. I NEEDED to finish that book. All my friends had finished the series in a few weeks, but Martin the Warrior was the largest book I'd ever read at that time, and I wanted to know what happened. After I finished it I picked up Mossflower to find out what happened to Martin next and read that one in a week. Same size book, read it in 1/32 of the time. Then read the rest of the series in speradic order through Pearls of Lutra, and have read every book sense. My collection is huge, almost all in hardback. I've told myself before he died, that when he did I would read every book in the series again, from Redwall through The Rouge Crew (the next and last one). Of course at the time I hoped I'd get a lot more of them.

The criticism has always been that the stories are repetative, that and that the good and evil being designated by race was really odd. I know all of that but still I can't stop reading them. Some are better then others, some have blow out climaxs like Mossflower, Salamandastron, Martin the Warrior, Legend of Luke, others. Some have odd Deus Ex endings like Pearls of Lutra, Triss, Loamhedge. But I don't care, I just love them.

My favorite scene of Martin the Warrior is probably.... Martin and the gangs escape from Fort Marshank, or possibly Felldoh's solo attack against the Fort, or just the totally bad ass war at the end. That whole book is so cenimatic to me it's crazy. Yes, it's the first one I read, and yes my name is Marten and his name is Martin, but DAMMIT that's just an awesome book.

I'll miss Brian terribly, but I look forward to rereading them all, and reading them all to my kids in the future.
8. Greg Sango
I can't believe he is gone. I am a retired police officer and looking at my 63rd year. I with the greatest pride will tell anyone who asks what I like to read. I am a fantasy lover at heart. I can't actually remember how I stumbled across Brian's gifts but I with the greatest care have all of them in my ever growing bookshelves. I just read of his passing this evening and will retire to my bed with a burden heart and mind. I can only hope . that "Martin the Warrior" will come to my mind as I sleep and help me accept that Brian is gone. I raise a glass of dandelion cordial to you BRIAN
9. IvyTheBunny
I always hoped that someday I could meet Brian and tell him that I read all of his books and loved every last one. But, I suppose I will just have to console myself with the fact that a few thousand others said the same thing to him as they got their favorite book signed. I think that he is in one of heaven's gardens with a typewriter, a mug of cool mint tea, blueberry scones with honey (simpler Redwall fare but just as delicious) and he is writing a book that I won't get to read for quite a while. (poo) With afternoon sun shining on all the little creatures that offered so much insperation to him on earth. Meanwhile, I must reread all of the books and treasue the fact that he wrote them before his death. *Lifts beaker of strawberry fizz* To Brian!
10. Slainte
Mr. Jacques gave my daughters and me many evenings of happy reading adventures. He was a favorite, along with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. We will remember him kindly.
Rowan Waters
11. SuchStrings
Finally registered to share my love for the series that really defined my childhood when I think back on it. I believe I was seven or eight when I picked up a copy of Redwall. It was the first series I got into, the first I bought with my own money. It's been years now and I sold the books to make space for different series, but I know a huge part of who I am, and what I still want to be was forged by those tales of derring-do, friendship and heroism.

I seem to remember Mariel was my favorite, just because she was a girl like me, and after that it was Martin, Mossflower and Redwall.

Thank you for everything Mr. Jacques, your spirit lives on in all of us who read your books and fell in love.
12. Cyphon

Like you, I was talking about Brian Jacques recently. Only on Friday night my flatmate and I both got into a discussion about Redwall (I can't remember how we started that conversation, but the best conversations often start like that) and spent a good hour discussing and revelling in our memories of Redwall. It astonished my flatmate that I still remembered so many of the names of characters, and villians (a Pinemarten with Monitor Lizard army, where else but Redwall?). But we went through the book online and commented on the ones we had read, and where, upon becoming teenagers we had stopped reading. It was good to know that he had continued writing, and that it seemed to us at the time he would have a long time in which to continue writing. Then this Sunday I discovered he had died. It was a shock, a brutal stab at my childhood, to see the author that arguably got me into fantasy, disappear.

13. dwndrgn
That's it! You've inspired me to do a complete re-read of the series for my blog. I hope you're happy! I am ;-)

What a terrific storyteller and when my niece actually slows down enough for me to share reading with her, a Brian Jacques book might just be the ticket!
Matt Wright
14. matty42
@13: I would love to follow your re-read, what is your blog?

