When I was nine or ten years old, my reading teacher beckoned me towards the cubbies on her wall, each containing a basket of books. She fished out a volume and handed it to me saying “You should read this.” As I reflect back, I know she meant “you should be able to read this at your age and comprehension level.” All I knew was that this was one of the largest books I’d ever undertaken to read. And so I discovered Brian Jacques’ Redwall series through The Outcast of Redwall.
I was instantly hooked. It was my first exposure to anything that epic, and I was thoroughly enthralled. And then to discover there was even more!? I could find out about the founding of Redwall Abbey, the history behind the legend of Martin the Warrior, I could even read the book that started it all! For the next several years, Redwall would become one of my favorite series of all time.
Yet it didn’t even last a decade. By the time I was in highschool I read those books less and less, and gradually stopped buying the new volumes as well. I’d realized that, while the books had been wonderful and new and exciting at first, they were almost all the same story, written over and over again with different variations. In fact, it may be entirely the fault of this series for the bad reaction I had to The Lord of the Isles series as I realized that every single book would follow an identical format.
Flaws aside, I did love Redwall, and it still holds a special place in my heart. When I did some serious pruning of my library a few years back, I dumped about half of the series, keeping only those books that hold some kind of special resonance for me that I won’t get from the others. Those few are Mossflower, Outcast of Redwall, Mariel of Redwall, The Bellmaker, Salamandastron, and Martin the Warrior. (To be honest, off the top of my head I cannot recall why I still have Salamandastron besides the fact that it’s too damaged to sell in good conscience. I may have to reread it to find out.) You may wonder why not the original Redwall or its sequel Mattimeo. Frankly, Redwall suffers from a lot of first book syndrome and is, in the end, the simplest story in the entire series. As for Mattimeo…I have honestly never really cared for that book. I only ever read it a handful of times, which says a lot when I’ve just mentioned the amount of damage I’ve done to Salamandastron just reading it.
Looking back on Outcast of Redwall now that I’ve reread it for the first time in over a decade, I think how childish these books truly are. Oh sure, they’re big books, usually 300-400 pages long, and they include violence, death, and politics. But there’s something too simplistic about how the world is set up. Woodland creatures such as mice, otters, moles, squirrels, shrews, badgers, etc. are all good. Vermin, like rats, stoats, ferrets, foxes, etc. are all evil. There’s no middle ground. On reflection, I have to wonder if this is a form of racism that Jacques projected onto his books. Sure, it’s particularly easy when producing content for kids to go for blanket good and evil. But because it’s so easy it’s also shallow and unfulfilling. The real world is shades of grey, not black and white.
Not to mention the fact that most of the different species have varied accents which are written out in the book, requiring readers to puzzle out what’s being said. This may have been fun as a child, but now it’s rather annoying to translate “Aye, h’ex, that be moi mark, oi be gudd at makin’ et, hurr!” into “Yes, an x is my mark and I’m good at making it, ha!” Those accents, combined with the endless couplets, rhymes, poems, and songs, fill up numerous pages and clearly show that yes, these stories were originally oral tales, meant to amuse children for a time. There’s nothing wrong with that in principle, I just have a lot less patience for it than I did when I was younger.
Don’t misunderstand: the Redwall books are still good and worth reading as a child. I simply found that I grew up and past them at some point. That’s why it’s been so long since I last read any one of them: I know that most of my pleasure will come from nostalgia, not the work itself.
Well, now that I’ve rambled on for over seven hundred words, I think we can safely say that the contents of this book are of lesser importance in comparison. If you’ve read a Brian Jacques book before, you can make some educated guesses on what happens here. If you’ve read Mossflower, you may recall that very last scene of the book which was lifted wholesale and shoved into the middle of a chapter here, without even bothering to change a single word, despite the fact that it features the book’s main character. If I’m still writing this blog the next time I reread Outcast of Redwall, I’ll try to make that post about the actual story.