OK… I can’t say that I am particularly proud of this… but as of yesterday I’ve officially purchased and reread 7 Redwall books on my kindle, a much-beloved and favorite series among myself and my siblings during our childhood. I’ve been using this mad spending habit as a motivational treat since April-ish, in order to help me finish important tasks. I still have a couple of things I need to do before leaving for the States on June 21st (!!), like, you know, PACK, get my room ready for the person who’s renting it for the summer, type up and print cat-sitting instructions, print ALL OF THE TICKETS (including the New York-D.C. bus ticket on the oh-so-classily named Peter Pan bus line–their yelp page is one long scroll of one-star reviews. GONNA BE FUN). But for the most part, my first year of PhD-dum is over. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to find an excuse to buy Book 8 though (The Pearls of Lutra, FYI).
So, onto my great Redwall recap, because why the hell not? I tried explaining the plot of these books to one of my marathon buddies in Edinburgh: it’s about, like, these mice? And moles and otters and other English woodland animals? And like how they live in this medieval warring society with a lot of battlin’ and feastin’? His facial expression as he stared incomprehensibly back at me is…. maybe one of the most embarrassing things that’s ever happened to me. BUT WHATEVER! For me (especially lately), kiddie stuff is the ultimate comfort food. A calm, steady reassuring refuge. An escape from all the horrors and terrors that is everyday Herzogian adult life.
Best one for newbies to read- Redwall was the first book to be published in the 21-book series and is probably still the best place to start. It’s a little different from the others–it contains the only reference to human civilization (via the mention of a town, as well as dogs and barns), as well as the only references to something remotely resembling a concept of religion (the Dark Forest and “Hellgates”–man, I need to start walking around quietly hissing “hellgates” to myself more often). It’s got a classic story arch–main character starts out very naive, sheltered, and inexperienced, has to leave his home on an archetypal quest in order to come back and fulfill his destiny. Good stuff.
Most intenso: Martin the Warrior, in which one of the main characters (and love interest at that!) dies tragically near the end. I was really freaked out as a kid when this happened. When I told my sister in a solemn voice she refused to believe it, and re-reading it this time around I was still struck by how intense it must have been for us. Like, a lot of people (um, animals) tend to die throughout this series, but this particular character actually has point-of-view paragraphs and stuff–that is to say, she is treated as the kind of main character who in any of the other books would have been automatically guaranteed safety. It makes what happens in the end almost a Ned Stark-level of shock. For this reason, Martin the Warrior is probably the most potentially traumatizing for young fans.
Most trippy as fuq: The Bellmaker–wow, is this one ever weird. It probably contained the most WTF? moments for me as a young fan when I first read it. For example, there’s a mole who doesn’t talk in the classic mole accent that all the moles in the other books tend to have. There’s also a searat who turns out to be a good guy–this is a BIG DEAL because this is no Game of Thrones grey world. No, in the Redwall universe things are VERY black and white and your integrity as a person is defined by your species–like if you’re a stoat, fox, rat, or weasel, you’re bad, if you’re a mouse, otter, badger, squirrel or mole, you’re good. What a way to live. Additionally, if you’re a vole, shrew or dormouse you’re kind of a dumbass, and if you’re a bird you speak in a weird accent that is incredibly tedious to read and which to be honest I always tend to just skim. Anyway, it’s definitely a worldview that would potentially be called Racist on tumblr (Specieist?) or maybe even Classist (so you’re doomed to never rise above the position you were born into?). It’s also unfortunately a trait that eventually made these books become a bit tedious for me to read as a young’un–there was just like NO FLEXIBILITY EVER for this to change. That’s what makes the good-guy searat in The Bellmaker all the more notable, as he is such an anomaly.
It’s also worth noting that this book has two characters afflicted by the Bloodwrath in the most badass way. In the Redwall universe, the Bloodwrath is a condition in which your eyes turn blood-red and you transform into an INTENSE UNSTOPPABLE KILLING MACHINE. This is still an accurate description of what happens to me when I bike all the way to the library and discover that I have forgotten to bring my overdue books.
My personal sentimental favorite- Mossflower. This was the first Redwall book I ever read, sitting on a plane next to my sister on a super long flight to… somewhere, who knows where, California or England or maybe even back home to Colombia. But yeah, she was reading Redwall and we would keep pausing from reading every once in a while to give each other spoiler-free updates about what was happening in each others’ volumes–we were so engrossed and excited! Like Redwall, as a standalone book Mossflower also works very well–there’s puzzles and riddles, battles, epic journeys, searat attacks, badger lords building magical swords out of meteorite rock in a badass volcano fortress, bat cameos… again, good stuff.
I think that’s about as much I can say about this series without beginning to sound truly demented. But it’s worth mentioning some of the questions that came up to me while rereading these–like, are the mice all vegan? How do they make all the “meadowcream” and stuff that they eat during their huge feasts? Is it like vegan cream? How does that work? How do they make cheese? Do they have access to cows? How come every time there’s a battle, all these woodland creatures who previously had like no fighting experience suddenly become capable of effortlessly killing dozens of vermin without getting injured or killed themselves?
Oh well, what are you gonna do. If I have kids I am definitely going to make sure there’s copies of this series in the house–all of them would be too much, but definitely the first seven or eight. Here’s to early 90’s nostalgia!