Redwall: Reading it as an Adult

I assume that Brian Jacques book has been read by a decent number of people here. It looks like I probably bought my copy in 1990, when I was 11, and thought that it was quite impressive and unique within its class. I’ve kept it since that time since I decided when I was young that one shouldn’t lose touch with the things that seemed to have accomplished something novel. I read a couple of the sequels, but Mr. Jacques penchant for writing to a very specific formula turned me off after only a few books and resulted in me never going back and reading the books at all.

Now, I figured that if I didn’t like it, reading it again, it would be because it hadn’t aged well or such. But instead, I’m finding that the real issue is discovering what a child Matthias was. I wonder if it was intentional or if Mr. Jacques simply didn’t think about the ramifications of his story. He introduces Matthias as our “hero” for the story. But this hero then proceeds to sneak out in the middle of the night to go get himself killed, just to be absent when the abbey is first attacked en force. By the happy chance of meeting a rabbit soldier, Matthias survives and makes it back. Then he gets enamored of the idea of Martin the Warrior and ends up getting himself captured by the sparrows just as, again, the abbey is attacked. A sparrow matron enables him to escape. And then, again, he leaves the abbey to go get himself killed as Cluny attacks.

Through the whole “war” against his sworn rival, he’s done everything but actually fight. Instead he’s spent most of his time chasing some fantasy dream, and being rather reckless about it all, not even telling anyone he’s doing it, quite often. The whole time it has been the adults doing and leading the fighting.

Knowing that he’s going to come back and save the day and be put up on everyone’s shoulders and marched around as the hero of the abbey is annoying me, so I’ve been slow finishing the book.

I had to read it as an adult. It had not been written yet when I was a child.

From what I recall, part of the charm was Matthias’ immaturity. This was a fairly classic Bildungsroman, where an innocent and feckless character learns and grows in time to save what is near and dear to him.

I read it for the first time as an adult (college) and enjoyed it immensely (even named my MUDD characters after him), as I did the next two. I had trouble getting into any of the follow ups though. His childishness didn’t bother me since he’s a child, and even the adults in the story are lay people and not soldiers, doing the best they can with an unfamiliar situation.

As a series, the thing which bothered me was the Fantastic Racism. Which the stories basically claimed were true.

On the other hand, the elders all agree that recovering Martin’s sword and legacy is of the utmost importance and basically give Matthias free rein to act as he sees fit.

Also, I always felt the book was big on the Power of Friendship. Sure, Matthias needs a lot of help to complete his quest, but that’s sort of the point. When the woodland creatures work together they are a powerful force for good. In addition, it’s Matthias’s goodheartedness that many of his allies respond to, like the sparrows and the shrews.

I’ve gone through the book a few times as an adult too. I have it in audiobook form, which is really a treasure as it’s a wonderful full cast recording with Brian Jacques as the narrator. I love listening to it about once a year. Cluny still manages to be fearsome, primarily because his voice actor is bloody brilliant.

But what I find is that the writing is definitely aimed for a young audience; there’s times when the prose is simply so blunt and unsubtle that it’s painful to listen to.

I have read all the Redwall books, many times. I didn’t start reading them until my mid 20s.

My boyfriend didn’t start reading them until his mid 30s.

The books are great. Matthias is not a child. But, he’s not an adult either. He has enough maturity to realize that he has to fight for what he loves. But, he doesn’t have enough experience to go about it the right way.

In spite of that, he manages to fulfill his quest and kill his two main adversaries.

In the whole first book, the one character who really pissed me off was Constance. She took too much on herself and as an adult she should have known better than to act without consulting the others.
I actually really disliked Mattimeo. He was obnoxious. But, he was supposed to be. He grated on my nerves so much though that even after he gets over himself, I still didn’t like him much.
As for Matthias meeting Basil, Warbeak, Dunwing, Squire Julian, Captain Snow, and the shrews, and having them do his fighting - the whole point is that the animals in Mossflower stand together, in spite of their differences, and are able to defeat their common enemy.

If Matthias hadn’t acted the way he had, Basil probably wouldn’t have gone back to the abbey, the vole family wouldn’t have been saved, Sam wouldn’t have gone to the abbey which means that his mother wouldn’t have had a reason to go there. Additionally, the friendship he develops with the sparrows is crucial their final battle with Cluny AND in Mattimeo. The shrews continue to be important in every Redwall book and the introduction of Squire Julian ties into the story of Tsarmina.

There is very little in the Redwall books that is mentioned for no reason. Everything ties together at some point.
Anyway, the thing I really like about the books is the attention to detail, the belief that anyone can be a hero regardless of their age or sex (as long as they’re not vermin), and that teamwork always does the most good.
Oh, something else I like is that no one is safe - no matter how “main” a character they are. I don’t like it when a major character dies. But, if they were all safe, it wouldn’t seem as believable.

This kind of bothered me too, especially as it continued to be relatively unsubverted.The other thing that bothered me was the inconsistencies regarding whether this was a world of anthropomorphic furries all of relatively equal size with vaguely human shape and size with no humans, or our world with regular animals in a realistic size range and body shape who happen to be intelligent and dextrous. Particularly with regards to the horses lol.

Well, the only time the series is inconsistent with regard to scale is Redwall. The horse and cart and the mention of the town dog indicate that the world is scaled at least semi-realistically and that humans may be present. I always assumed that these oddities can be explained by the fact that Redwall is the first in the series.

I haven’t read them since grade school but none of the following books had such glaring inconsistencies.

