Terrouge E-zine Archives
The Unwritten Law of Redwall: Unearthing Redwall's Greatest Treasures
From message boards to Redwall e-zine articles and in all corners of the Redwall Online Community (-ies), high praises and sore complaints arise about the overall success of the Redwall series. Many fans have proffered their theories and apologiae in defense as well as censure of our guaranteed common ground. Web anniversaries celebrate the success of enthusiastic efforts to share a passion with other fans; issues like "headfur," "Redwall racism," and "unoriginality" disturb even the most tightly woven tapestries of commonality. Our realm is bittersweet in its sentiments. In light of the chasm that divides, I propose a bridge over troubled waters. As I have already mentioned, many have tried to analyze Redwall, providing some fascinating insights. I would like to invite you on yet another Redwall quest. Just as we journeyed in search of Redwall's mysterious genre, if you will, we will take up a greater pursuit: seeking the secret of Redwall's success over the years by spotlighting the first novel in the series, that we might discover the moral lessons, literary standards, and great ideas that first brought us together.
The Birth of Redwall: Standards Set from the Start
Seventeen years ago, "Mossflower country shimmered gently in a peaceful haze" as the world caught its first glimpses of the red sandstone abbey, yet, as many have observed, Redwall's world has undergone many changes over the years. The well-known removal of "human influences" in the later books is perhaps one of the greatest points of criticism in the entire series. Indeed, there was never another horse, goat, pig, or livestock animal of any kind after the first book. Nor were there any domesticated animals. Christianity would make no sense to exist in this world without Christ as we know him, so Saint Ninian's Church, its pulpit, Lady Chapel (a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Mother of God), and choir loft quickly departed into myth, legend, and lore, explained away in the "This Ain't Ninian's" story. A deeper examination would divulge other shifts of setting, minor and major, like the alteration of a mouse's stature in comparison to setting and other species and the history of Martin (which is even inconsistent within the first book itself). In light of these inconsistencies, I would like to provide a bit of insight with a bit of Redwall history.
Redwall was originally published as a surprise from Brian Jacques' old English teacher, Alan Durband. (Redwall.org and Starfire's Redwall are my sources) Mr. Jacques had given him the original manuscript to read, and his teacher liked it so much that he brought it to a publisher immediately. It was already in the publishing process before he knew anything about it and Brian was off to London to talk with the publishers. Although I have never heard Mr. Jacques admit it, I'm sure he had mixed feelings about the adventure; after all, it was a rough draft. He had written it for the students at the Royal School for the Blind, never intending it to be published. It was composed for the forgiving ears of children without foreseeing the critical examinations of a press editor. Therefore, Redwall was practically immortalized before he could revise it, so inevitably the book-to-book transition with the rest of the series would be rough due to his alterations in the later books. Overlooking fault, the foundational mores and morality of Redwall that would be sustained in the rest of series emerged simultaneously. Although there is no set "religion" in Redwall, there is a moral code.
Observing Matthias as he followed his dream and gained wisdom and maturity through his experiences, we probably learned a few lessons of our own. As we listened to Father Abbot, Methuselah, Constance, and all of Matthias' mentors, friends, and allies speak words of peace (excepting the shrews), compassion, and solemnity to the hopeful warrior, we witnessed how the crash-course of dream chasing and self-discovery must be tempered with common sense and eyes that see beyond oneself. Brian Jacques says that he would wish for his books to be above all remembered for conveying the importance of family, loved ones, and home. Let us proceed to examine how Redwall's alleged values are attested.