Brian Jacques came to North Pole (AK) Middle School when I was in 6th grade. He did a reading from the opening of Redwall, and it was like I was there. My fondest Redwall memory is how he framed the moment with soft slow quiet words, drawing everyone in - and then scaring our pants off with the line "Cluny was coming!" shouted in full voice.

I can't wait for my sons to be old enough to read these books.
15. dwndrgn
@Matty42 - I doubt that my blog would be of any interest - I'm really rather boring but fee free to visit. I won't be able to start the re-read for a couple of weeks as I gather the books themselves (as I don't currently own them - no, please don't flame me!). Here is the url:
16. Shawna Jacques
I met Brian Jacques once when I was a little girl. He was very kind to me when tiny-Me asked him how he pronounced his last name, because it is spelled the same as mine. He pronounces it "Jakes", whereas most of my family pronounces ours "Jacques", as in "Jacques Cousteau".
17. lkirk1
I TOO would like to know the blog for dwndrgn to read his/her musings on the series.. Always great to know an author has inspired so many!
18. ArgusRun
I was always partial to otters and badgers. Hares were a bit too cheeky for my taste. Despite their bravery and sacrifice, I had a hard time reconciling their often selfish attitudes with the high regards that the other Redwall animals had for them.

That said, the very nature of the different animals made them harder to read as I got older. Rats, Ferrets, foxes, etc were evil. Only a handful were ever redeemed in the entire series. The one ferret raised in Redwall Abbey was mean, nasty and murderous even though he was raised by the abbey since he was an infant.

It's the same type of veiled racism that permeates the Lord of the Rings saga. It's easy to ignore while you're reading the books and are immersed in the world. The books however don't bear up to scrutinay afterwards though. They're fun though as long as you don't think about it too much.
19. Mercutio01exlish M
1986 Redwall came out and I was 7, the perfect age for such a book. My mother had picked it up for herself after seeing some of the comparisons to Richard Adam's Watership Down. She read it and gave it to me around Christmas, and such started the near yearly tradition of a Redwall book for Christmas.

I'm almost 32 now, and I have every novel, and just about every accessory, pop-up book, etc, as well as the Flying Dutchman novels. Brian Jacques will always have a place on my bookshelf. Indeed, he has one whole shelf all to himself.
20. Mathison Ingham
Brian Jaques defined my childhood and nurtured my love of reading. I am who I am today in part because of him and for this I am grateful.
21. Dan C Baumann
Redwall was the first chapter book I ever read. I was in second grade, 1987, and had been reading Encylodpedia Brown books and other short story style books for awhile. My dad had, and I've inherited, over 100 fantasy and sci-fi books but they were too grown up fo me. So I was looking at the fantasy section in my school library. Redwall in hardback stood out on the shelf and I took it home. I had never dreamed such story could exist, I read the entire book in 2 or 3 days and it remains one of my favorite books. Over the years I bought the rest of the series and even in highschool and college as I read Brooks, Goodkind, Tolkein, Feist, and Robert Jordan these books were still something I would pick up when a new one came out and I would reread the entire series.
David Kensell
22. VeggieSizzle
My childhood dream was to join the Long Patrol. I spent hours pretending to run with Basil, practicing my "bob and weave," and pretending to ferry across the creek with Logalogalog. Thank you, Brian Jacques.
23. Matt D.
It would not be an understatement to say that my life was profoundly changed by the Redwall books. Incredible people like Mr. Jacques will be profoundly missed.
Cassandra Farrin
24. welovetea
I just heard the news about Brian Jacques. :( I'm just standing in the sci fi/fantasy section of Borders in tears. I read those books religiously during a rough few years of junior high, and they really do a lot to keep up my faith in the goodness of people (and mice, badgers, otters, etc!). He will be greatly missed.
25. Lovethembooks
My favorite has recently been The Long Patrol and the fighting hares for their wit and ferocity in combat. That and Redwall because, I mean, c'mon, it's the very first book written and sets the stage wonderfully.
26. ttrentham
I still have yet to read any books from the series, but I do have a memory to share.

I'm nearly 40. The first I heard of Redwall or Brian Jacques was through my then third grade son, so this was only 3-4 years ago. He's read many of the books from the series.