The size of badgers always drove me bananas though. I can’t recall specifics but there is mention of a badger lord holding mice in his hand and two characters riding atop a badger’s shoulders. They’re always described as large but holy moley, that seems a bit overboard. Particularly in light of the fact that Martin and Boar the Fighter spar - wouldn’t that be about like my cat fighting me with a butter knife?

What about the stoats and ferrets that soldier for Cluny, how the devil is a rat bigger? Meh, I like the books so I always consider the critters scalable in the extreme - can’t be too picky.

I love how interconnected the books are. The series rewards readers with an eye for detail, particularly if you read the books in order of publication instead of chronologically. Good thread, makes me want to reread the series. I used to buy the hardcovers when they dropped but I think I stopped after Taggerung.

Racism? It’s been a while but how was there racism?

Plus, aren’t badgers pretty big compared to mice? I could see a mouse riding on a badger’s shoulders or being held in his paws.

If you’re a rat, weasel, ferret, stoat, or fox, you’re a bad guy. If you’re a badger, mouse, shrew, rabbit, or mole, you’re a good guy.

ETA: In fact, I think the only species that wasn’t entirely on one side or the other were the wildcats in Mossflower.

Isn’t that more speciesm? Besides, by that rationale, isn’t Lord of the Rings “racist”? Dwarves, hobbits, elves and other cute looking things=good, orcs and ugly things=bad? Or on Star Trek, the Romulans usually being the default baddies?

I can only think of once instance in the entire series where a “vermin” type went good intentionally and stayed that way.

Then, there was the vermin that was raised good, went bad, kinda went good but it’s debatable whether or not it was intentional.

And the non vermin who was raised bad but still wouldn’t be bad.

No argument about badger/mice scale, it just seems to shift in the books. Sometimes the badgers are big and sometimes they are enormous. Can’t say as I care too much though, the badger lords were the most interesting bits.

The racism/specisim didn’t irk me too much, as you mentioned, it’s kind of like LOTR or any other fantasy - thems just the rules of the world. Outcast of Redwall always bothered me though. Veil is a ferret raised at Redwall and he still ends up (mostly) a bad guy. The creatures at Redwall didn’t really give Veil a fair shake, their actions were good but everyone except Byrony seemed to treat Veil with suspicion. OTOH, Veil seemed to be born inherently evil. It was an interesting avenue for Jacques to explore and I think he did it fairly realistically but I didn’t find the results all that palatable.

As to Sage Rat’s OP, Matthias’ quest is essential to the safety of the abbey. The abbey dwellers are defeated when Matthias and his new allies sweep in and save the day. It’s not really the sword that’s important but the maturity and friends that Matthais gains along the way.

Of course, Matthias didn’t know that’s how things would go down. What did he think would happen? “I’ll just stroll on back with this sword and everything will be hunky-dory. I know there’s still a horde of rats at the gate but I’ll have a sword damnit!”

It always irritated me too that Matthias wholeheartedly endorsed the battle but missed most of it. I always give Matthias a pass though because, as Bosstone said, the authorities in his life told Matthias to go on ahead and search for the sword. I always consider too what impact Matthias could have had if he’d stayed. He’d have been just one more mouse slinging rocks and arrows down on the enemy. It seems like he helps Constance train the abbey folk…so, he kind of helped?

I have to go with congodwarf, Mattimeo is by far the most annoying character we’re supposed to like. I may have to eat my words through, a couple of the “charming rascal” characters wore pretty thin too, I’m thinking of Pickle Ffloger(?) in Salamandastron. I didn’t much care for Saxtus in Mariel of Redwall but it seems like he improved in The Bellmaker.

Badger lords! Awesomeness. All I remember is Constance the Badger who was pretty cool. It’s been way too long since I read these as a kid, and I guess I didn’t get as far as the rest of you.

The racism/specisim didn’t irk me too much, as you mentioned, it’s kind of like LOTR or any other fantasy - thems just the rules of the world. Outcast of Redwall always bothered me though. Veil is a ferret raised at Redwall and he still ends up (mostly) a bad guy. The creatures at Redwall didn’t really give Veil a fair shake, their actions were good but everyone except Byrony seemed to treat Veil with suspicion. OTOH, Veil seemed to be born inherently evil. It was an interesting avenue for Jacques to explore and I think he did it fairly realistically but I didn’t find the results all that palatable.

Yeah. It kind of bugs me more in a Planet of the Hats way–like how every member of a species/planet has one trait whereas people are more variable. I don’t really see it as a bigotry/racism thing, though. I mean in general it’s sort of lame when people assume snakes or wolves or reptiles in movies/TV shows are bad guys, but it’s easy to see why they do it.

Heh, I also was annoyed with Pickle - also with Mara. Mara at least got to be less annoying as the book went along.

I did enjoy the bit with Pickle in the eating contest against the shrew - good stuff. You’re right about Mara, she was disappointing. I rather expected her to go off and mature and return as a badger lord. Instead it felt like Jacques shunted her off to be a badger mum at Redwall because she was a girl. I suppose the many female badger lords in the series contradict this notion though.

I always appreciated Mariel and Dandin - they were committed warriors and they didn’t want to settle down and stop having adventures.

Check out Mossflower if you have a mind to. I actually think it’s a stronger book than Redwall. Mossflower doesn’t have Cluny, but the story is vastly more interesting in my opinion and a good chunk of the book deals with a very impressive badger lord. The story actually revolves around Martin himself, who’s much cooler than Matthias.

I always assumed that Mara became a badger mum instead of a badger lord because Salamandastron didn’t NEED a badger lord.