Walking in the Warrior's Pawsteps
In a story of good versus evil such as this one, a hero is usually the embodiment of what the author considers the ideal example of a good person to imitate or relate to, or the hero will become the ideal in the course of the story. In this case, Matthias grew, inside and out, into the hero he was meant to be. A hero does not have to be perfect, without weakness or failings, but as the centerpiece of the story, his motive should always ultimately be to strive for the highest good that he can in a given situation, "to reach the unreachable star." Motives are essential to a story. Therefore, let's look at the motives of the greatest deeds in Redwall. A great climactic point was when Matthias slew Asmodeus the adder. Brian Jacques took special care to dramatically list Matthias' motives. He had placed all of his heart and soul into this one deed, and his motives shone through brightly in this excerpt. "He struck for Redwall! He struck against evil! He struck for Martin! He struck for Log-a-Log and his shrews! He struck for dead Guosim! He struck as Methuselah would have wanted him to! He struck against Cluny the Scourge and tyranny! He struck out against Captain Snow's ridicule! He struck for the world of light and freedom! He struck until his paws ached and the sword fell from them!" First in his intentions was the defense of Redwall: the only home he had ever known, his dear ones who lived there, and the code of peace and compassion which they upheld. He also sought to the further safety of his friends outside of Redwall, to live up to his superiors' expectations, and to prove his destiny: a predestination from another great warrior, Martin. He did rather selfishly seek his own personal glory in his mission on several occasions before this one, but we see that at heart, his intentions were for the best. It would certainly require more than selfish ambition and to bring him to face the final battle with Cluny. . .
Confronting the Warlord: View from the "Good Eye"
Additional insight comes from the opposite side of the coin. We have looked at Matthias as a hero and an example of how he lived up to Redwall's heroic standards; now, we must contrast this with what is looked upon as evil in Redwall, and show how Cluny as main villain embodied these evils. We remember that Matthias ". . .struck against Cluny the Scourge and tyranny!" Ah, tyranny. . . Let me see. . . "Tyranny," by dictionary definition, ideally refers to an abusive rule under a supreme ruler, as a tyrant, but it can also mean simply "undue severity or harshness." Cluny, by this standard, was indeed a tyrant. Firstly, although he was not destined to keep Redwall under his claw as ruler, in his earlier conquests he was famed for causing terror and wreaking destruction. Secondly, he is consistently abusive and unjust to the members of his own horde, setting up "examples," making vile threats, and conferring upon his loyal -if fearful and inattentive- servants base and disparaging titles. Thirdly, he was tyrannical in appearance: an outward metaphor to his inward corruption. He faithfully bedecked himself in the most appalling war attire that he could conceive, enhancing his natural visage: foul, unwashed, scarred, and overblown. He was obviously a victim to vanity, fastidious in his unpleasantness. In the end, though, his scrupulous dedication to the element of surprise and the reign of terror proved to be due to a deep inner lack of confidence. Alone, unallied, left to use his own strength against a sturdy, confident force like Matthias, he quailed. Destined, compassionate, unshakably sure of himself. . . courageous, Matthias, who was his opposite in every way, violently unnerved him. Though he strained to preserve his fašade of bravery until his final knell, everybeast knew the truth: Cluny was a coward.
Writing the Unwritten Law
Thus, it comes to light. Now the answer to the riddle stands out, like when the riddle beneath the great Redwall tapestry was inked. We have discovered the "secret" convictions of Redwall. We asked, "What is good by Redwall's standards?" We discovered that in order to preserve the ideal (namely Redwall's code of peace, compassion, and love), a hero must have courage, solid confidence that evil will not succeed in disturbing his motives, self-sacrifice, and a deep conviction of the ideals that they uphold. In our search, we also asked "What is evil by Redwall's standards?" We discovered that evil, by its nature, puts up a twisted fašade of the ideal (namely, hideousness, abuse, all done with a rash boldness which tries to imitate bravery) that can be so alarming at times that the brave could be shaken and horrified. At heart, though, the fašade is only there to hide its emptiness, its hatred of life, light, and freedom, and its deep, base cowardice and lack of conviction, all of which is born of envy.
Abiding by the Law
Redwall has been more than a battle of good and evil to us; it has been a hobby, a common tie, and even a lifestyle, as the popular "You Know You've Read Too Much Redwall When. . ." lists might indicate. As Terrouge celebrates its fifth anniversary, it seems an appropriate time to assess how consistent our creative endeavors in the ROC are with Redwall at its heart. When we say that "ROC" stands for Redwall Online Community, we should think of what Redwall stands for. When we say that something is like Redwall, it should not only mean that the storyline includes anthropomorphic beasts or a medieval-esque setting; that's a given. If we really wish to capture the spirit of Redwall in its purest form, we must capture what is in the heart of Redwall. This was our quest, and it will continue as we are inspired to find more ways to "add further glory to the name and legend of Redwall Abbey."