I only just heard about his death this morning on NPR and have yet to tell him. I'm sure he'll be upset. We had the opportunity to meet Brian Jacques in person and hear him talk at BookPeople here in Austin back in October of 2008. He was a very intelligent man and a great storyteller. He was wonderful with the kids. I could've sat and listened to him for hours. Having gotten to know him just a little bit in that brief encounter made me very sad to hear that he'd passed away.
27. ttrentham
Whoops. Meant to post a photo. You can see several of the kids in the front row laughing at what he's just said:

28. -Kohdi-
I found the Redwall books in my school library around 2nd or 3rd grade, and I have been hooked for years since. The first one I read was the Pearls of Lutra, which still remains my favorite. I love the books that deal with re-discovering ancient places, like in Mattimeo, Loamhedge, Marlfox, and (forgot the name) where the ruins of the castle below the Abbey are re-discovered. These books quite nearly made up my entire childhood reading list, and I was truly devastated to hear of Brian Jacques' passing. He left us all a beautiful and unparalleled legacy, and I personally plan to read all the books through again.
Erick G
29. Erick G
I LOVED THE REDWALL SERIES! Of course, this was when I was younger and had more time to read them, and at the time the only way I could get them was from the library, and even then they would be either out or our of order. Even so, I would devour what books were there. I believe that Jacques only inforced my love of reading, I was already an avid reader, but without Redwall, I think I wouldn't be as passionate as I am now. his stories always took me away into their world, to the point where I would dream I was fighting alongside Martin and the others. But my favorite part was the food. Dear God, how he described the food! I always tell my friends when recommending one of his books to read ona full stomach, because if not, they will be ravenous halfway through. It was because of Redwall that I wanted to try scones for the first time, and yet I'm constantly dissapointed because they would never taste as I imagined they would in his world. Sadly, I don't think I have read the series in its entirety, but it will definately be added to my bucket list.
30. Ben B.
I read through this article, and every time I saw a reference to his work of masterful fantasy, I felt a spark of sadness inside of me. I rarely feel pain when somebody I never met dies, but Redwall feels intricately linked with my quickly fleeting childhood.

As simply put as possible : rest in peace Brian Jacques
31. T.Martin
Like so many others here I too love the Redwall series. I've picked up various volumes here and there through the years as I found much coveted hard-cover versions. I'm saddened to hear of Jacques passing - his is a talent and imagination that will be sorely missed.
32. Taryntula
I started with Martin the Warrior, and followed it up with Outcast of Redwall and then went back to Redwall, Mossflower, and Mattimeo. I have to say, to this day, Outcast of Redwall is still one of my favorites because of the strong friendship therein. Mariel stands out as well because of the strong femail protagonist.

Brian, you will be sorely missed. I raise my glass of elderberry wine with my paws in salute to you. Rest in peace.
33. thelastgoodkiss
Oh man. This brings back so many memories of elementary school. I remember excitedly reading all of those books and waiting for the next ones.

I don't think that I ever read all twenty-one though. I feel like I stopped reading them around book twelve or thirteen. But I really loved the ones that I read.
34. Christine1811
I first found Salamandastron when I was leaving one job for another. I was in my early twenties and having a rough time. This book that I had found and snapped up by Brian Jacques was amazing. It was my relief, my escape, my comfort. I've had quite a few rough spots as my life progressed but I can always count on the Redwall books to be there for a time of comfort and a visit with friends. I will miss Mr. Jacques very much and the world has lost a great author.
35. JohnRichardEllis
"Veiled racism"...yeah, I've commited countless hate crimes against talking foxes and sword-wielding ferrets in my life time, all because I was exposed to these books. *grin*

You will be missed, Brian Jacques.
36. wyoarmadillo
On a recent road trip my family and I listened to the audio book version Mossflower as read by Brian Jacques. His descrption of the journey through the Bat Cave will always be one of my favorite parts of the series.

My other favorite scene is from Redwall when Matthias meets, battles and befriends the Sparra.

Though it has been many years since I read it, the Long Patrol has always been one of my favorites.
37. BigFan
I started reading the series when I was in 4th grade, starting with Marlfox. I was instantly captivated and went to our school library to see if they had more. I've since read the entire series several times over (I'm in 6th grade now). Brian Jacques inspired me to think bigger about everything. To me, Brian Jacques is like strawberry fizz to a dibbun.
38. drayr
Mossflower is, and probably always will be, one of my favourite stories. Although I've read hundreds of books since, the Redwall series still embodies many of the roots of what I like most in fantasy.

Mr. Jacques' books were some of the first fantasy novels I'd ever read. They were my introduction to novels in general, really, and for that I am very grateful. Rest in peace Brian.
39. Kevin K.
After reading this article, the scene from Salamandastron when Urthwyte and Urthstripe see each other for the first and last time popped into my head and I got all misty-eyed. I read that book over 15 years ago when I was in 6th grade and that moment still has an effect on me. Brian Jacques will always be one of my favorite authors.
40. DevonSmizzle
My first book was Salamandastron, I must have been in the 5th grade, living in the flat praries (I was a small town boy). We had to drive half an hour to go to the "big city" every weekend just to take out books. I was already an avid reader, so much so that I could only take out a certain amount of books. (on par with my weekly count of violin practices)

That week I had only succeded in getting through one 15 min. practice, so my mother put her foot down. Only one book! fo shizzle!

So I took a walk around the library, wondering what one book, an imposible task, that I would pick. Dinotopia? No, to short, it would last me the ride home. Goosebumps? nah, already read the ones in stock. I had to find the biggest book around to wreak vengance upon my mother for this ridiculous rule. I then rounded a wire rack, and there, around head hight, was the biggest paperback in the kids section.

I picked it up, saw the mountain and the wooden spear. I saw the metal armour and fell in love. I still look back at the friendship in the book, the sacrafice and adventure to which I hold all books to.

So hearing (reading) this news, made me go over to my shelf, undust my copy I've had, and, just look at it. I'll have to wait a bit to read it.
41. lizzy123
I remember must have been third grade when I first picked up Redwall. I loved Roald Dahl back then and my copies of The Witches and Matilda and everything were already worn thin by all the rereads. So I was looking for something new to read. My older brothers and sister had already finished their "fantasy phase" and one of their leavings was a dusty old purple paperback with a mouse holding a sword and a snake and a really ominous-looking one-eyed rat.

After Redwall, I couldn't put these books down. I bought as many as my small allowance could afford and every library day in elementary school, you could find me peering down the books in the J section for a new one. A whole heck of a lot of my childhood was spent in Mossflower Wood. (I also spent an embarassingly long time trying to duck and weave so I could be invisible. X] )

Redwall is still my favorite of the series. One of the coolest scenes ever written: Matthias facing down Cluny the Scourge in the belltower. I also loved Taggerung and Martin the Warrior.

Brian Jacques, may your cup of strawberry cordial never run dry.
42. C Dot
Rest in peace Jacques...

I grew up on Redwall and still remember the novels fondly. Most memorable would be Mossflower and Pearls of Lutra, and maybe Legend of Luke.

Sam Brady
43. lewaah
My personal favorite scene is at the end of Outcast of Redwall--the singing of "Home Returning" and the arrival of Sunflash the Mace at Redwall Abbey. I get chills every time I read it.
44. Yenvious
Thank you for adding in the food references at the end. Brought an unrestrained grin to my face.
45. Mr Pond
There's a wonderful line in Terry Pratchett's Night Watch, where Vimes remarks how the old guardsmen cry when they sing certain songs--not because the songs are sad, but because they remember the friends they used to sing with.

Brian Jacques' love of music, song, and laughter shone through his books, and through the delightful musical settings on the audiobooks. And I'm not sure I'll ever be able to sing along to 'Martin, Martin' or 'My Rose of Old Redwall' again without choking up.

We'll all miss you, Brian. Thanks for the gift of Redwall. Rest well.
Alana Abbott
46. alanajoli
I remember devouring the books after finding Redwall on the shelf at my library -- the original cover drew me in, and the words kept me there, in the world, for a very, very long time. My fondest memory of reading the books is sharing Redwall with my younger sister on a road trip. We read it aloud and had to stop when poor Methuselah died so that we could cry together.

I had the chance to see Brian Jacques at three book signings. I was an old teen or a young twenty-something when I first got the chance to speak with him, and I thanked him for his books, and he gave me a quick hug around the shoulders. I've never been to a better book signing than the ones that Brian gave. He was a consummate performer and storyteller, and the world was a richer place for his being in it.

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